Avery Tully Hall. Photo: Nicholas Kemp

After the World Premiere of Paul Greengrass' Captain Phillips, the New York Film Festival began its first full day of screenings: Hayao Miyazaki's The Wind Rises, Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez's Manakamana, Frederick Wiseman's At Berkeley, Nadav Schirman's  In The Dark Room, Zhangke Jia's A Touch of Sin, Joaquim Pinto's What Now, Remind Me?, Mitra Farahani's Fifi Howls from Happiness and, of course, the Coens' Inside Llewyn Davis. NYFF Convergence  also kicked off its weekend of technology and storytelling in the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center.

We ran around grabbing some highlights from the day, including a quick chat with Frederick Wiseman and highlights from Q&As with filmmakers from Manakamana, Alan Partridge, A Touch of Sin, and What Now, Remind Me? And while Friday was all about Captain Phillips, NYFF alum Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha) took advantage of the red carpet for his latest project While We're Young, casting Film Society's own John Wildman as a character.

A Touch of Sin:

Like Frederick Wiseman earlier in the day, A Touch of Sin filmmaker Jia Zhangke took the stage to an extended ovation from the Lincoln Center audience. His appearance here for his new movie drew an enthusiastic response. “In the last few years I've noticed widely reported-upon violent events that were very unsettling to me and I wanted to use this film to describe these events,” Jia said alongside the lead actress from his new movie.

The story has four main characters situated in four provinces, he explained in introducing the film. The film spans China from north to south. “I feel that there are a lot of emotions and wounds and hurt on a personal, local and international level,” he added, “Only once we are able to explore these emotions through cinema can we begin a moment of change.” [Eugene Hernandez]

Charlie Victor Romeo:

A sell-out crowd packed the Elinor Bunin Munroe for the NYFF Convergence screening of aircraft emergency feature Charlie Victor Romeo. Originally produced as a stage play in the Lower East Side, the compilation of stories are recreated entirety from black box recordings of true airline emergencies. Charlie Victor Romeo presents a “visceral experience that stays with audiences long after credits roll.” The play was a hit not only with audiences, but with the Department of Defense, which gave money to the production because it served as a training tool for its pilots. 

“Something amazing about the field of aviation is that it's willing to look at itself and criticize itself,” said Robert Berger, who co-directed the film version of Charlie Victor Romeo with Patrick Daniels and Karlyn Michelson. “That is a model for the rest of the world.” Throughout the film, the audience is placed in the cockpit with the pilots as they traverse various emergencies. It is tense and even more jarring considering it is not fiction. “If you're an actor, nothing gets you in the moment more than having those alarms sound,” said one thespian who played in Charlie Victor Romeo. “The objective is clear. You want to land that plane.”

At Berkeley:

Frederick Wiseman's At Berkeley had its U.S. premiere at NYFF on Saturday. The four-hour doc is stitched together from well over 200 hours of footage Wiseman accumulated over 12 weeks, told through multiple points of view, including that of administrators facing a crisis of diminishing state resources while attempting to secure financial footing for the university, which is consistently ranked as one of the top in the world, and to maintain its historical diversity.

“I hope the film raises the question about how realistic the student assessment of the situation is… when they're demanding free tuition when the state was only providing 16 percent. It's more than a bit unrealistic,” said Wiseman. “It's a very complex subject. I think the administration was trying to maintain the integrity and the standards of the university in the face of incredible financial hardship [including] finding the most talented and diverse student body.”

Wiseman also gave his philosophical take on documentary filmmaking: “Some people think that documentary filmmaking should only expose something, but I think it's just as important to make documentaries about people who are trying hard and are successful. It doesn't have to be one or the other, but too often, I think, it focuses on the worst aspects of human nature and perhaps not enough on the best.”

Frederick Wiseman signs his 20×24 Polaroid at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center Saturday. Photo: Brian Brooks

Alan Partridge:

Comedy joined the lineup Saturday in the form of Declan Lowney's Alan Partridge. The film centers on DJ Alan Partridge's radio station, which is taken over by a new media conglomerate. It sets in motion a chain of events that see Alan having to work with the police to defuse a potentially violent siege. In the recent NYFF press conference, Steve Coogan said that British comedy is often rooted in failure: “In America they like success, but in Britain we like people who try… When they succeed, we don't like it.”

Coogan noted that at one point he read a newspaper article that suggested a movie about Alan Partridge should never be on the big screen, but he took it as a dare: “A couple years ago, I read an article in the Guardian about 'Why There Shouldn't Be An Alan Partridge Film' and I thought, 'Fuck you I'm gonna do one.'” Coogan said he's re-teaming with Michael Winterbottom to make a sequel to The Trip called The Trip to Italy. Talking about the film, Coogan said, “It's very pretentious and reasonably funny.” [Tiffany Vazquez and Eugene Hernandez]


Winner of Best First Feature at the Locarno Film Festival, Manakamana unfolds inside a cable car that carries pilgrims and tourists to and from a mountaintop temple in Nepal. The film's 11 scenes each last as long as a one-way trip, which just so happens to correspond to the duration of a roll of 16mm film. “We were thinking a lot about histories of cinema,” said co-director Stephanie Spray. “We were also trying to go back to a cinematic experience that is less about feeding you a narrative and is about having you meet us halfway.”

Manakamana is the latest work from Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab—which previously produced Sweetgrass (NYFF '09) and Leviathan (NYFF50)—and, as the film's official NYFF description says, it “is thrillingly mysterious in its effects: a staged documentary, a cross between science fiction and ethnography, an airborne version of an Andy Warhol screen test.”

Stephanie Spray was tickled by one question from an audience member who wondered, because of the many humorous moments in the film, whether it was in fact a satire on ethnographic filmmaking. “That's terrific I never thought of that,” she said. “We have an appreciation for the traditions of ethnographic filmmaking. We were (also) thinking about structuralism,” she added. The film was picked up for distribution in the U.S. by Cinema Guild. It will next screen again on Monday. [Eugene Hernandez]

Naomi Watts, Charles Grodin and Adam Driver in character on the red carpet. Photo: Philip May

A unique Friday night red carpet moment courtesy of Noah Baumbach:

Noah Baumbach brought Frances Ha to the New York Film Festival last and he was back again on Friday night. This time, it was to shoot a scene for his upcoming film While We're Young. Baumbach, Naomi Watts, Charles Grodin and Adam Driver took to the Captain Phillips red carpet, using the live set up as a backdrop.

“So, we basically had a real red carpet, alternating with a fake red carpet,” said Film Society publicist John Wildman who was tapped by Baumbach to play himself, but with a minor change. “The movie version of myself is a little tougher with the photographers than the real life version is.” Instead of photographers yelling for Watts to pose, Wildman instructed them to use her character's name. It was a bit of art imitating life (or is it the other way around?). So what's the film about? “An uptight documentary filmmaker and his wife find their lives loosened up a bit after befriending a free-spirited younger couple.”

Captain Phillips premiere at Avery Tully Hall. Photo by Lesli Klainberg

One more look at Captain Phillips:

With so many photos floating around from the World Premiere of Paul Greengrass' Captain Phillips, we thought we'd share one from a new perspective: back stage at Avery Tully Hall.

Stay tuned for more coverage of the first weekend of the 51st New York Film Festival, including last night's premiere of the Coen brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis.