Film at Lincoln Center announces that the historic 58th edition of the New York Film Festival (NYFF), reconceived this year to incorporate drive-in and virtual screenings, was among the organization’s most attended editions, reaching an array of new audiences across the country and the world. 

Since 1963, the New York Film Festival has been a centerpiece of New York’s arts scene: an annual bellwether of the state of cinema that has shaped film culture in the city and beyond. Earlier this year, FLC announced new festival leadership in Eugene Hernandez, NYFF Director, and Dennis Lim, NYFF Director of Programming, as well as a streamlined festival structure. But amid plans for a reimagined program, the current health crisis emerged. With the safety of audiences and staff in mind as the first priority, festival organizers kept the annual tradition alive through a hybrid of virtual and drive-in screenings, in accordance with official state and health directives. 

Opening September 17 and closing October 11, 2020, NYFF presented 94 films from six continents and 40 countries in FLC’s Virtual Cinema over the course of a record 25 days. Screenings were available nationwide for the first time in the festival’s history, and audiences responded enthusiastically—nearly 40,000 film rentals were purchased in all 50 states as well as Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Additionally, NYFF expanded beyond its Manhattan home on the Upper West Side, presenting 33 drive-in screenings in three of New York City’s five boroughs (Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens), attended by 8,300 New Yorkers*. From Spike Lee to Sofia Coppola, the filmmakers introducing drive-in screenings were met with enthusiastic honks in lieu of applause. All screenings followed New York State COVID-19 guidelines to ensure the safety of NYFF guests. NYFF also hosted more than 60 free virtual talks and filmmaker Q&As available to audiences worldwide, which were viewed in more than 120 countries. Filmmakers, on-screen talent, and industry leaders connected with 2,565 attendees around the globe through virtual NYFF Free Talks, Industry Talks, and Press Conferences. All free virtual programming is now available to watch on Film at Lincoln Center’s YouTube channel; highlights include the Lovers Rock Press Conference, John Waters’s introduction of Art Movie Hell, and a discussion on Smooth Talk with Laura Dern

The festival’s new format also made possible different kinds of communal viewing, with virtual screenings available to households and drive-ins allowing for up to 4 attendees per car. At an average of 1.5 home viewers per virtual film rental and 2.5 attendees per drive-in ticket, the 58th New York Film Festival’s virtual and drive-in events culminated in an estimated 70,000+ attendees, an increase in attendance of 9.15 percent over 2019. 

Hernandez said, “We are thrilled at the enthusiastic response to our reimagined festival. All summer, we worked to determine how to bring this year’s exceptional new films to audiences during the ongoing health crisis. Building on pre-pandemic goals, we refined our programming approach and developed ways to share NYFF with a wider audience, and our numbers demonstrate that moviegoers across New York City—and in fact in all 50 states!—embraced this year’s event. We’re so grateful for these successes and excited to continue connecting with new audiences around the country.”

“The success of this year’s NYFF is a direct result of the passion and hard work of our extraordinary staff, who worked diligently to find new ways to present the festival in these unprecedented times,” said FLC Executive Director Lesli Klainberg. “Thank you to participating filmmakers, studios, members, patrons, sponsors, and our Board for their dedication and contributions, and to cinema lovers in NYC and around the country for their enthusiasm for and support of the art of film.”

Additionally, prestigious brands from the film, corporate, and media communities, including HBO, Campari, Netflix, Hearst, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Topic Studios, Dolby, Turner Classic Movies, Radeberger Pilsner, and Participant Media, proudly demonstrated their commitment to New Yorkers and cinema by extending and, in some cases, establishing new partnerships with NYFF. 

Following the success of NYFF, Film at Lincoln Center continues to present year-round programming in its Virtual Cinema, including runs of popular NYFF58 Revivals titles Damnation and Smooth Talk, as well as additional festivals, director retrospectives, and new releases. All Virtual Cinema rentals support Film at Lincoln Center, helping to ensure it remains a vibrant center for the cinema community. 

*NYFF58 assumes an average of 2.5 people per car at drive-in screenings and 1.5 home viewers per virtual film rental.


Film at Lincoln Center is dedicated to supporting the art and elevating the craft of cinema and enriching film culture.

Film at Lincoln Center fulfills its mission through the programming of festivals, series, retrospectives, and new releases; the publication of Film Comment; the presentation of podcasts, talks, and special events; the creation and implementation of Artist Initiatives; and our Film in Education curriculum and screenings. Since its founding in 1969, this nonprofit organization has brought the celebration of American and international film to the world-renowned Lincoln Center arts complex, making the discussion and appreciation of cinema accessible to a broad audience and ensuring that it remains an essential art form for years to come.