A Complete Guide to NYC Fall Film Festivals

Theater-goers eating food inside a movie theater while watching the screen at the NYC Food Film Festival

 I go out to the movies at least twice a week (which is why I'm such a fan of MoviePass), and my year-end Top 10 list usually includes a mixture of Hollywood blockbusters, off-beat indie flicks, documentaries, and foreign films. So when Film Festival season rolls around each year–which is basically all of fall–I always promise myself that I'll give up new releases for a month or so, and immerse myself in one or several of these more focused screening schedules and see a bunch of things that most likely WON'T be coming soon, or anytime, to a theater near you. Here, then, is a quick overview of some of the numerous film festivals coming to NYC.


New York Film Festival – September 26 to October 12

First, the grandaddy of them all, the New York Film Festival, on screens throughout the Lincoln Center campus. There's plenty of glitz here, of course–The Main Slate features 30 new movies from an international array of greats such as Paul Thomas Anderson's Inherent Vice, Hong Sang-Soo's Hill of Freedom, Mike Leigh's Mr. Turner, Olivier Assayas's Clouds of Sils Marie, and many more must-sees—but be sure to consider some of the films in this year's "Spotlight on Documentary" line-up as well. Sunshine Superman, for instance, about the inventor of BASE jumping, could be a blast; and Gabe Polsky's portrait of the Soviet Union's Red Army ice hockey team–a world dynasty for decades–is likely to be a crowd-pleaser as well. But the gem here might be Debra Granik's portrait of aging biker Ron "Stray Dog" Hall (above), who appeared in her excellent 2010 feature, Winter's Bone. Lincoln Center 

A young man jumping off of a rock into a the Hudson River

NYC Independent Film Festival – October 15th to 19th

For a bit of counter-programming to all of that Lincoln Center glamour, check out the NYC Indie Film Festival. Now in its fifth year and played out on screens all over admittedly no-longer-squalid Times Square, there are literally dozens of (usually short) movies that neither you nor I have ever heard of from which to choose. Animations, comedies, fantasy, experimental, coming-of-age, drama, documentary… it's a bit of crap shoot, but Heebie Jeebies, about two little kids who hear a scary bedtime story and become convinced that something's living under their bed, could be fun. And there's Tom's Diner, a documentary about the eponymous Upper West Side eatery where I spent many late nights back in college and was years later made famous by Seinfeld. And the half-hour drama about kids who jump off the famous C-Rock into the Hudson River–it's been a rite of passage for generations of a certain sort of Bronx/Inwood teenager–promises to, at a minimum, make you miss summer (above). – Times Square.                          

A chef prepares a desert made from sea urchins. Two versions of the desert are plated in a kitchen

NYC Food Film Festival – October 29th to November 2nd

The motto here is "Taste What You See On the Screen", which sounds petty awesome to me. Basically, the Food Film Festival serves up an impressive 30+ food-focused movies–from sometimes-bizarre shorts to world-premiere features–and during each you get to eat some of what they're cooking (and eating) up on the screen. Everything here sounds like it'd be fun to watch (and EAT), from 10,000 Bunnies, a four-minute "chocolate bunny porn" film; to Calling All Chefs, about a Michelin-starred chef who goes to work at sub shop because he needs a job; to Top Pot Doughnut Bread Pudding, starring that eponymous, amazing-sounding dessert; to Sweet Sexy Ocean (above), which takes us inside the sea-urchin business in San Diego. And the crowd-favorite Food Porn Party will be on Halloween this year, so be prepared to eat lots of candy. – Locations TBD.      

