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Ava DuVernay’s ‘The 13th’ debuts globally on Netflix on 7 October

MUMBAI: The Film Society of Lincoln Center has announced Ava DuVernay’s documentary ‘The 13th’ as the Opening Night selection of the 54th New York Film Festival (30 September – 16 October), making its world premiere at Alice Tully Hall.

‘The 13th’ is the first-ever nonfiction work to open the festival, and will debut on Internet TV network Netflix and open in a limited theatrical run on 7 October.

Chronicling the history of racial inequality in the US, ‘The 13th’ examines how the US has produced the highest rate of incarceration in the world, with the majority of those imprisoned being African-American.

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 US is laid out by DuVernay with bracing lucidity.

New York Film Festival Director and Selection Committee Chair 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.”

From D. W. Griffith’s ‘The Birth of a Nation’ (1915) and the rebirth of the KKK to the Civil Rights Movement, the 1994 Crime Bill, the rise of Alec, and the Black Lives Matter movement, DuVernay traces a pattern of fear and division that has consistently driven mass criminalisation.

With a mixture of archival footage and testimonies from leading voices, including 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 a dazzling array of activists, politicians, historians, and formerly incarcerated women and men, DuVernay creates a work of grand historical synthesis.

“It is a true honour for me and my collaborators to premiere ‘The 13th’ as the opening night selection of the New York Film Festival. 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,” said Ava DuVernay.

“Ava gives us a remarkable and ambitious framework for understanding why the US represents five per cent of the world’s population, yet is home to nearly 25 per cent of the world’s prisoners. Her work has been tireless and passion-fueled and has resulted in a sweeping view at a tenuous time. We are honored to provide a global platform for this deeply urgent work,” said Netflix VP original documentary programming Lisa Nishimura.

The 17-day New York Film Festival will look to highlight world cinema, featuring works from filmmakers as well as fresh new talent. The selection committee, chaired by Jones, also includes FSLC director of programming Dennis Lim; FSLC Associate Director of Programming Florence Almozini; Film Comment and Sight & Sound contributing editor Amy Taubin and Gavin Smith, who serves as a consultant.

Tickets for the 54th New York Film Festival will go on sale on 11 September. Becoming a Film Society Member at the Film Buff Level or above provides early ticket access to festival screenings and events ahead of the general public, along with the exclusive member ticket discount.

These are some of the New York Film Festival opening night films:

2015 The Walk (Robert Zemeckis, US)

2014 Gone Girl (David Fincher, US)

2013 Captain Phillips (Paul Greengrass, US)

2012 Life of Pi (Ang Lee, US)

2011 Carnage (Roman Polanski, France/Poland)

2010 The Social Network (David Fincher, US)

2009 Wild Grass (Alain Resnais, France)

2008 The Class (Laurent Cantet, France)

2007 The Darjeeling Limited (Wes Anderson, US)

2006 The Queen (Stephen Frears, UK)

2005 Good Night, and Good Luck. (George Clooney, US)