Compared to the 32 films in the main slate of this year’s New York Film Festival, not to mention the seemingly hundreds of others playing in sidebars, the 1971 edition of the NYFF, half a century ago, was a lean affair. With only 18 films, down from 78 just four years earlier, the ninth edition of the NYFF was, according to its director Richard Roud, a “belt-tightening festival, a year of consolidation.” In fact, the financially strapped festival almost didn’t take place that year. A New York Times article published midway through the event mentions that “outside the 984-seat Vivian Beaumont Theater, there is only one poster announcing the festival [one assumes it was the beautiful Frank Stella poster above] that is quietly and modestly taking place inside.” A far cry from the glorious phalanx of digital billboards currently beaming outside Alice Tully Hall and the Elinor Bunin Center.
The Times also declared that “the Ninth festival is less glamorous and tamer than it has ever been” and that it was “the first festival without at least a part of a picture by Jean-Luc Godard.” The 1971 festival however featured a handful of major works: Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show, Dušan Makavejev’s WR: Mysteries of the Organism and Marcel Ophüls’ The Sorrow and the Pity being probably the best known today, along with films by Kurosawa, Pasolini, Bresson, Olmi, Fassbinder, Abel Gance, and Louis Malle.
Sadly, for the sake of symmetry, there were no filmmakers who had films in both the 1971 and 2021 festivals, although WR: Mysteries of the Organism played in both: this year in a sidebar tribute to New York Film Festival co-founder Amos Vogel. Of the 17 directors invited in 1971, only eight are still with us: Ophüls (now 93), opening night director Gleb Panfilov (87), Peter Watkins (85), Henry Jaglom (83), Bogdanovich (82), who had two films in the festival, Krzysztof Zanussi (82), Marco Bellocchio (81), and the ever-youthful Werner Herzog (79). Both Herzog and Bellocchio are still making films of course and are as prolific as ever; Bogdanovich made a documentary about Buster Keaton three years ago and is still very active as an actor; Panfilov directed a new film this year—a Solzhenitsyn adaptation—after a 13 year hiatus; and Zanussi and Jaglom have both made films in the last 4 years. The only two directors from the 1971 festival that seem to be definitively retired are Ophüls, whose last film was his autobiographical Ain’t Misbehavin' in 2013, and Watkins, whose last was La Commune (Paris, 1871) in 2000.
Of the posters for these films my favorites are the minimalist designs for Bresson’s Four Nights of a Dreamer and Ophuls’ The Sorrow and the Pity. Other standouts include Franciszek Starowieyski’s ornate illustration for Zanussi’s Family Life, Leos Kanos’s collage design for The Debut, and Akira Kurosawa’s wild artwork for his own Dodes'ka-den.
I’ve found posters for 15 of the films, featured below in alphabetical order by English-language title. The missing three—Bogdanovich’s Directed by John Ford, Olmi’s In the Summertime and Fassbinder’s Pioneers in Ingolstadt—were all, I believe, made for television and so no posters for those films seem to exist.
On the same page as the New York Times article about the festival was this ad for the Opening Night film.