The 58th New York Film Festival Officially Kicked Off With Steve McQueen’s “Lovers Rock”


Earlier in the week, the 2020 incarnation of the New York Film Festival got underway officially, with one part of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe anthology, Lovers Rock, serving as the Opening Night Selection. Having seen it, the movie serves as both a strong start for NYFF this year, as well as a smaller and far less awards friendly selection. That’s not a bad thing, just noteworthy. The film is showcasing something far different than Oscar potential, and in a year like this one, that’s probably for the best. Still, it’s an interesting choice (arguably even more so now, having been seen) for the 58th New York Film Festival.

For those unaware, here’s a bit about the film from the official festival description: “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.”

Having seen the flick, I can attest to it being quite good, representing a unique but also universal look at young love and dance parties. Much of McQueen’s style is still evident here, just with a bit of a softer touch. Darkness looms nearby, sure to be addressed in the other parts of the Small Axe anthology (in fact, the other two installments playing at NYFF are far angrier and darker, tackling hatred and racism head on), but here, the focus is on music and romance, giving it a very specific vibe. In some ways, it’s not what you’d expect from the filmmaker at all, but in other ways, it definitely fits his particular aesthetic.

As a reminder, 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 20 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, updated to include this pick:

2020 – Lovers Rock
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 to see how the rest of the 2020 New York Film Festival turns out!

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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