A New York Film Festival audience at Alice Tully Hall. Photo by Silvia Saponaro

The parade of premieres, filmmakers and actors continued at Lincoln Center as the New York Film Festival headed into the week. Oscar-nominated filmmaker Hany Abu-Assad gave an early glimpse to press of his latest film Omar, which has been submitted for this year's round of Best Foreign Language consideration. The Paradise Now filmmaker again centers his plot on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a personal story. About Time filmmaker Richard Curtis as well as cast members Bill Nighy and Domhnall Gleeson joined the U.S. debut of their latest film at Alice Tully Hall in a story that includes the gift of time travel, while Cannes award winner Stranger By the Lake offered up a lusty tale of desire and murder on an idyllic lakeside beach.

Film Society's free NYFF Live talks continued as well. Exhibition director Joanna Hogg and Club Sandwich filmmaker Fernando Eimbcke gave insight into their frequently unconventional approaches to filmmaking. The series continues this week with conversations with Andrea Arnold, Claire Denis, and more.


“One of the reasons I made this film was that, when I was shooting Paradise Now, we thought that there was a traitor among us giving the Army information,” said Omar director Hany Abu-Assad at NYFF following the film's press screening on Tuesday. “It became a question of 'who is the traitor among our crew?' We lived in a very paranoid, horrific situation.” The filmmaker then recalled that later a friend had indeed had an experience with the Israeli Secret Service in which he was essentially blackmailed to cooperate.

Hany Abu-Assad's Omar

The tense thriller, which is Palestine's submission for Best Foreign-Language Oscar consideration, centers on Omar (Adam Bakri), a Palestinian baker who routinely climbs over the separation wall to meet up with his girl Nadja (Leem Lubany). By night, he can be construed as a freedom fighter or terrorist, ready to risk his life to strike at the Israeli military with his childhood friends Tarek (Eyad Hourani) and Amjad (Samer Bisharat). Arrested after the killing of an Israeli soldier and tricked into an admission of guilt by association, he agrees to work as an informant, which begins a dangerous game in which loyalties become vague.

“I felt immediately that this is a good drama,” offered Abu-Assad, whose previous NYFF film Paradise Now (2005) received an Oscar nomination in 2006. “It’s a personal experience where true events make me feel that I need to make a story about this. Especially about trust and how important that is for community, for love, for friendship… for everything. I avoided giving it just a Palestinian aspect. There are a lot of Palestinian details, but it is a very human story. It happens everywhere in this world, where three friends and a lover get caught in a play of mistrust, let’s say with the Secret Service, playing a role. I feel that it is a very human story.”

“Three weeks ago the film was shown in different cities in Palestine,” said Abu-Assad. “The reactions were actually very, very good. Sure, there are people who will come and argue about things, but I did the movie especially for the common man in order to get to this question of collaborating. I got a sense of the reactions in the audience that they are very happy with the movie, people from the Palestinian authority, people from the street, people from the Resistance… They all reacted positively because the movie is really making a discussion and a movie that can create a positive discussion is always good.” Omar debuts at NYFF on Friday, October 11. [Erik Luers]

Filmmakers Fernando Eimbcke and Joanna Hogg in a free NYFF Live talk. Photo by Eugene Hernandez

Emerging Artists: Joanna Hogg and Fernando Eimbcke

Filmmakers Joanna Hogg and Fernando Eimbcke continued the NYFF Live chats on Tuesday night. Hogg and Eimbcke gave insight into their filmmaking styles, which meander outside the conventional. Both hail from a photography background, which is a cornerstone of their work, though Eimbcke places a heavy emphasis on the editing. “After I saw a first-cut from my first [feature] movie, Duck Season (ND/NF '05), I called my wife and said, 'Let's go out.' I thought I'd go to jail. But an editor came along and saved the film.” The comedy went on to win multiple Ariel Awards including Best Director and Best Editing as well as a Grand Jury Prize at AFI Fest in Los Angeles.

