DuVernay’s “The 13th” to open New York Film Festival

A documentary from Selma director Ava DuVernay will open the 54th annual New York Film Festival in September, marking the event's first-ever non-fiction opener. (Pictured: DuVernay interviewing U.S. activist Angela Davis)
July 19, 2016

A documentary from Selma director Ava DuVernay is to open the 54th annual New York Film Festival (NYFF) this fall, marking the event’s first-ever non-fiction opener.

The film, The 13th, will make its world premiere at the festival, which runs from September 30 to October 16 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, and will also debut on Netflix and open in a limited theatrical run on October 7.

The doc chronicles the history of racial inequality in the U.S., focusing on the country’s high incarceration rates, particularly among African Americans.

The doc’s title refers to the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. which formally abolished slavery and declares that, “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, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

Elements of the doc include an examination of D. W. Griffith’s 1915 film The Birth of a Nation, the rebirth of the KKK, the civil rights movement, the 1994 crime bill, the rise of ALEC and the Black Lives Matter movement. DuVernay uses a mix of archival footage and testimonies from such figures as Michelle Alexander, Bryan Stevenson, Van Jones, Newt Gingrich, Angela Davis (pictured above), Senator Cory Booker, Grover Norquist, Khalil Muhammad, Craig DeRoche, Shaka Senghor, Malkia Cyril and Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

DuVernay’s directorial debut was the 2008 hip hop documentary This is the Life. Her other doc credits include the ESPN doc Venus Vs., as part of the network’s “Nine for IX” series. Her 2014 drama Selma was an Oscar nominee for Best Picture.

“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,” said DuVernay in a statement.

Lisa Nishimura, VP of original programming at Netflix, added: “Her work has been tireless and passion-fueled and has resulted in a sweeping view at a tenuous time.”

Elsewhere, New York Film Festival director and selection committee chair Kent Jones noted that the distinction between documentary and fiction “gave way” in The 13th.

“I felt like I was experiencing something so rare: direct contact between the artist and right now, this very moment,” he said in a statement. “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 doc will premiere at Alice Tully Hall in Manhattan on September 30.

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