The New York Film Festival (NYFF) was first held in 1963, and is the third-oldest film festival in the United States, after Columbus and Ann Arbor. It is considered the most prestigious non-competitive film festival in the United States, though it has been eclipsed in the last generation by the competitive Sundance Film Festival. The NYFF has been closely associated with the Film Society of Lincoln Center, and has been held at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts from the very beginning; in fact, the Center and the Festival came into existence more or less simultaneously.
Lincoln Center President William Schuman wanted to draw public attention to the new facilities, and founders Richard Roud and Amos Vogel sought to emulate the London Film Festival in establishing a high-profile public film festival that would draw both established and up-and-coming filmmakers. The NYFF quickly became a venue for premieres and showcases by ‘auteurs’ (‘authors’): directors that established a personal philosophy and artistic style.
At first, most of the showcased auteurs were European, but as the NYFF grew it began to include the films of the New Hollywood movement of the 1960s and 1970s (which were undoubtedly influenced by the European auteurs). In the 1980s and 1990s, international films from non-European directors (commonly called World Cinema) became prevalent. The NYFF has thus reflected the dramatic cultural changes, both in the United States and worldwide, that occurred in the latter half of the 20th Century.
The opening night film is usually a film that has already premiered elsewhere (typically Cannes, Venice, or Berlin) and is usually intended to reference the ‘zeitgeist’ (the ‘spirit of the age’), set the tone for the festival, and draw the largest crowds. The opening night is considered more prestigious than the closing night and often occurs along with various formal galas.
For a visual treat, see a selection of festival posters from the NYFF at: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/05/movies/the-art-of-a-new-york-film-festival-poster.htmlRead less