Some of your critic’s highlights from the beginning of NYFF, including a short with Tilda Swinton and a 4.5-hour documentary
To call the 58th New York Film Festival “eclectic” would be an understatement. The Knockturnal has already written about Nomadland, Time, and American Utopia, this critic’s three favorite films of the festival so far. Some other highlights, including the works of director Steven McQueen, will be recapped later in our NYFF coverage. But we wanted to give you a few ideas about what else the festival has offered.
The documentary/drama hybrid The Inheritence from Ephraim Asili is set in a budding commune in modern-day Philadelphia. Asili documents the struggles between a group of young Black men and women; some Americans and some immigrants. But first-time feature filmmaker Asili (himself born and raised in Philly) interweaves true stories and first-hand accounts of Black life in the city. A discussion of the MOVE bombings and movement in Philadelphia is one major example, a gut-punch of a story that includes accounts from people who were at the police-led attack.
Ephraim Asili makes an argument for being one of the most thought-provoking young minds working in film. While The Inheritance isn’t perfect, it captures a moment in time that needs understanding, putting the Black experience on camera. It was the highlight of the NYFF’s Currents section so far, without a doubt.
The actual documentary MLK/FBI attempts to capture that relevance, but it isn’t as successful. Looking at the FBI’s investigation into the life of Martin Luther King Jr., director Sam Pollard examines culture’s understanding of the intelligence community and of a leader like King Jr. The information contained in this film is absolutely vital for any audience, but it might have worked better in a different format.
City Hall is a different kind of documentary. More than four-and-a-half hours long, Frederick Wiseman’s latest mammoth documentary looks at Boston’s municipal system, tracing bureaucracy in a multitude of formats. The 90-year-old Wiseman follows political action at every level, from the work of the mayor to students trying to make a change.
If the thought of a 272-minute film intimidates you, you’re not alone. But Wiseman knows what he is doing. If you enjoy the works of Ken Burns, you’ll love City Hall. No director has ever made Powerpoints look so good on screen. A moment late in the film shows a town hall sequence so thrilling I was on the edge of my seat… though that could also be in part because of fatigue from hours of sitting still.
While any film could be considered a short compared to City Hall, Pedro Almodovar’s The Human Voice is a thirty-minute masterpiece of talent. Tilda Swinton delivers a one-woman monologue for the majority of the short, speaking to a dog and to an estranged lover (over Air Pods!). Swinton fits so well into Almodovar’s aesthetic, and the filmmaker’s first English-language feature feels like a real part of his repertoire. The production design and costuming are so precise that you’ll almost certainly find something unique to love.
Stay tuned for more reports and highlights from the 58th NYFF, and happy watching!