Steve McQueen’s “Lovers Rock” Will Open The 2020 New York Film Festival


Moments ago, the New York Film Festival announced their Opening Night Selection, and it’s not a title you’d expect. Going in a different direction than at least I anticipated, they’ve tapped Steve McQueen’s Lovers Rock as the Opener. Part of a five movie collection of McQueen’s called the Small Axe anthology, this is the highest profile of the lot, with the four other films being Mangrove, Alex Wheatle, Education, as well as Red, White and Blue (apparently Mangrove and Red, White and Blue are going to be a part of the fest’s Main Slate when it’s announced later on this month, too). Consider this a surprise, as well a potential shakeup in the upcoming awards race. Considering how interesting it sounds, count me in, and it’s kind of fun that NYFF didn’t opt for an obvious choice. Read on for more about the flick…

Here is some of the press release:

Film at Lincoln Center announced today that Steve McQueen’s Lovers Rock will be the Opening Night film of the 58th New York Film Festival, making its World Premiere. Lovers Rock is part of the Small Axe anthology, which comprises five original films by Academy Award, BAFTA, and Golden Globe-winning filmmaker Steve McQueen (Hunger, 12 Years A Slave), which will premiere on BBC One later this year and air on Amazon Prime Video in the US. Set from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s, the films each tell a different story involving London’s West Indian community, whose lives have been shaped by their own force of will despite rampant racism and discrimination. It is produced by Turbine Studios and Steve McQueen’s Lammas Park for BBC One with Amazon Studios co-producing in the US. The five films that make up Small Axe are Mangrove, Lovers Rock, Alex Wheatle, Education and Red, White and Blue.

Lovers Rock tells a fictional story of young love and music at a blues party in the early 1980s. Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn makes her screen debut opposite the BAFTAs 2020 Rising Star award recipient Micheal Ward (Top Boy). Shaniqua Okwok (Boys), Kedar Williams-Stirling (Sex Education), Ellis George (Doctor Who), Alexander James-Blake (Top Boy), Kadeem Ramsay (Blue Story) also star, as well as Francis Lovehall and Daniel Francis-Swaby, who make their screen debuts. Lovers Rock was co-written by Courttia Newland and Steve McQueen.

Of historic note for the festival, two other films from the anthology, Mangrove and Red, White and Blue, will also have their World Premieres as part of this year’s Main Slate. The full Main Slate for the 58th New York Film Festival will be announced in the coming weeks.

Mangrove is the true story of the Mangrove 9, a group of Black activists who clashed with London police during a protest march in 1970, and the highly publicized trial that followed. The trial was the first judicial acknowledgment of behavior motivated by racial hatred within the Metropolitan Police. Letitia Wright (Black Panther), Shaun Parkes (Lost in Space), and Malachi Kirby (Curfew) star alongside Rochenda Sandall (Line of Duty), Jack Lowden (The Long Song), Sam Spruell (Snow White and the Huntsmen), Gershwyn Eustache Jnr (The Gentlemen), Nathaniel Martello-White (Collateral), Richie Campbell (Liar), Jumayn Hunter (Les Misérables), and Gary Beadle (Summer of Rockets). Mangrove was co-written by Alastair Siddons and Steve McQueen. Mangrove and Lovers Rock are part of the Cannes 2020 Official Selection.

Red, White and Blue spotlights the true story of Leroy Logan, who saw his father assaulted by two policemen, motivating him to join the Metropolitan Police and change their racist attitudes from within. John Boyega (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and Steve Toussaint (Prince of Persia) star with talented newcomers Tyrone Huntley, Nathan Vidal and Jaden Oshenye. Red, White and Blue was co-written by Courttia Newland and Steve McQueen.

The 58th edition of the New York Film Festival will focus on outdoor and virtual screenings with indoor screenings as possible and directed by state and health officials. In an unprecedented collaboration, Film at Lincoln Center is proud to partner with arts and cultural institutions from across the city this year to share films with New York City communities at two drive-ins: the Queens Drive-In at Flushing Meadows Corona Park, created by Rooftop Films, the New York Hall of Science, and Museum of the Moving Image; and the Brooklyn Drive-In at The Brooklyn Army Terminal, created by Rooftop Films and the New York City Economic Development Corporation. This exciting and historic partnership is intended to act as a cooperative effort to bring films safely back to New Yorkers and to highlight the power of cinema to build community and camaraderie among our fellow citizens as New York emerges from an incredibly challenging period. Specific dates, along with programming and ticketing details will follow in the coming weeks.

“It’s an incredible honor and also very humbling to show three of my films at the New York Film Festival. It’s especially meaningful for me at this particular time to share these stories as a Black man of West Indian heritage. I’m grateful to the NYFF for their generosity and wish everyone a safe and healthy festival,” said Steve McQueen.

“In the coming weeks we’ll unveil the films our programmers have selected for the 2020 New York Film Festival,” said Eugene Hernandez, Director of the New York Film Festival. “For months we’ve worked to both sustain and refresh NYFF — a champion of film as art since 1963 — and we’re honored that filmmaker Steve McQueen accepted our invitation to open the 58th New York Film Festival in an unprecedented manner, with one of three remarkable new films he’ll unveil at NYFF.”

“Steve McQueen is one of the essential artists of our time, and he reaches a new level of mastery with the Small Axe films,” said New York Film Festival Director of Programming Dennis Lim. “These are works of historical drama that speak powerfully and urgently to our present moment of reckoning over police brutality and systemic racism. They tell stories of outward struggle and inner conflict but also of everyday joy. We can’t wait to share these revelatory films with audiences, and to open the festival with Lovers Rock, a celebration of Black lives as exhilarating as it is liberating.”

“We are proud to have Steve in our Amazon family and to be able to provide a home for his groundbreaking and relevant anthology of films, Small Axe. It’s an incredible gift for us to bring such a powerful project to Prime Video. Lovers Rock, Mangrove, and Red, White and Blue shine a bright and urgent light on the courageous heroes who have stood up to fight against systemic racism; their stories are both specific and universal in their quest for equality and peace. It’s the highest honor for all of us to have three of Steve’s works be selected to both open and present at this year’s New York Film Festival,” said Jen Salke, Head of Amazon Studios.

“That NYFF has given Steve McQueen this unprecedented platform speaks to the urgency and brilliance of what he has created, and all of us at the BBC feel hugely proud to be part of these films,” said Rose Garnett, Executive Producer for the BBC and Director of BBC Films. “Audiences everywhere will be electrified and deeply moved by this extraordinary work.”

In terms of the Opening Night, this spot has recently become a bit of a launching pad for Oscar contenders, with well over a half dozen Best Picture nominees in the lot over the prior 19 years (though admittedly, this title is smaller scale than most of these below). As proof, here is what the Opener of NYFF has looked like in the past:

2019 – The Irishman
2018 – The Favourite
2017 – Last Flag Flying
2016 – 13th
2015 – The Walk
2014 – Captain Phillips
2013 – Gone Girl
2012 – Life of Pi
2011 – Carnage
2010 – The Social Network
2009 – Wild Grass
2008 – The Class
2007 – The Darjeeling Limited
2006 – The Queen
2005 – Good Night, and Good Luck
2004 – Look at Me
2003 – Mystic River
2002 – About Schmidt
2001 – Va Savoir
2000 – Dancer in the Dark

Stay tuned for more on the 2020 New York Film Festival!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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