09/29/2012 03:38 pm ET Updated Nov 29, 2012

Boy Overboard With Tiger: Life of Pi Opens The New York Film Festival

To mark the 50th anniversary of the prestigious New York Film Festival, the Film Society of Lincoln Center premiered Ang Lee's new movie, Life of Pi, based on Yann Martel's popular novel. Introducing this spectacular 3D adventure tale about a boy shipwrecked on the high seas, sharing a lifeboat and survival strategies with a Bengal tiger, the modest director said he defied some moviemaking wisdom: Never film kids, animals and water, or shoot in 3D. He smiled slyly. Then Life of Pi began: beautiful birds seemed to fly through the cavernous Alice Tully Hall, with menacing creatures to come. At movie's end, many viewers like Carol Kane said they watched in tears.

What is it about tigers? In recent headlines a young man leapt into the Bronx Zoo in the desire to be "one with the tiger." This magical cat has enflamed many an imagination: see William Blake's Tyger, Tyger Burning Bright. At the Harvard Club after party, Ricky Jay, subject of a fine documentary premiering in the festival, Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay, told a story about visiting Siegfried & Roy, who had a zoo in their Las Vegas backyard. From afar, a caged tiger showered another visitor clad in white with an enormous spray of urine.

Young Pi, Suraj Sharma, 17 when the film was shot and now 19, said he never shared a single frame with any of his four tiger co-stars. Rather in his debut role, he played against a blue blob. Celebrating with his family, who traveled from India for this occasion, and with Mason Lee, another young actor and the director's son, Suraj said he got the part when his brother went to audition. They asked him to try out too. Wet for most of the film, he said he did not know how to swim, but after this experience he is certain, "I could never sink now."

A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.