Steve McQueen’s ‘Lovers Rock’ Set as New York Film Festival Opening Night Film

Two other films as part of “12 Years a Slave” director’s “Small Axe” anthology will also make their world premieres at 58th edition of NYFF

Small Axe - Lovers Rock - NYFF58 Steve McQueen

Steve McQueen’s “Lovers Rock” will be the opening night film for the 2020 New York Film Festival, Film at Lincoln Center announced Monday.

The 58th edition of NYFF kicks off on September 25 with the latest from the “12 Years a Slave” director. And “Lovers Rock,” which will make its world premiere, is one of five films as part of an anthology from McQueen called “Small Axe.” All five movies, including “Mangrove,” “Lovers Rock,” “Alex Wheatle,” “Education” and “Red, White and Blue,” are set to premiere on BBC One later this year and on Amazon Prime Video in the U.S.

Two other films as part of McQueen’s anthology, “Mangrove” and “Red, White and Blue,” will also have their world premieres as part of the festival. The full main slate for the New York Film Festival will be announced in the coming weeks.

NYFF this year will host outdoor and virtual screenings with some indoor screenings as possible as directed by state and health officials. And some movies will also for the first time screen at two drive-in theaters: 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. Specific dates, along with programming and ticketing details for these screenings, will follow in the coming weeks.

“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. Shaniqua Okwok, Kedar Williams-Stirling, Ellis George, Alexander James-Blake and Kadeem Ramsay 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, and it is produced by Turbine Studios and Steve McQueen’s Lammas Park for BBC One with Amazon Studios co-producing in the U.S. BBC Studios will distribute the series internationally. “Lovers Rock” along with “Mangrove” was also named as an official selection of Cannes 2020.

The remainder of the “Small Axe” anthology are all set in the late 1960s to the mid-1980s and 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.

“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, Shaun Parkes and Malachi Kirby star alongside Rochenda Sandall, Jack Lowden, Sam Spruell, Gershwyn Eustache Jnr, Nathaniel Martello-White, Richie Campbell, Jumayn Hunter and Gary Beadle. “Mangrove” was co-written by Alastair Siddons and Steve McQueen.

“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 and Steve Toussaint star with talented newcomers Tyrone Huntley, Nathan Vidal and Jaden Oshenye. “Red, White and Blue” was co-written by Courttia Newland and Steve McQueen.

“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,” McQueen said in a statement.

“In the coming weeks we’ll unveil the films our programmers have selected for the 2020 New York Film Festival,” Eugene Hernandez, director of the New York Film Festival, said in a statement. “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,” New York Film Festival director of programming Dennis Lim said in a statement. “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,” Jen Salke, head of Amazon Studios, said in a statement.

“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,” Rose Garnett, executive producer for the BBC and director of BBC Films. “Audiences everywhere will be electrified and deeply moved by this extraordinary work.”

The NYFF Main Slate selection committee, chaired by Dennis Lim, also includes Eugene Hernandez, Florence Almozini, K. Austin Collins, and Rachel Rosen.


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