NEW YORK — The New York Film Festival has started off with more zest than usual and with a decidedly American flavor.
The festival opened Friday night at Lincoln Center with Jim Jarmusch's idiosyncratic comedy "Down by Law" and will wind up Oct. 5 with Francis Coppola's "Peggy Sue Got Married."
This marks the first time in its 24-year history that the festival has reserved its prestigious opening- and closing-night showcases for American films. There is the customary international blend in a program that includes 26 features and 10 short subjects, but the highlights of the inaugural weekend have set the focus this year on the more popular, less predictable American films.
By putting the opening-night spotlight on Jarmusch, whose "Stranger Than Paradise" became a critics' pet three years ago, the festival organizers took a calculated risk that seems to have paid off. "Down by Law," about three misfits on the lam in Louisiana, received mostly enthusiastic reviews in the local press Friday.
The New York Times called Jarmusch, 33, "an American original." Although there were more walkouts than normal among the unusually youthful opening-night audience at the 2,700-seat Avery Fisher Hall, there were also many cheers from those remaining until the end of the showing.
Over the course of the weekend, the festival screened films from Germany, Britain and Brazil. From France, Maurice Pialat's "Police" was generally well received.
But two documentary films steeped in Hollywood film lore received the most acclaim over the weekend--both from the sold-out Lincoln Center audience and the local press:
"Directed by William Wyler," a loving documentary portrait of the late director produced by his daughter, Catherine Wyler, was accompanied by a retrospective showing of a new print of Wyler's 1936 film "Dodsworth"; and "Marlene," Maximilian Schell's 90-minute documentary portrait of Marlene Dietrich in which the reclusive, legendary actress is heard--but never seen--during an interview.
Still to come are two of the festival's most eagerly awaited films: "True Stories," which marks the feature-film directorial debut of rock star David Byrne; and "Round Midnight," the first American feature to be directed by French film maker Bertrand Tavernier.