In the best of the New York Film Festival (so far), the world doesn’t seem so far away

Ken Foster
5 min readOct 2, 2020

The New York Film Festival is midway through an extended virtual edition:here’s what’s been good, what’s been strange, and what you can still watch from home.

Lovers Rock

On September 17th, the 58th edition of the New York Film Festival burst back to life with the world premiere of Steve McQueen’s Lovers Rock. Set at a house party in London’s West Indian community circa 1980 and compressed to an efficient 68 minutes, the film is pure joy — something I never anticipated saying about a Steve McQueen film. It also made me ache for a world in which we could: a) watch a movie like this together, and b) stand on the edges of a dance party, just observing, until some bold stranger grabs us by the hand and drags us in.

Lovers Rock is part of a five part series titled Small Axe that will debut in November on Amazon Prime, and I’ll be writing more about it, for “another publication,” in November. But in the meantime, the New York Film Festival continues through October 11th, so there’s plenty of time to join in, because as a virtual festival, it allows people to watch from all over the country, and many of the films have a wide window of access so you can plan around your work-from-home obligations. (Or just pretend to be working from home.)

One of the great pleasures of any festival is when you have the opportunity to pop into a screening that maybe wasn’t on your list of must-sees and then have your mind blown but something you didn’t even know could exist. Her Socialist Smile did that for me. Directed by John Gianvito, it dives deep into the socialist writings of Helen Keller. We all know Helen Keller from The Miracle Worker, the famous play and movie that told the story of how her family spared no expense (because they were in the position to do so) and managed to over come her loss of hearing, sight and speech through the work of tutor Annie Sullivan. But what I didn’t know, even if it is no secret, is that as an adult, Helen realized that many of her disabled comrades had lost their senses through poor working conditions and lack of access to health care. The film features essays and speeches by Helen (voiced by poet Carolyn Forche) and examines the blow back she received, particularly when the US government began marginalizing the socialist…

Ken Foster

Author of fiction and non-fiction; dog guy; bad boxer. New book, City of Dogs, is just out now from Avery/Penguin.