A woman standing in front of a mural made by street artist, Banksy

Coney Island Film Festival – September 19th to 21st

Called one of the world's "coolest film festivals" by MovieMaker magazine, the 14th Annual Coney Island Film Festival celebrates the area's beloved freakshow side with a full slate of independent, often more than a little quirky movies. It's unlikely any of these 75 or so shorts, animations, music videos, documentaries, and features will ever make it to your local theater, so hop on the train, stroll the boardwalk for a bit, then settle into your seat for an array of good, old-fashioned craziness. Details about most of the movies selected this year are scant at press time, but intriguing titles include How To Avoid Annoying People, Brooklyn Slice, The Crawling Parasite, Wet Side Story, and Keep It Real: Banksy NYC, about the famous street artist's month-long "residency" (his Coney Island piece is pictured above) in our city. – Sideshows By the Seashore and the Coney Island Museum.  

Ira McKinley, dressed in black, editing his documentary, The Throwaways

Harlem International Film Festival – September 4th to 10th

Now in its ninth year, the Harlem International Film Festival brings a full line-up of movies–shorts, features, documentaries–from around the world. The subject matter of the offerings in 2014, as in year's past, touch upon a broad range of social, economic, and political issues, but all try to integrate a sense of history into their films, however contemporary the setting. Lots of these look interesting, but a couple of highlights include I Sell Love, in which an undergraduate student named Tiffany takes up "compensated dating" in order to pay for her tuition; Kamkam, or "Greed", from the Philippines, about the devastating effects of unquestioned patriarchy upon one family; the comedy Jammed, which takes place at a jam band concert; and, especially, The Throwaways (above), which Michelle Alexander, author of the superb book The New Jim Crow, says "courageously explores the most pressing racial justice issue of our time: the mass incarceration and profiling of poor people of color. " – Various Harlem venues.

A young lady sits on a bed looking out of the window in a scene from the movie Difret

Urbanworld Film Festival – September 17th to 21th

Founded in 1997 and co-sponsored this year by BET and HBO, the Urbanworld Film Festival is a five-day event packed with screenings of narrative features, shorts, and documentaries, as well as live screenplay readings and concerts from emerging artists, though the latter happen mostly at the after-parties. The roster of the nearly 70 films at Urbanworld 2014 includes Habla Men, the latest installment of the HBO series that explores what it's like to be Latino in America; Difret, from Ethiopia (above), about a lawyer who circumvents government bureaucracy to help women and children; the Marquis Smalls documentary Hating Obama, a portrait at the unprecedented rage expressed by a segment of Americans towards their president; and a special 30th anniversary screening/sing-along of Prince's seminal Purple Rain.  – AMC 34th Street. 

A Lemur perched on top of a tree stares into the camera.

Wildlife Conservation Film Festival – October 13th to 19th

North America's largest and most prestigious wildlife film festival is, no surprise, right here in New York City. And with more than 75 documentaries, representing work from over 30 different countries, on this year's schedule, it seems like the WCFF is only going to bolster its reputation in 2014. Among the many vital projects being screened: White Gold, a front-line exposé of the modern-day African ivory trade; the Living Oceans series of shorts; and Cerrado: Beyond the Mist, which takes inside this mysterious forest region of Central Brazil. There are are also a pair of IMAX 3D movies this year, Island of Lemurs, Madagascar (which is likely to be amazingly cute… and educational, of course) and Born to be Wild, a portrait of orphaned orangutans and elephants, and the people who raise them to be released back into their natural habitats. – Various venues


Finally, here are three more well-established NYC Film Festivals that have not yet posted their 2014 schedule. The Chelsea Film Festival (October 16 to 19) always puts up an interesting slate of international films, all of which somehow focus on the (admittedly broad) theme of "Global Issues". The Grands Prix winner here in 2013 was Licks, the story of young man who returns to his Oakland neighborhood after spending two years in prison. The Big Apple Film Festival (November 5 to 9), held at the Tribeca Cinemas, usually attracts a few soon-to-be heavy hitters; past Golden Apple award winners have included Jesse Eisenberg and Morgan Spurlock. And then there's the NYC Horror Film Festival (November 13 to 16), also at Tribeca Cinemas, which presumably needs no further explanation. Last year's big winners included Found, about a horror-loving kid who discovers his older brother is a serial killer; and Pieces of Talent, which is likely as gruesome as it sounds.     

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