After you VOTE on November 8th (Yes, 4 Hillary), and if you live in District 66, you can write in my name for State Assembly as a statement against Deborah Glick and machine politics) you will have a deluge of quality films to draw you away from your living room and into a dark room filled with strangers. It is Oscar qualifying time (one week in LA and NYC). Some sneak in and out to return only after, in 2017, and some have full-blown promotion campaigns. Most of these narrative films deserve to be seen in the format they were intended to be seen: in theaters, not on tablets or cell phones. NOTE: I am not a Luddite and have all of the devices myself.
But before I talk about those movies (read my blog) I want to alert you to a major documentary film festival happening in WESTVIEW Land—it is DOC NYC, from November 11th to the November 17th. Gestated by Thom Powers five years ago, it has grown into the largest and most important film documentary festival in the U.S.
DOC NYC has expanded to multiple locations and 19 film categories, from the expected political exposés (Bill Moyer’s Rikers) and activists’ journeys (Citizen Jane: Battle for the City), to Jock Docs, Crime Docs, Popular Culture, including Filmmaking (Bob Hawk, a mentor to a generation or two of indie makers), Music Docs (Jazz icon Fred Hersch; L7, the all-female grunge/punk band), etc.
I asked the Director of Programming, Basil Tsiokos, what his core criteria were in choosing films. He replied, “Everyone loves a good story, and this year’s lineup puts some fantastic true-life storytelling on display, drawing from the worlds of music, sports, art, crime, activism, and more. DOC NYC’s filmmakers get to share these stories with New York City’s diverse and influential audience—one that’s incomparable to any other festival.” Tsiokos led the program selection in collaboration with Artistic Director Thom Powers and Executive Director Raphaela Neihausen.
DOC NYC 2016 will welcome over 300 filmmakers and special guests in attendance for Q&As after most screenings. Among the notable visitors expected to appear in person are: Eve Ensler for CITY OF JOY; Bill Moyers for RIKERS; Steven Van Zandt for BANG! THE BERT BERNS STORY; Carolee Schneemann for KEN DEWEY: THIS IS A TEST; Lori Singer for GOD KNOWS WHERE I AM; Evan Wolfson for THE FREEDOM TO MARRY; and members of L7 for L7: PRETEND WE’RE DEAD.
There are also special award ceremonies: Jonathan Demme and Stanley Nelson will receive Lifetime Achievement Awards while Dawn Porter will receive the Robert and Anne Drew Award for observational filmmaking. A&E IndieFilms executive Molly Thompson will receive the Leading Light Award for distinguished service to documentaries in a role outside filmmaking.
Retiring this year is the SHORT LIST of those documentaries most likely in contention for the Oscar: All 15 films will be accompanied by conversations with the filmmakers. I am highlighting the ones to which I especially wish to draw your attention: Kirsten Johnson (Cameraperson); Raoul Peck (I Am Not Your Negro); Brian Oakes (Jim: The James Foley Story); Barbara Kopple (Miss Sharon Jones!); Ezra Edelman (O.J.: Made in America); Ava DuVernay (via Skype for 13th); Dawn Porter (Trapped); and Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg (Weiner). The filmmakers will also take part in the Short List Day of panel conversations on November 11th.
There is also an eight-day DOC NYC PRO conference, focusing on panels and masterclasses for people interested in learning more about how to make a documentary and navigate fundraising and distribution.
Let’s Go To the Movies
Here is a list of films I have seen that I think is a good place to start to immerse yourself in DOC NYC.
1: Citizen Jane: Battle for the City (Directed by Matt Tyrnauer of Valentino: The Last Emperor). In this film, timely in WestView Land—closure of hospitals, selling of air rights, expansion of NYU, and a mega-complex like the St. John’s Terminal which, with its 1500 residential units plus retail on the waterfront, will forever change the landscape and infrastructure of Greenwich Village—Jane Jacobs proved that one voice could organize a people’s militia to fight both City Hall and powerbrokers (Robert Moses) and WIN.
2: Winter at Westbeth (Directed by Rohan Spong). This film is about an artists’ housing community in Greenwich Village. It provides an affordable housing solution for artists, which allows them to live and work in the Village. It is a model that needs to be replicated if the “Village”, East and West, is to remain a cauldron of creativity.
3: SOUR GRAPES (Directed by Jerry Rothwell and Reuben Atlas). This film is about a swindle in the world of rare wine dealers. It unfolds like a first-rate crime thriller as we see how the rich play with their money and how ego and vanity blind them to the manipulation of auction houses and smart con artists. It is a rare look at one of the Koch brothers (Bill) and his tasteful acquisitions of art and wine. Once stung, Koch brings all of the powers within the movie to find and expose the culprit that caused havoc with his multi-million dollar wine collection.
