Standing onstage at Alice Tully Hall, director Richard Linklater dedicated the world premiere screening of his film, Last Flag Flying to Jonathan Demme, the widely admired Oscar winner who died earlier this year. The tribute fit the opening night of the New York Film Festival, as Last Flag resonated with a modulated mix of humanity, humor and regret, anchored by well-crafted performances from co-leads Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston and Laurence Fishburne.
The opening-night film was screened four times — staggered showtimes in two Lincoln Center venues, making it tricky to determine a singular reaction. But the VIP showing at Alice Tully went over well, drawing ripples of laughter, sniffles and silences in all the right places, and warm applause as the credits rolled. The film is an adaptation of Darryl Poniscan’s book about three Vietnam veterans reuniting for a road trip after the death of one of their sons in the Iraq War.
Last Flag is Linklater’s third NYFF film, but the first on opening night, a milestone not lost on him. “I know the history and to be the opening night film here, you look at the list of filmmakers who have been here in this slot, it’s an incredible honor,” he said. “To be here in the greatest film city in the world, I know what that means and it means a lot.”
He saluted Amazon Studios, which also has the festival’s Centerpiece and Closing Night titles, Todd Haynes’ Wonderstruck and Woody Allen’s Wonder Wheel. “We’ve been trying to make this film for 10 years and Amazon finally came on board and said, ‘Hey, we like this, let’s do this.’ So, bless them.”
Kent Jones, the festival’s director, called it “a courageous film, a beautiful film, a surprising film. It unfolds like a ballad. I can’t imagine another filmmaker who could have brought it to us.”
The traditional opening party at Tavern on the Green featured its usual cross-section of New York cultural life. The 55th edition of the New York fest will run through Oct. 15, with other highlights including world premieres of HBO’s Steven Spielberg documentary and the world premieres of four Shoah-derived documentaries directed by 91-year-old Claude Lanzmann.