Ava DuVernay at 54th NYFF - 'The 13th' press conference
Ava DuVernay at 54th NYFF – ‘The 13th’ press conference

This evening, September 30, Ava DuVernay’s documentary “13th” opened the 54th New York Film Festival – which runs through October 16 – making its world premiere at Alice Tully Hall.

“13th” is the first-ever nonfiction work to open the festival, and will debut on Netflix and open for a limited theatrical run next week Friday, October 7.

Screening for the press earlier today, before its public premiere this evening, Ms. DuVernay was in attendance, and discussed the making of the film afterward, with press attendees. And thankfully that entire conversation (30 minutes long) was videotaped and uploaded to YouTube by the festival soon thereafter. Watch it at the bottom of this post.

Evoking Sam Pollard’s documentary “Slavery By Another Name” and Angela Davis’ “The Prison Industrial Complex,” DuVernay’s “The 13th” chronicles the history of racial inequality in the United States, examining how the country has produced the highest rate of incarceration in the world, with the majority of those imprisoned being African American.

At the time of the announcement that the film would open the 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.”

DuVernay added: “It is a true honor 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.”

And finally, Lisa Nishimura, VP of Original Documentary Programming for the film’s distributor Netflix said: “Ava gives us a remarkable and ambitious framework for understanding why the U.S. represents 5% of the world’s population, yet is home to nearly 25% 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.”

The documentary relies on a mixture of archival footage and testimonies from leading voices, including Michelle Alexander, Bryan Stevenson, Van Jones, Newt Gingrich, the aforementioned Angela Davis, Senator Cory Booker, Grover Norquist, Khalil Muhammad, Craig DeRoche, Shaka Senghor, Malkia Cyril, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and other activists, politicians, historians, and formerly incarcerated women and men, as it traces a pattern of fear and division that has consistently driven mass criminalization.

First, check out the trailer for “13th” below; and underneath it, watch the 30-minute post-screening conversation with director DuVernay.

And here’s the post-screening Q&A with the filmmaker: