Todd McCarthy - former Variety critic and now the newest member of the New York Film Festival selection committee - recently posted a fascinating article on his Indiewire blog about the process by which the fest's small and esteemed committee arrives at their focused and particular line-up. It's a nifty inside look at the pleasures and rigors of cobbling together such a prestigious event - McCarthy writes of how the crew made a veritable film fort(night) of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater, hunkering down in there for 12-hour bombardments of submissions. The whole thing sounds like a prolonged Butt-Numb-A-Thon for the art film set as programmed by Film Society of Lincoln Center honcho Richard Pena, and paints a pretty amusing picture as to how a consensus on a film's quality might be made in the dark.
McCarthy makes sure to tease readers about which selections he regards as truly great films and which he was vehemently opposed to including in the fest at all, but one thing he's not coy about is how eagerly the committee awaited Terrence Malick's much discussed The Tree of Life. The fest newbie acknowledges that the notion of concluding their program with the world premiere of a new Malick film made the entire gang a bit giddy, referring to the potential coup as "The most brilliant closing night attraction ever." But it wasn't meant to be - at least not this year.
Malick's latest is described on imdb as the story of "Three boys in the 1950s, [the eldest of which] witnesses the loss of innocence," but we all know that the film is really about Brad Pitt's enormous beard and crazy CG dinosaurs. So... yeah, safe to say that McCarthy's enthusiasm for being the first to see it is understandable (especially since it's rumored film to contain no less than 2 hours of contemplative velociraptor voiceover). But after two weeks spent in the dark hoping that every time the lights went down Malick's name would come up, McCarthy sighs "Finally, of course, came word that Malick was still not done and it now seems clear the picture will not be opening this year. I can't prove it, of course, and he's supposedly set to start shooting a new film in Oklahoma in October, but I'm convinced we won't be seeing 'The Tree of Life' until, at the earliest, the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. Or perhaps it could turn up at the New York Film Festival a year from now."
Endless waits and delays are par for the Malick course by this point, so this shouldn't come as much of a surprise despite the fact that Malick is virtually prolific these days when compared to the frequency of his output between the 70s and The Thin Red Line. I'd say that next May's Cannes is as safe a bet as any for when we'll finally be graced with The Tree of Life, and that we shouldn't fret in the meantime, as the NYFF line-up McCarthy and co. were able to assemble is pretty incredible in its own right. And don't forget the sidebar, which finally brings together under-appreciated Japanese maverick Masahiro Shinoda (Pale Flower! Double Suicide!) and under-appreciated not Japanese maverick Joe Dante (The Hole! In 3-D!).