Joanna Hogg incorporates photography into her scripts, saying she uses images to convey ideas to her actors, while dialogue is only added last minute. “I've found I need to format the screenplay my own way,” she said during the conversation at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center. “There's space for actors to put in their own words. As a photographer, I incorporate images. They look appealing, but only a few people see them. And then I fill in the dialogue and show my actors and then they go to it…” Both Hogg and Eimbcke are screening their latest films Exhibition (Hogg) and Club Sandwich (Eimbcke) at the festival in addition to their earlier work. Screenings continue through next week. [Brian Brooks]

Director Richard Curtis with About Time stars Bill Nighy and Domhnall Gleeson on the red carpet. Photo by Olga Bas

About Time

Director Richard Curtis along with cast members Bill Nighy and Domhnall Gleeson attended the U.S. debut of their latest, About Time, on Tuesday night. In the U.K. production, Nighy plays a father who passes along his secret power of time travel to his son played by Gleeson, who revealed that he auditioned for the role with a big beard because he had just come over from shooting Anna Karenina. Consequently, he looked much older than the character and Curtis wasn't sure if he was the right pick. 

During the evening's Q&A a woman asked Nighy if he was married, which resulted in a blush. Gleeson then chimed in saying he wasn't either… Curtis was asked what it meant to him to show his work to an audience that had been won over. He said it was “really special,” recalling one particularly off-putting screening of Four Weddings and a Funeral. The filmmaker had gone in to see the audience's reaction, and no one laughed. So he told his wife that the people in the cinema must all be refugees that didn't speak English. The 1994 film went on to huge box office success and received two Oscar nominations. [Liv Behre]

Hirokazu Kore-eda at one of our free NYFF Live talks. Photo by Olga Bas

Like Father, Like Son

There was hardly a dry eye in the house on Monday night when the credits rolled on Hirokazu Kore-eda's Like Father, Like Son. The film's “switched at birth” story is the starting point for an exploration of family dynamics and the complexities of human emotion.

“I get a lot of inspiration from working with children,” said Kore-eda during a Q&A following the screening in Alice Tully Hall. “I try to incorporate their vocabulary as much as possible.” The director got a big laugh when he explained that one of the child actors in the film had a habit of saying “why” and “oh my god” all the time, so he put it in the script.

The film centers on Ryota Nonomiya a successful businessman driven by money. He learns that his biological son was switched with another child after birth, forcing him to make a life-changing decision and choose his true son or the boy he raised as his own.

An audience member asked about Kore-eda's casting process, especially in regards to the film's two mothers. “The most important thing is the voices and how they will come together.” [Nicholas Kemp]

Alain Guiraudie introduces Stranger by the Lake while Film Society's Dennis Lim looks on. Photo by Silvia Saponaro

Stranger by the Lake

A winner of a directing prize at the Cannes Film Festival, Stranger by the Lake had come in under the radar at the festival in May, but soon became quite a sensation. As the New York Film Festival discloses on the film's film page, it has “scenes of a sexually explicit nature,” which serve as a vehicle to a story of lust and death that entirely unfolds at a gay cruising lakeside beach. Screening in Cannes, the film's heavy dose of nudity and copulation proved a bit too much for some in the audience, but with some fair warning here at NYFF (including from the stage as programmer Dennis Lim introduced the film), those at Alice Tully seemed ready for the journey, belting out some hoots and hollers as the lights dimmed.

“In using a simple set up, the idea is to take the same location and, by having that, you can intensify reality,” said director Alain Guiraudie at Alice Tully Hall on Monday evening. “You don't see the characters in their everyday task and therefore they become less anecdotal and banal as characters… This is really a psychological film. I'd rather not, as a directo,r pass judgment on the characters; I'd rather the viewer make conclusions for themselves.”

“I made some short and medium length films that had a single location. I moved to multiple locations and many actors, but had the experience of having frustrating shoots because I didn't have enough time to develop the characters, so I returned to the idea of having just one location and that would be a way to return to the idea of tragedy.”

Guiraudie related the film's story, which begins as a simple story against an idyllic setting, but later evolves a darker plot with thriller-esque elements. “I think the film is between the 70s and today. It's between an era of sexual emancipation and today where some of those [freedoms] are somewhat lost… AIDS changed sex. Love and death were brought very close together.” [Brian Brooks]