4: THE HOUSE ON COCO ROAD (Directed by Damani Baker). A young African-American activist seeks a haven for her family in Grenada, only to face an invasion by the U.S. military. This is a three-generation look at a black family’s search for a safe place to live.
5: THE BALLAD OF FRED HERSCH (Directed by Carrie Lozano and Charlotte Lagarde; NYC Premiere). Acclaimed pianist Fred Hersch transforms his darkest hours, after being diagnosed as HIV positive, into an innovative multimedia jazz theater experience.
6: RIKERS. Former detainees of Rikers Island offer searing testimonials about the violence and corruption that has plagued the notorious NYC jail for decades. This film comes from Executive Producer Bill Moyers.
7: FILM HAWK (Directed by JJ Garvine and Tai Parquet). Bob Hawk has been a secret weapon for independent filmmakers for decades, helping launch the careers of the likes of Kevin Smith and Ed Burns, with no-shit critiques and encouragement.
8: MARATHON: THE PATRIOTS DAY BOMBING (Directed by Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern). This is a powerful look back at the Boston Marathon bombing, which follows the manhunt for the terrorists while survivors contend with the aftermath.
9: THE FREEDOM TO MARRY (Directed by Eddie Rosenstein). The architect of the same-sex marriage movement recalls the victories, and setbacks, that set the stage for the landmark Supreme Court decision.
10: SERENADE FOR HAITI (Directed by Owsley Brown; World Premiere). This portrait of a classical music school in Haiti is a poignant testament to resilience, hope, and the power of music in the darkest of times.
11: BANG! THE BERT BERNS STORY (Directed by Brett Berns and Bob Sarles). Prolific songwriter and producer Bert Berns was behind such classics as “Piece of My Heart” and “Twist and Shout”, while also launching the careers of Van Morrison and Neil Diamond.
12: L7: PRETEND WE’RE DEAD (Directed by Sarah Price). Grab your backstage pass and take a visceral plunge into the 1990s with one of its seminal grunge punk bands, L7. It is one of my very favorite bands of the period.
13: THE INCOMPARABLE ROSE HARTMAN (Directed by Otis Mass; NYC Premiere). A local legend, well-known as a photographer/scene maker who does not take no for an answer, Rose Hartman had camera in hand at any art opening, nightlife event, and cat walk. Bill Cunningham or Dustin Pittman she is not, but no one can deny that SHE WAS THERE.
THESE ARE THE FILMS I AM LOOKING FORWARD TO SEEING:
ALL THE RAGE (SAVED BY SARNO) (Directed by Michael Galinsky, Suki Hawley, and David Beilinson). A controversial approach to treating back pain prompts a radical rethinking of how we approach health care.
BORDERLINE (Directed by Rebbie Ratner). This is a portrait of a New Yorker living with Borderline Personality Disorder as she seeks self acceptance and recovery.
BIG SONIA (Directed by Leah Warshawski and Todd Soliday). A Holocaust survivor with an outsized personality faces her biggest fear: retirement.
DAVID LYNCH: THE ART LIFE (Directed by Jon Nguyen, Rick Barnes, and Olivia Neergaard-Holm). Granting viewers unparalleled intimate access to the enigmatic auteur, this portrait is an indispensable look at an artist and his process.
KEN DEWEY: THIS IS A TEST (Directed by Sally Williams). An unheralded yet pivotal figure in the art world of the 1960s and 1970s, Ken Dewey was a visionary artist and iconoclast.
TONY CONRAD: COMPLETELY IN THE PRESENT (Directed by Tyler Hubby). Groundbreaking avant-garde multimedia artist Tony Conrad’s work in experimental film, video, music, and sound art spans more than 50 years.
THE GUYS NEXT DOOR (Directed by Amy Geller and Allie Humenuk). A married woman in her forties, with a husband and three children, is also the surrogate mother for her married gay friends’ children.
VERSUS: THE LIFE AND FILMS OF KEN LOACH (Directed by Louise Osmond). During the making of Ken Loach’s Palme d’Or-winning I, Daniel Blake, filmmaker Louise Ormond (Dark Horse) captures his process.
BOBBY SANDS: 66 DAYS (Directed by Brendan J. Byrne). This is the story of the Irish Republican Army hunger strike led by Bobby Sands to demand special recognition as political prisoners.
Check my blogs for movies in theaters this month: jimfourattreeldealmoviesthatmatter.blogspot.com / firstname.lastname@example.org.