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57th New York Film Festival’s Dark Love Letters to the City

The Main Slate of the 57th New York Film Festival (September 27 – October 13, 2019) was announced last week, and feature films set in New York City dominates their most prestigious programming slots.

Opening Night, Sept. 27, 2019
The Irishman
Director Martin Scorsese

Centerpiece, Oct. 4, 2019
Marriage Story
Director Noah Baumbach

Closing Night, Oct. 11, 2019
Motherless Brooklyn
Director Edward Norton

View the Full Main Slate Films Listing

These films from New York directors are in excellent company. Over 17-days of NYFF57, Film at Lincoln Center offers 29 of the best films in world cinema including Cannes award films directed by Bong Joon-ho (Palme d'Or: Parasite), Mati Diop (Grand Prix: Atlantics: A Ghost Love Story) and Pedro Almodóvar (Best Actor for Antonio Banderas: Pain and Glory).


Who is a more iconic New Yorker than master director Martin Scorsese? His 26th full-length feature film will have its world premiere at NYFF’s Opening Night, and surprisingly the first time a Scorsese film was selected. Last year's NYFF56 Opening Night selection, The Favourite, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, went on to receive multiple award nominations, and the film industry consensus is that The Irishman will do the same.

“It’s an incredible honor that The Irishman has been selected as the Opening Night of the New York Film Festival. I greatly admire the bold and visionary selections that the festival presents to audiences year after year,” said Martin Scorsese in a statement. “The festival is critical to bringing awareness to cinema from around the world. I am grateful to have the opportunity to premiere my new picture in New York alongside my wonderful cast and crew.”

The 76-year-old Godfather reunited with his gang in 2017-18 to shoot The Irishman in New York City and small towns that resembled the city in 1960s and '70s. Al Pacino was cast as Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa, Robert De Niro as mob hitman Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran, and Joe Pesci as the Bufalino Mob Boss. (Since Casino in 1995, Scorsese has not directed Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci in a feature film.)

The stained history of the Teamsters and organized crime spans the several decades of Frank Sheeran’s recollections of his role in the 1975 disappearance of his longtime friend, Jimmy Hoffa, the former president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. The cast had to play younger versions of their roles. Industrial Light and Magic provided the special effects to digitally de-age the actors.

The Irishman will have its world premiere at the NYFF57 on September 27, 2019, and have a limited theatrical release, followed by digital streaming in late 2019 by Netflix.


Marriage Story

Director Noah Baumbach turns the perspective on divorce from adolescent to adult in his 2019 film, Marriage Story, NYFF57's Centerpiece selection. Fifteen years earlier, his personal experiences of his parents’ divorce were made into the film, The Squid and the Whale (2005). Now his own divorce (from Jennifer Jason Leigh and now partnered with Greta Gerwig) is laid bare in Marriage Story.  His script draws on his own intimate experiences and conflicting feelings, not to mention the legal process of splitting up. However, Baumbach stresses that the film is not autobiographical.

Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson (who has been divorced twice) stars as the divorcing couple with a custody battle. The husband wants to stay in NYC for the theater; the wife wants to move to LA to further her acting career. Laura Dern and Alan Alda play the combatting divorce attorneys.

The director told Indie Wire that he was influenced by Igmar Bergman in Persona’s dramatic confrontations and style of closeups within celluloid’s 35mm aspect ratio. “Noah keeps the many conflicting emotions between his characters flowing into and around and under and over each other, so beautifully that the film achieves the condition of music…It has an emotional complexity that’s worthy of Bergman,” said NYFF Director Kent Jones.

Marriage Story will premiere at the Venice Film Festival on August 29, 2019. It will then be screened in the other September film festivals: Toronto International Film Festival, Telluride, and then as the Centerpiece film on October 4 at NYFF. Netflix will digitally distribute the film in the near future, streaming on all devices.


Motherless Brooklyn-453748248-large


"Edward Norton has taken Jonathan Lethem’s novel as a jumping-off point to craft a wildly imaginative and extravagant love letter to New York,” effuses NYFF Director Kent Jones.

Motherless Brooklyn, directed by acclaimed Indie actor Edward Norton, will close the 17-day festival. "NYFF has been my hometown festival for nearly 30 years, and it’s consistently one of the best curated festivals in the world…To have this particular film—which grew out of my love affair with New York—selected for Closing Night is just a huge thrill . . . a dream come true, actually,” the film’s director stated in return.

Norton (who is known as a driven perfectionist) wrote the screenplay, directed, and performed the lead role of Detective Lionel Essrog. Bruce Willis played the murdered friend, Frank Minna, and William Dafoe is Paul Rudolph. A Robert Moses type of politician is performed by Alec Baldwin.

Motherless Brooklyn is a Neo-Noir 1950s detective story. Lionel Essrog, a lonely private detective afflicted with Tourette's Syndrome, is drawn into NYC’s corrupt political web in order to solve the murder of his mentor and only friend, Frank Minna. Based loosely on the book, Norton took Jonathan Lethem’s character and changed the setting from contemporary times to the past of the 1950s in New York City.

The film was shot in several locations around NYC, including Washington Square and a brownstone on St. Nicholas Ave, Harlem, that unfortunately caught on fire. The brownstone was the set for the King Rooster Jazz Club. For a Miles Davis vibe in the club, Wynton Marsalis recorded the jazz arrangement of “Daily Battles,” a song by Radiohead’s Thom Yorke that Norton commissioned for use throughout the film. The musician Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers added horns to give dimension to the sound score.

Norton told Rolling Stone, “I thought the idea of daily battles that everyone is fighting, that you’re trying to rise up and out of, was so evocative that I went back into the script and put the phrase [daily battles] into a scene.” And it is a daily battle to produce any film or run a film festival with the high artistic merit of NYFF.

Motherless Brooklyn premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. The film travels south to close NYFF57 on October 11. Motherless Brooklyn is distributed by Warner Bros. and will be screened worldwide starting November 1.


To learn more and buy passes/tickets:
Passes on sale now. Single tickets go on sale Sept. 8.

Main Slate Film Listing:


Venue & Box Office Information

Alice Tully Hall – for advance in-person ticket purchasing
1941 Broadway (between 65th Street and 66th Street)
Monday – Saturday: 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Sunday: Noon – 6:00 p.m.
Also open until 30 minutes after the start of any performance.

Film at Lincoln Center 
Box offices open one half hour before the first screening and close 15 minutes after the start of the last show.

Walter Reade Theater
165 W. 65th Street, north side, upper level (between Broadway and Amsterdam)

Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center
144 W. 65th Street, south side (between Broadway and Amsterdam)

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