“Al Gore was right,” scolds a TV news anchor in Abel Ferrara's latest, 4:44 Last Day on Earth. The film begins just as the world is about to end due to a sudden environmental catastrophe that will destroy planet Earth within hours.

Set almost entirely in a Lower East Side apartment, Ferrara's film looks at the final night of life for a New York City couple, played by Willem Dafoe and the filmmaker's real-life partner, Shanyn Leigh. Dafoe plays a recovering addict struggling with how he'll go out, either in the arms of his lover or alone on drugs. 

There's a pronounced lack of hysteria in Abel Ferrara's 4:44 Last Day on Earth. But tension appears as the countdown to the final minutes of the world approaches. Things start out surprisingly calm on Delancey St just outside the New York City apartment shared by the man and woman at the center of the story. On their final night, they alternate between having sex, sharing quiet zen moments and, then grappling with the tumultuous nature of their relationship. The two dial-up friends and relatives via Skype, while monitoring sober coverage of the end of the world on TV, their solitary moments occasionally interrupted when the couple witness striking moments of personal anguish outside the apartment. 

“I didn't realize how many people, they think you can drink on your birthday,” Abel Ferrara explained at yesterday's New York Film Festival press conference. “That was so much of what the film was about,” he added, “Its not 'was I gonna go out rocking, was I gonna go out whacked' – it was, 'am i gonna go out alone?'”

“We're not making a documentary on how the world would end if it did end,” Ferrara clarified, explaining that the film is his own vision of how the situation might go down. He added that he was warned to stay closer to The Twilight Zone than science in his exploration of the destruction of the planet.

Asked later about the similarity between his new film and Lars Von Trier's Melancholia, which is also screening in the New York Film Festival, Ferrara was fine the link.

“These films, where they come from, god only knows,” he said, “I can only follow my imagination. It's happened so many times before: we make a gangster film and the Coen Brothers make another one at the same time. These ideas are out there,” Ferrara pondered, “You know, you have your antenna up.”

“The genre of the disaster movie, the last day on earth, you could say is a genre in a way,” he concluded.

The filmmaker was all smiles throughout yesterday's press conference at Lincoln Center, speaking clearly and engagingly with the audience, entertaining the crowd with asides and anecdotes. He implied that, like Willem Dafoe's character in 4:44 Last Day on Earth, he's also clean and sober.

“I got the team back together for this film,” Ferrara added, on stage with the Film Society's Richard Peña for the press conference. “One thing about not drinking is that you can work with a lot of people you haven't worked with in a long time. This feels very special in that way.”

Abel Ferrara's 4:44 Last Day on Earth screens on Wednesday, October 5 (buy tickets) and Saturday, October 8 (buy tickets) at the New York Film Festival.

Photo by Eugene Hernandez/Film Society of Lincoln Center.