Fifty Years, Six Degrees

Scroll down for information on our NYFF six degrees of separation contest. Enter to win a Cinephile Package worth $200!

If you open up the latest issue of Film Comment to page 44, you’ll find a master list of every film ever to have played in the Main Slate of the New York Film Festival. You’ll see a lot of familiar names, recurring again and again: Fassbinder and Godard, Rivette and Pialat, Almodóvar and Assayas. You’ll likely also be struck by the sheer scope of it all: the festival’s 50 years of selections constitute a remarkably accurate cross-section of an era, not only of film culture, but of political, social, and cultural history.

It’s hard, though, to really grasp the variety of the festival’s programming until you put the whole thing in slightly less lofty terms. I was recently assigned a project: come up with a few "six degrees of separation"-style games using only NYFF selections. Try to link filmmakers and actors that spanned decades, genres, and styles (think “x was in y with z, who was also in q with..."). It was an excuse to indulge in a pastime I think often gets a bad rap—the accumulation of film trivia.

There are plenty of times when I feel guilty about accumulating trivia, as I would about buying lots of little, useless mementos and leaving them strewn around my home. Knowing more about who starred in what and who abandoned which project isn’t going to make me a more attentive or active viewer, nor will it give me any added tools with which to dissect or excavate the film in question. When I tell myself that it doesn’t help me understand Good Will Hunting to know that Terrence Malick had the idea for its ending, my inner trivia buff can only stammer and giddily respond, "yeah, but isn’t that amazing?" Trivia justifies its own existence—in fact, it’s the only thing that justifies its own existence. And, now that I think about it, justifying its own existence might be all that trivia is capable of doing. But still, Terence Malick!

So it was a relief to put my qualms aside and, for once, get to collect seemingly useless knowledge guilt-free. As I browsed through past lineups, it occurred to me that trivia might have a more productive role after all: to remind us just how rich and interconnected cinema’s heritage really is, to see film history not as a single, one-way line but as a massive, tangled ball to be unwoven slowly and not without a little frustration—and, in this case, the history in question happened to also be that of one of film culture’s most enduring institutions. After an hour or so of searching, I had came up with three favorite connections. You can find my solutions at the bottom of this post, or try your hand at solving them yourself:

1. Eva Mendes, star of Ghost Rider and 2 Fast 2 Furious, with French novelist/filmmaker Marguerite Duras (author of Hiroshima mon amour) (four films)
2. Weeds star Mary Louise Parker with Danish provocateur Lars von Trier (four films)
3. Joe Pesci with Chris Marker (five films; my favorite, if only because it lets me imagine what Sans Soleil would look like with Joe Pesci taking over narration duties)

I was proud of my creations, and decided to share them with a few friends. They decided to think up a new challenge on the spot. One began:

"Carlos Reygadas..." (We’d just seen his Silent Light the night before.) "...with..." (A long pause.) "...Nicolas Cage."

I got to work right away. I had access to a master list of films that’d played at past festivals, and set about first by considering my start and end points. Reygadas contributed to two New York Film Festival selections: Silent Light and an omnibus film called Revolución. The former was made in a Mennonite community with non-actors: a dead-end. Thankfully, Revolución featured a rare directorial effort by Gael García Bernal, who did have a rich NYFF history. As for Nicolas Cage, he’d acted in two Francis Ford Coppola-directed selections: Peggy Sue Got Married and Rumble Fish—the second, with its prestigious ensemble cast, was my best bet.

Now it was back to Bernal. A lot of options: Bad Education would open up Almodóvar, and with him performers like Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas, Y Tu Mamá Tambien the world of Alfonso Cuarón, Amores Perros that of Iñárritu. I was surprised to find that Y Tu Mamá... was Cuarón’s sole NYFF appearance, and found that Almodóvar’s leads tended to lead back to more Almodóvar. Iñárritu it was, then: he made 21 Grams, an NYFF goldmine: Naomi Watts could lead me to Lynch, who directed Wild at Heart with... Nic Cage! Alas, Wild at Heart bypassed the festival back in 1990. I wasn't through yet.

I concluded that my best bet would be 21 Grams’ Sean Penn, who’d also appeared in official selection Mystic River back in ‘03. Now my energy was beginning to flag—I’d been following this path for a while and couldn’t see how it was getting me any closer to Coppola, or Cage. Still, Mystic River has Tim Robbins, he of Short Cuts—a film with an ensemble cast so big they could barely fit them all into Alice Tully. Andie McDowell, Jack Lemmon, Julianne Moore, Frances McDormand, Robert Downey Jr, and many, many, many more—surely someone here had an NYFF-approved Cage connection! I scoured the cast list in tandem with that of Rumble Fish. My face lit up. Could it be? I double-checked. One performer happened to have appeared in both Rumble Fish and Short Cuts—and he also happened to be Tom Waits. Tom Waits! How cool is that? If it isn’t a testament to the scope, depth, and discernment of the New York Film Festival that you could link Carlos Reygadas to Nic Cage using only six films—and include the man who sang "Anywhere I Lay My Head" in the process—then I don’t know what is.

And I thought film trivia was useless...

ANSWERS:
1. Eva Mendes was in Holy Motors by Leos Carax, who also directed Pola X with Catherine Denueve. Deneuve was in Truffaut's The Last Metro with Gerard Depardieu, who also starred in 1977’s Le Camion, directed by Marguerite Duras.
2. Mary Louise Parker was in Bullets Over Broadway with Jim Broadbent, who was also in Mike Leigh’s Topsy Turvy. Leigh made Naked with Katrin Cartlidge, who starred three years later in Breaking the Waves—by Lars von Trier.
3. Joe Pesci was in Once Upon a Time in America with Robert de Niro, who also starred in 1900. 1900 also starred Gerard Depardieu (again!), who appeared in Resnais’ Stavinsky alongside Jean-Paul Belmondo. Belmondo was in Pierrot le Fou, whose director, Jean-Luc Godard, contributed to the omnibus film Far from Vietnam—compiled, written, and produced by Chris Marker.

CONTEST: Try your hand at Six Degrees of NYFF for a chance to win a Cinephile Package worth $200!
Post your concoction in the comments section below or on any Facebook post about the contest and email us your contact info at contest@filmlinc.com by noon on Saturday, September 22 to enter. We'll choose our favorites (the more far-flung the better!) to share with the world and randomly choose one lucky trivia-hound to win the 10-ticket package. Remember: you must connect the two people in six films or less using only ones that have shown as part of the New York Film Festival. Here's a handy alphabetical list (in two parts) of past films, for reference: NYFF Film List A – L, NYFF Film List M – Z. Good luck!

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