- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 2, 2011

A sense of expansion presides over this year’s New York Film Festival, the 49th and first since Lincoln Center’s new $41 million film center was opened.

But as with all things NYFF, any growth is measured and restrained.

The annual movie event, which runs through Oct. 16, is the country’s most prestigious film festival. Presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center, it long has defined itself by its boutique selections of international cinema: a small slate of 26 films; no awards; no rabid industry marketplace auctioning; no fluff. There’s a purity of movie-going to the festival, with the intention of gathering the best pictures a year has to offer.

Earlier this year, Lincoln Center expanded its cinema footprint by opening the 17,000-square foot Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, which includes two more theaters, an auditorium, cafe and bookstore. That’s in addition to the Walter Reade Theater and Alice Tully Hall, the grand, 1,100-seat concert hall in which all main-slate festival selections play.

That means more films, more screenings and a larger audience. Amid an increasingly cacophonous festival world, the New York Film Festival, as it nears its 50th anniversary, is carefully broadening.

“When we looked at it, the decision was to not change the festival,” said Rose Kuo, the Film Society’s executive director. “We realized that we weren’t going to change as much as add to the festival.”

This will be the first NYFF Miss Kuo has overseen. Formerly the artistic director of the AFI Fest in Los Angeles, Miss Kuo came aboard in July 2010, replacing former studio executive Mara Manus, whose relatively brief stewardship of less than two years was marked by staff turnover.

On adjusting to Lincoln Center and its passionate patrons, Miss Kuo says, “It’s like a marriage: The good things are better and the bad things are worse than you thought.”

“I’m very aware of … the reputation and the heritage of the festival, so the tweaks have to be modest and really thought out,” she says.

This year’s festival includes more free screenings and events, and more family programming and panel discussions presented by film industry groups such as the Writers Guild. The new theaters allow for more screenings of festival selections, and the flexibility of devoting a theater to such presentations as a complete retrospective of the Nikkatsu Corp., the famed Japanese studio. More anniversary screenings, such as those scheduled for Oliver Stone’s “Salvador” and Wes Anderson’s “Royal Tenenbaums,” are easier to mount.

“Our public has been expanding quite a lot in recent years, more and more as the festival has grown, perhaps, more international in profile,” said Richard Pena, selection committee chair and program director of the Film Society. “We’re bringing in a lot of new people.”

The festival opened Friday with Roman Polanski’s “Carnage,” an adaptation of Yasmina Reza’s Tony Award-winning play “God of Carnage,” starring Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly. It’s the first film by Mr. Polanski (who did not attend the screening) to screen at the festival since his directorial debut, “Knife in the Water,” in 1963.

The festival’s centerpiece is Simon Curtis’ “My Week With Marilyn,” which stars Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe during the production of Laurence Olivier’s “The Prince and the Showgirl.” Playing as gala screenings are David Cronenberg’s “A Dangerous Method,” about the relationship between Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender); and “The Skin I Live In,” the latest from Pedro Almodovar, a festival mainstay. The closing-night film is Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants,” an early Oscar favorite starring George Clooney as a father of two young daughters whose wife is critically injured.