DOC NYC: Gothams Documentary Film Festivalby Williams Cole
“In my mind, New York City is the world’s documentary capital,” says Thom Powers, Artistic Director of DOC NYC, an all-nonfiction film festival that runs from November 8 – 15. “More documentary makers live here than anywhere else. And New York is full of great stories.”
Now in its third year, DOC NYC has been growing rapidly. The festival’s home base is the IFC Center, where Powers curates the Stranger Than Fiction documentary series that helped spawn this festival. And this year it has expanded to include the SVA Theater on 23rd Street, where gala screenings will take place. These featured events include the world premiere of Can’t Stand Losing You (with Andy Summers of the Police) and the U.S. premiere of Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp, produced by Ice-T. For those interested in the rapidly changing landscape of documentary film there are five days of industry panels that include leading filmmakers and industry professionals discussing the latest developments in fundraising, distribution, and creative trends.
But the real lure is the slate of films, and there are more than the previous years, some which may eventually be available on Netflix and some that, for whatever reason, may be hard to come by again, especially in a theatrical setting. This year there is an especially strong group in competition under the heading Viewfinders that includes Birth Story, about midwifery at the infamous Tennessee commune The Farm; Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story, about the great provocateur and illustrator; A Girl and A Gun, about the modern relationship between women and firearms in the U.S.; and Informant, about a radical Black Bloc activist turned F.B.I. informant. There is also a program called Sonic Cinema that includes films about Big Star, David Bromberg, and the Greenwich Village music scene in the heyday of Pete Seeger (who will appear in person). Illustrating the self-reflective nature of the documentary world, there is also a premiere of the first parts of To Tell the Truth, an ambitious six-part series covering the history, real world effects ,and epistemological quandaries of the genre.
What makes an all-documentary festival different? “To me, the quality of conversations are different at a doc festival because you’re dealing with stories that have real-life consequences,” says Powers. This usually makes for a more scintillating Q&A (something that follows most screenings), especially when engaging subjects like child molestation and the Catholic Church (Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God) and media, police, race and crime in our city (the much-discussed Central Park Five).
Speaking of our city, yes, it is full of great stories. Adds Powers, “At my other job as the documentary programmer for the Toronto International Film Festival I routinely have to limit the number of New York stories in order to accommodate the rest of the world.” To ameliorate that situation a bit, DOC NYC has a section called Metropolis that this year includes the world premiere of Zipper, about the battle over real estate in Coney Island; Drivers Wanted, an inside view into taxi driving; a film about George Plimpton using his own narration; and the U.S. Premiere of Radioman, about a homeless man who has become a local legend on movie sets. Who knows, someday there might be a documentary film festival solely focused on the stories of New York City.
For more info on DOC NYC please visit www.docnyc.net.