Exclusive: Festival director Kent Jones previews '20th Century Women,' '13th,' and more

Each year, the New York Film Festival finds itself sandwiched between its high-profile brethren from around the world; with Venice, Telluride, and Toronto winding down by mid-September and AFI looming on the other side of November, the NYFF occupies a unique position amid the fall movie season, generating buzz and awards heat as it introduces a handful of highly-anticipated projects to the market for the first time.

EW has an exclusive first look at the new trailer for the upcoming event’s 54th edition, showing off new footage from films sure to make a splash in the months ahead, like Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th, Mike Mills’ 20th Century Women, Kleber Mendonça Filho’s Aquarius, Ang Lee’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, and Olivier Assayas’ Personal Shopper.

“I think we’re at a point in movie history where there are fewer and fewer good movies,” festival director Kent Jones tells EW about his programmers’ careful curation process, at a time when studios are investing less in original projects and more in high-profile sequels, remakes, and reboots.

Credit: Merrick Morton

Jones says the decision to open the festival with DuVernay’s documentary, 13th, which examines the United States’ long history of incarcerating an alarmingly high number of African-Americans, reflects the growing trend of unparalleled excellence in movies transferring from the realm of fiction to works based on real-life subjects.

“It’s the first time we’ve ever opened with a documentary. For me, the more I look at movies, the more porous the borders between documentaries and fiction seem,” he says. “I was dumbfounded by Ava’s movie, because she takes a historical surface and builds an overwhelming experience out of it. It’s a movie that leaves you shaking. What she’s doing is actually creating a conversation.”

As for the festival’s tradition of hosting surprise screenings during the festival, Jones says there won’t be any previously-unannounced movies playing this year, though he does tease an upcoming “special screening” of an exciting project is in the works, with more details to be revealed at a later date.

While the annual NYFF is typically viewed as a launching pad for select Oscar-bound films, Jones says the festival has, for him, always been — and will continue to be — exclusively about creating a memorable journey for moviegoers.

“What doesn’t matter to me is whether [attendees] like the films or not. That’s okay if they don’t. We can argue! That’s a great thing, to be able to argue,” Jones admits. “I want people to come and have an experience, because we’re saying we love these movies, and we want to share them with you.”

NYFF is presented by Film Society of Lincoln Center, and runs from Sept. 30-Oct. 16. Tickets are available now. Watch EW’s exclusive trailer for NYFF54 in the video above.

20th Century Women
  • Movie
  • 118 minutes