The New Yorker Festival comes around at just the right moment each year: lazy summer has ended, and it’s time to wake up your brain. There’s more to choose from than any single human can digest, and the range of speakers is as wide as Montana. I’ve seen it all, from Steve Martin interviewing a panel of banjo players to my all-time favorite, an “Arrested Development” cast reunion. At this year’s festival, on Oct 6-8, I have the good fortune of interviewing two great actors back to back: Glenn Close, on Friday night, and Nathan Lane, on Saturday night. That’s two co-hosts of the 1995 Tony Awards! The rest of the weekend, I’ll be hopping around town seeing as much as I can. The roster is fab (Jon Hamm! Sofia Coppola! Jerry Seinfeld! Ai Weiwei!), but here are a few events that caught my eye:
Ryan Murphy talking with Emily Nussbaum
Show-runners are our new auteurs, but Murphy is more than that: he’s a kind of super-show-runner who always seems to have five different things going on at once. He could have stopped at “Glee” and still have changed TV history, but then came the gutting HBO film “The Normal Heart,” the visionary “American Horror Story,” the catty yet empathetic “Feud,” and the revelatory “The People vs. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story.” (Up next: dramatizations of the assassination of Gianni Versace and the backstory of Nurse Ratched, of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.) He has a gift for giving great actresses more to do than they usually get in the movies, notably Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange. There’ll be much to discuss between him and Emily Nussbaum, the magazine’s incisive, Pulitzer Prize-winning television critic.
Ava DuVernay talking with Jelani Cobb
As Hollywood—not to mention the country—reckons with its racial imbalance, DuVernay has been an unflinching advocate for black stories mattering. She’s also a damn good filmmaker. Her stirring Civil Rights drama “Selma” was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, in the midst of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy. “13th,” her equally powerful documentary about race and mass incarceration, was nominated this year for Best Documentary Feature. But her next move is a departure: a film version of Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time.” She’s perfectly matched with The New Yorker’s Jelani Cobb, whose pieces on race and politics beautifully capture America’s discontented winter.
Chelsea Manning talking with Larissa MacFarquhar
Is Chelsea Manning a whistleblower? A traitor? A trans role model? A victim? Everyone has an opinion, and yet only recently has Manning herself been able to claim a place in the spotlight, after her release from prison, in May. Interestingly, she’s shown an interest in high glamour, appearing in a Vogue photo shoot by Annie Leibovitz. Her contradictions are many and profound, and Larissa MacFarquhar, one of the greatest profile-writers going, is just the person to unravel them.
Fearless!: Life on the Edge
Some of the best stuff at the festival is the pure miscellany, like this panel featuring four daredevils who take incredible physical risks. There’s a rock climber known for his record-setting solo ascent of Yosemite’s El Capitan; a skydiver-slash-model who has glided aloft both in couture clothing and nude; the legendary Diana Nyad, who swam from Cuba to Florida in 2013; and the also legendary Philippe Petit, known as the “Man on Wire” for his death-defying walk between the Twin Towers, in 1974. The panel is moderated by the master tale-spinner David Grann, author of the best-sellers “The Lost City of Z” and “Killers of the Flower Moon.”