Foreign films energize festival

By Jake Coyle

NEW YORK — The New York Film Festival defines itself as an annual chance to take account of the state of film as art.

Last year’s story line was obvious enough: American filmmakers, from Julian Schnabel to Wes Anderson, were making — and finding ways to distribute — some excellent movies.

What a difference a year makes.

This year’s festival — which opens Friday with the U.S. premiere of the Cannes Palm d’Or winner “The Class” — still boasts a number of high-profile American films. But the stronger energy — as it often is at the NYFF — is from abroad.

Clint Eastwood’s “Changeling,” which stars Angelina Jolie, will make its U.S. premiere, as will Steven Soderbergh’s 4-hour epic “Che,” the festival’s centerpiece. Closing the festival will be Darren Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler,” which features an already much acclaimed performance from Mickey Rourke.

Throughout 2008, much of the dialogue in the art film community has been about the declining state of independent film as indie and boutique studios have shuttered. This year’s slate of American films at the NYFF is down to six (at least one of which was financed outside of the country) out of 28 films in total.

The New York Film Festival’s purview has never been constrained by borders. In its nearly five decades of existence (this is the 46th NYFF), it has specialized in introducing audiences to new filmmaking talent from around the globe.

The NYFF, which will run from Friday until Oct. 12, doesn’t give awards like most festivals but simply exhibits a curated batch of highly selective movies — many of which have played at earlier festivals. (This year’s selection committee is Richard Pena, chairman and program director of the Film Society; Kent Jones, associate director of programming at the Film Society; LA Weekly critic Scott Foundas; The Village Voice’s J. Hoberman; and Entertainment Weekly’s Lisa Schwarzbaum.)

Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut and Pedro Almodovar are just a handful of the filmmakers the festival supported early in their careers and watched as their international regard and fame grew.

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