Organizers of the New York Film Festival, whose 58th edition faced a welter of complications due to COVID-19, said attendance across virtual and drive-in screenings rose more than 9% over 2019 levels.
With drive-in theaters set up in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens and state health restrictions idling the Film at Lincoln Center home base in Manhattan, an estimated 8,300 viewers attended the 33 screenings in person. Nearly 40,000 film rental transactions were made in all 50 U.S. states as well as Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Exact numbers are impossible to determine given that the usual ticketing and seating went by the wayside, making comparisons with any other year less than precise. Film at Lincoln Center said it assumed that each ticket for an online screening meant 1.5 home viewers watched and each drive-in ticket yielded 2.5 attendees.
New leadership took over early in 2020 after the departure last year of Kent Jones, with Eugene Hernandez becoming director and Dennis Lim heading programming. The pair had already initiated plans to streamline the festival’s offerings when the pandemic upended the festival circuit, film industry and life in general.
In an extraordinary sign of how unusual 2020 was turning out to be, officials at the New York, Toronto, Venice and Telluride issued a joint statement in July stating that they had “moved away from competing” with each other for premieres and talent. Instead, they would focus on collaborating on the best ways to hold large-scale cultural events safely and effectively. Telluride wound up going completely dark this year instead of moving forward with a hybrid edition as most festivals opted to do.
New York’s festival stretched to its longest runtime ever, lasting for 25 days between September 17 and October 11. In all, 94 films screened from 40 countries through the fest’s virtual setup. After opening with Steve McQueen’s Lovers Rock, the festival went on to feature high-profile screenings like On the Rocks, director Sofia Coppola’s re-teaming with Bill Murray, and American Utopia, Spike Lee’s film version of David Byrne’s Broadway musical.
More than 60 free virtual talks and filmmaker Q&As were made available online and were viewed in more than 120 countries by 2,565 attendees, organizers said.
“We are thrilled at the enthusiastic response to our reimagined festival,” Hernandez said in a press release. “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.”
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