NEW YORK (Reuters) - Cannes has its coveted prizes and Sundance its lucrative deals, but the New York Film Festival, unencumbered by awards or marketing, says its mission is simple: to present the year's best in world cinema.
The 52nd annual event, which opens Friday, is for "film lovers of all stripes and levels of knowledge," said its director, Kent Jones. Its 17-day itinerary includes a main slate of 30 feature films and a retrospective of the works of Academy Award-winning director Joseph L. Mankiewicz.
In the past, the festival has been criticized for being snobby and appealing to cinephiles, but more recently the festival has included more commercial, as well as art-house, films.
Jones said the selection process is about finding and presenting the best films.
"I am not striving for any kind of mix because the selection process is more a question of just following our instincts," said Jones, who also chairs the selection committee.
Among the world premieres is "Citizenfour," by documentary by filmmaker Laura Poitras, about Edward Snowden, who leaked classified information from the National Security Agency.
Poitras was making a film about abuses of national security when encrypted emails from Snowden, who identified himself as "citizen four," began to arrive in her inbox.
"One the one hand, you are watching all this stuff play out in real time," Jones said. "And on the other hand, you are seeing this character portrayal together in the process. On another level, it is like watching a spy story happening in real life, playing out in real time."
"Gone Girl," director David Fincher's adaption of Gillian Flynn's best-selling novel about a broken marriage, will also get its first viewing when it opens the festival.
This is a return engagement for Fincher, who premiered his Academy Award-nominated film "The Social Network" at the festival in 2010. Oscar-winner Ben Affleck stars as Nick Dunne, whose wife, played by British actress Rosamund Pike, mysteriously disappears on their fifth wedding anniversary.
"Inherent Vice," Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of a Thomas Pynchon novel, will have its debut as the festival's centerpiece selection. It stars Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin and Reese Witherspoon.
"It's the first film that has ever been made out of a Thomas Pynchon novel," said Jones. "You really feel like you have been led through some kind of subterranean series of passages and come out on the other side and wonder where you are."
Documentaries include Martin Scorsese and David Tedeschi's "The 50 Year Argument," which celebrates the half-century of the New York Review of Books, and "Iris," a film by Albert Maysles about fashion and interior design master Iris Apfel.
"Merchants of Doubt," directed by Robert Kenner, follows scientific spin doctors as they influence public perception about climate change.
And in "Tales of the Grim Sleeper," filmmaker Nick Broomfield delves into the case of an elusive serial killer who terrorized Los Angeles for two decades.
Editing by Eric Kelsey and Lisa Von Ahn