09/28/2015 08:35 am ET Updated Sep 28, 2016

The Walk Opens the New York Film Festival

When James Marsh's Oscar winning documentary Man on Wire premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2008, it seemed like a miracle, not only Philippe Petit's stunning walk across wire 110 stories in the air, but the image of the World Trade Towers from August 7, 1974, as their destruction was fresh in everyone's mind. Now recreated in a fiction film, The Walk, in Real3D, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the role of Petit, the story goes from historic to mythic, with a huge WOW factor: the magic of Robert Zemeckis' technical expertise puts viewers up there with him. You know how this mad caper is going to end, and yet The Walk is the thriller of the season.

For the New York Film Festival in its 53rd year, the choice of this love letter to the city could not be more perfect. After Zemeckis introduced his producers and cast from the Alice Tully Hall stage, he called out to Petit in the audience. Leaping up on the arms of his seat, beside Sting, Petit waved to the packed house. At 66, he's still got IT!

Gordon-Levitt as Petit narrates the story, balancing on the crown of the Statue of Liberty, after all a gift to the city from France; Petit is perhaps another French gift. The narration come from Petit's book, now called The Walk. "With a new cover," because the first printing has sold out, Petit, a magician turned juggler turned wire-walker, said proudly at the Tavern on the Green afterparty. "I do theater in the air. The wire is my stage."

And so it began, a festival featuring films with edge and heart curated from the year's best offerings. The festival had an auspicious start, as the opening night had to move from its usual Friday night to Saturday because of Pope Francis' visit. On Friday as the Pope made his way around the city, Nanni Moretti's resonant drama, Mia Madre, about a filmmaker trying to make a film as her mother is dying, was screened for press. Many remembered Moretti's 2011 film, We Have a Pope, a comedic look at the difficulty of finding a man suitable and willing to take on the job.

A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.