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Laura Blum

Laura is a festival correspondent covering films and the festival circuit for She also publishes on Thalo



New York City International Film Festival To Debut in Times Square

Times Square may have dodged a car bomb, but now another explosive event is being planned for New York's theater district that's sure to go off. Expect sizzle and smoke August 12 to 19, 2010, when the New York City International Film Festival gets its launch in tourism ground zero.

I just came back from two hours with the man who's behind the plot. Manhattan already has the New York Film Festival and the Tribeca and Gen Art -- whoops, not Gen Art -- and 50 or so other movie pageants, but NYCIFF president and founder Roberto Rizzo says he's now bringing a fresh "opportunity to filmmakers from the USA and around the world to showcase their films in New York City." 

As part of my research, I zig and zag through the Crossroads of the World to meet up with this expectedly peppy soul. And while only an Energizer bunny (with a touch of masochism) could dream of entertaining two million guests in this sweaty swath of humanity -- in August -- his amiable vibe suggests a bon vivant, with a surprisingly even keel.

Rizzo has salt-and-pepper hair and the gravitational pull of an artist, writer and director who also appears in film and television; you'd pick him out of a lineup of character actors playing politicians, prosecutors or gamblers, which are precisely roles he's performed. That it's as easy to picture him in a tux as in denim sums up the public/exclusive, free/premium, filmmaker/pedestrian axis of the fest. This gets me wondering…

"What will your New York festival have that the others don't?" I ask.

"Glamor," he nutshells.

"But Tribeca and Lincoln Center are plenty elegant," I challenge.

"Really?" his eyes bulge.

Now if you've attended Downtown's celebrity-pedigreed affair, you know it hardly lacks for glitz, and few would say the Film Society's Upper West bash is half shabby. But this native of Northern Italy who calls New York home and Argentina second home (among other jet-spanned reaches of the globe), has a vision for his fest. And it's largely la dolce vita. 

Two years ago, Rizzo went to the Cannes Film Festival with his short film Couples, which he wrote and directed. Cannes' unabashed fabulousness left quite an impression, and that's when it came to him: replicate the panache of the Croisette on and around Broadway.

"You dress, you respect the filmmaker, you respect the actors," urges Rizzo. "It's going to be a hot summer, and I want to see people from everywhere enjoying a classy time in New York City."

Even in the silly weather, you'll now have a chance to wear that gown or tuxedo.

Shoving past the pedestrians and the pedicabs, we wend our way to the Hudson Theatre, where NYCIFF will hold its Opening Night Gala. Champagne, hors d'ouevres and wine will be served to guests who pony up $250 for the pre-screening black-tie reception on the main floor. Upstairs, ticket holders at $100 a pop will enjoy modest hydration and, of course, nourishment for the eyes.

  The Opening Night film will be Lovely, Still. Directed by Nik Fackler, it follows the lighter side of two lonely hearts played by Martin Landau and Ellen Burstyn. Both Oscar winners are invited to attend this sequined New York premiere, as is Elizabeth Banks, who also appears in the movie and whom Rizzo met on the set of 30 Rock.

Isabella Rosselini, Eric Thal, Rick Borgia and Steve Dash are among other glittering entities expected to descend on the Red Carpet not unlike the New Year's Eve ball. Live musical performances will precede the Gala screening, with a Mexican recording artist yet to be announced opening for Spanish elecro-pop band Horthy. Details of the post-screening party are similarly in the offing.

On the following evening, Oscar laureate Norma Aleandro (The Official Story) will present the North American premiere of her latest film, Paco. Diego Rafecas directed this Argentine drama about a physics teacher (Tomás Fonzi) suspected of narcotrafficking and the efforts of his politician mother (Aleandro) to salvage his fate.

Also during the Festival, Aleandro will unveil Andres Doesn't Want to Take a Nap/Andrés no quiere dormir la siesta, by Daniel Bustamante. In it she portrays a woman whose daughter-in-law is posthumously revealed to have helped the underground resistance during Argentina's military dictatorship and whose grandson is driven to embrace that regime. Aleandro will be on hand to discuss both films, which will betoken Argentina on the occasion of its Bicentennial.

Rizzo already has 20 feature-length works lined up, and there are 60 more to go. With thousands of submissions pouring in from five continents and creators set to attend, he's aiming for the skyscrapers with the Festival, which he hopes will be the highlight of New York's August calendar.

Including short films and music videos, he has lassoed a total of 300 entries to date. One short is Flat Love, narrated by Rossellini and directed by Andrés Sanz, about a man who believes the world is flat, and who falls for a two-dimensional woman at the Museum of Modern Art.

Shorts form the touchstone of NYCIFF, at least in its debut year. This is perhaps as much for expediency sake as it is a programming choice.

As currently envisioned, screenings will run from 7 p.m. to midnight each day of the Festival except Opening Night. A number of these will be full-length movies, mostly presented in Times Square-area theaters, while more fleeting works – matched to the attention spans of pedestrians and tourists – will be displayed al fresco on a huge digital screen by Duffy Square.

"When you go to Cannes, you see the big outdoor screen on the beach," says Rizzo. "But it's only for VIPs." Explaining the glam-for-all ideology behind the Festival, he stresses, "Here anybody can see it."

Though, as Rizzo proclaims, "we're the only film festival ever to showcase free movies in Times Square to the public," it won't be New York's sole source of outdoor, gratis viewing during sultry August. HBO Bryant Park Summer Film Festival (June through August); Central Park (August 18 to 22); RiverFlicks: Summer on the Hudson (Wednesday and Friday evenings in July and August at Riverside Park South's Pier 1); and Movies with a View: Brooklyn Bridge Park Summer Film Series (Thursday evenings from July 8 to August 27) are some of the competition. (And for nine bucks, movies and music can be had at Rooftop Films May through September).

Yet a cinematic display of NYCIFF's volume is unprecedented for a month when anyone who can board a Jitney does.

The eight-day event will culminate in an Awards Night; like Opening Night, it will take place from 6 p.m. to midnight. The top prize has been christened "Laurel d'Or," for best narrative feature. Juried competitions will additionally honor best works in horror, documentary and shorts categories. 

Panels, parties and industry networking events are in pre-production for the Festival, which may just be the sexiest spectacle to hit Times Square since X-rated movie houses and peep shows lined the Deuce.


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