By Christian Holub
August 03, 2020 at 12:38 PM EDT
Lovers Rock
Credit: Courtesy of the New York Film Festival

COVID-19 has made in-person events difficult in 2020, but New York Film Festival is still happening this fall — focusing on outdoor screenings at drive-ins as well as "virtual" screenings and even some indoor ones pending approval from state health officials. The opening night film this year will be Lovers Rock from director Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave, Widows).

Lovers Rock is actually just one film from McQueen's new five-part anthology Small Axe. The Small Axe films are set from the '60s to the '80s and each tell a different story about London's West Indian community as they struggle against rampant racism. The five films are Mangrove, Lovers Rock, Alex Wheatle, Education, and Red, White, and Blue. While Lovers Rock will be the Opening Night film at NYFF this year, Mangrove and Red, White, and Blue will also be shown as part of the festival's main slate.

“It’s an incredible honor and also very humbling to show three of my films at the New York Film Festival," McQueen said in a statement. "It’s especially meaningful for me at this particular time to share these stories as a Black man of West Indian heritage. I’m grateful to the NYFF for their generosity and wish everyone a safe and healthy festival."

Lovers Rock is the fictional story of young love and music at a blues party in the early '80s. Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn makes her screen debut opposite the BAFTAs 2020 Rising Star award recipient Micheal Ward (Top Boy). Shaniqua Okwok (Boys), Kedar Williams-Stirling (Sex Education), Ellis George (Doctor Who), Alexander James-Blake (Top Boy), and Kadeem Ramsay (Blue Story) also star, as well as Francis Lovehall and Daniel Francis-Swaby, who make their screen debuts. Lovers Rock was co-written by Courttia Newland and McQueen.

Mangrove is the true story of the Mangrove 9, a group of Black activists who clashed with London police during a protest march in 1970, and the highly publicized trial that followed. The trial was the first judicial acknowledgment of behavior motivated by racial hatred within the Metropolitan Police. Letitia Wright (Black Panther), Shaun Parkes (Lost in Space), and Malachi Kirby (Curfew) star alongside Rochenda Sandall (Line of Duty), Jack Lowden (The Long Song), Sam Spruell (Snow White and the Huntsman), Gershwyn Eustache Jnr (The Gentlemen), Nathaniel Martello-White (Collateral), Richie Campbell (Liar), Jumayn Hunter (Les Misérables), and Gary Beadle (Summer of Rockets). Mangrove was co-written by Alastair Siddons and Steve McQueen. Mangrove and Lovers Rock are also part of the Cannes 2020 Official Selection.

Red, White and Blue spotlights the true story of Leroy Logan, who saw his father assaulted by two policemen, motivating him to join the Metropolitan Police and change their racist attitudes from within. John Boyega (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and Steve Toussaint (Prince of Persia) star with talented newcomers Tyrone Huntley, Nathan Vidal and Jaden Oshenye. Red, White and Blue was co-written by Newland and McQueen.

“In the coming weeks we’ll unveil the films our programmers have selected for the 2020 New York Film Festival,” said Eugene Hernandez, Director of the New York Film Festival. “For months we’ve worked to both sustain and refresh NYFF — a champion of film as art since 1963 — and we’re honored that filmmaker Steve McQueen accepted our invitation to open the 58th New York Film Festival in an unprecedented manner, with one of three remarkable new films he’ll unveil at NYFF.”

Dates and ticketing details for the 58th New York Film Festival are still to come.

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