For the first time, the New York Film Festival's opening night film will be a documentary: The selection committee announced that director Ava DuVernay's The 13th will make its world premiere when the 54th annual NYFF opens on September 30. The Film Society of Lincoln Center says, "Chronicling the history of racial inequality in the United States, The 13th examines how our country has produced the highest rate of incarceration in the world, with the majority of those imprisoned being African-American."
The Film Society explains, "The title of DuVernay’s extraordinary and galvanizing film refers to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution—'Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States...' The progression from that second qualifying clause to the horrors of mass incarceration and the prison industry in the U.S. is laid out by DuVernay with bracing lucidity."
NYFF Director Kent Jones said, "While I was watching The 13th, the distinction between documentary and fiction gave way and I felt like I was experiencing something so rare: direct contact between the artist and right now, this very moment. In fact, Ava is actually trying to redefine the terms on which we discuss where we’re at, how we got here, and where we’re going. The 13th is a great film. It’s also an act of true patriotism."
In an interview with the NY Times, DuVernay, who directed Selma, described, "A certain part of our population has been demonized for the benefit of private industry and politicians, and a lot of forces that have nothing to do with, quote, 'keeping people safe.' Once you know why we’re here and how we got here, we’re on more solid footing to walk ourselves out of this deep valley that we found ourselves in. That’s the hope."
The film includes archival footage from the civil rights movement as well as the KKK plus interviews with Michelle Alexander, Bryan Stevenson, Van Jones, Newt Gingrich, Angela Davis, Senator Cory Booker, Grover Norquist, Khalil Muhammad, Craig DeRoche, Shaka Senghor, Malkia Cyril, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and, what the press release calls, "a dazzling array of activists, politicians, historians, and formerly incarcerated women and men." There's also footage from Black Lives Matters protests.
"It is a true honor for me and my collaborators to premiere The 13th as the opening night selection of the New York Film Festival," DuVernay said in a statement released by the Film Society. "This film was made as an answer to my own questions about how and why we have become the most incarcerated nation in the world, how and why we regard some of our citizens as innately criminal, and how and why good people allow this injustice to happen generation after generation. I thank Kent Jones and the selection committee for inviting me to share what I’ve learned."
— Ava DuVernay (@AVAETC) July 19, 2016
The film, which is being financed by Netflix, will open for a theatrical run and be released by Netflix on October 7. Lisa Nishimura, Netflix VP of Original Documentary Programming, called The 13th a "deeply urgent work," "Ava gives us a remarkable and ambitious framework for understanding why the U.S. represents 5% of the world’s population, yet is home to nearly 25% of the world’s prisoners. Her work has been tireless and passion-fueled and has resulted in a sweeping view at a tenuous time."
This year's New York Film Festival runs from September 30 through October 18. Tickets go on sale to the general public on September 11, but members can buy tickets earlier.