Steve McQueen on capturing ‘an explosion of Black joy’ in ‘Lovers Rock,’ one part of his anthology ‘Small Axe’ [WATCH]

Director Steve McQueen has made films about political prisoners (“Hunger”), sexual compulsion (“Shame“) and the intersection of crime and political corruption (“Widows“), and he won the Best Picture Oscar for exploring the horrors of American slavery (“12 Years a Slave“), so it may be somewhat surprising that he opens the 2020 New York Film Festival with “an explosion of joy”: “Lovers Rock,” which is one installment of his five-part anthology series “Small Axe.” Watch his virtual Q&A with NYFF director of programming Dennis Lim above.

“Lovers Rock” tells the stories of several intersecting characters during a house party in 1980s London as they meet, mingle, dance, fight and love. It was inspired by McQueen’s own memories of being brought to a “blues party” by his parents. He was in another room for the grown-up festivities, but “I remember going to bed with the bassline pumping in my head.” Being that young, “you always saw things maybe that the adults didn’t really pay too much attention to.” So he brought into this film “every single sense” of that experience: “the taste, the smell, the sound, the feel. It was about a certain kind of aesthetic … and Black joy in a way.”

“Lovers Rock” and two other episodes of the anthology, “Mangrove” and “Red, White and Blue,” will open the New York fest, which is partly virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to drive-in screenings in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens. But if you’re not attending the festival, the entire “Small Axe” series will premiere on Amazon Prime Video on November 20.

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