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Ava DuVernay’s documentary The 13th as the Opening Night selection of the 54th New York Film Festival
Ava DuVernay

The world premiere of Ava DuVernay’s documentary The 13th has been selected as the Opening Night selection of the 54th New York Film Festival taking place September 30 to October 16, 2016.

The 13th is the first-ever nonfiction work to open the festival, and will debut on Netflix and open in a limited theatrical run on October 7.

Chronicling the history of racial inequality in the United States, The 13th examines how our country has produced the highest rate of incarceration in the world, with the majority of those imprisoned being African-American. The title of DuVernay’s extraordinary and galvanizing film refers to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution—“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States . . . ” The progression from that second qualifying clause to the horrors of mass incarceration and the prison industry in the U.S. is laid out by DuVernay with bracing lucidity.

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.”

From D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915) and the rebirth of the KKK to the Civil Rights Movement, the 1994 Crime Bill, the rise of ALEC, and the Black Lives Matter movement, DuVernay traces a pattern of fear and division that has consistently driven mass criminalization. With a potent mixture of archival footage and testimonies from leading voices, including Michelle Alexander, Bryan Stevenson, Van Jones, Newt Gingrich, Angela Davis, Senator Cory Booker, Grover Norquist, Khalil Muhammad, Craig DeRoche, Shaka Senghor, Malkia Cyril, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and a dazzling array of activists, politicians, historians, and formerly incarcerated women and men, DuVernay creates a work of grand historical synthesis.

“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,” said Ava DuVernay. “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.”

“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,” said Lisa Nishimura, Netflix VP of Original Documentary Programming.

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