• [The Daily] DOC NYC 2017

    By David Hudson

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    DOC NYC started in 2010 and is now, at 250 movies and dozens of filmmaker workshops (best in class: ‘Show Me the Money Day’) spread over eight days [November 9 through 16], the biggest and probably best one-stop venue for nonfiction cinema in the United States,” proposes Chris Barsanti, writing for Film Journal International. “Plus, there’s always the chance that you could run into the likes of this year’s Lifetime Achievement honorees: HBO nonfiction maven Sheila Nevins and director Errol Morris, who between them probably shepherded or inspired more documentaries and documentary filmmakers than any other two individuals in the business.”

    At amNewYork, Robert Levin notes that this festival is no “take-all-comers omnibus; it’s been programmed thoughtfully, and it is the place to be for anyone who cares about the indispensable art form and the work of its foremost practitioners.” Levin naturally focuses on “movies with strong connections to New York City, chronicling a wide range of stories and experiences.”

    This year’s edition opens with Greg Barker’s The Final Year, “a truly up-close-and-personal, behind-the-scenes look at the Obama administration and its foreign policy team during its last twelve months,” as Lauren Wissot notes, introducing her interview with Barker for Filmmaker. “To say that Barker gained unprecedented access to the president’s men (and one woman) during that period is an understatement. The veteran documentarian (Homegrown: The Counter-Terror Dilemma, Manhunt: The Inside Story of the Hunt for Bin Laden, etc.) managed to shadow three heavyweight insiders—Secretary of State John Kerry, Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, and ‘Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting’ Ben Rhodes. . . . And all before the trio had any inkling of the biggest unconventional threat to come.”

    Steven Zeitchik spoke with Barker for the Los Angeles Times when The Final Year premiered in Toronto, noting that the “Trumpian curveball changed the last few months of filming, which continued until the inauguration. And it makes the final product a fundamentally different beast. What had been a straightforward D.C. document, color-drenched but benign, becomes an urgent ideological rebuttal when viewed through the lens of 2017.” Reviews: Will Ashton (Playlist, B-), Frank Scheck (Hollywood Reporter), Scott Tobias (Variety), and Elizabeth Weitzman (TheWrap).

    “When David Bowie died in January 2016, the news sent shock waves around the globe, triggering the kind of mass mourning usually reserved for royalty in bygone ages,” writes Stephen Dalton in the Hollywood Reporter. “A longtime friend and fan of Bowie, British director Francis Whately’s documentary David Bowie: The Last Five Years diligently chronicles the late rock icon’s autumnal career resurgence using rare archive footage, recycled quotes, music videos and performance clips. But it is mostly woven from first-hand interviews with a wide range of friends and collaborators who worked on Bowie’s final projects. With a tone more celebratory than elegiac, this is a worthy screen memorial.” Variety’s Owen Gleiberman notes that this “singular and haunting pop documentary” is “a companion piece to David Bowie: Five Years, the 2013 documentary in which director Francis Whately meditated on the pivotal period of Bowie’s fame, from 1970 to 1975.”

    “Jessica Lange remembers the time when she worked as a model for the fashion illustrator Antonio Lopez during the 1970s,” writes Muri Assunção for Hyperallergic. “She can’t hide her smile: ‘Everybody at that time got swept into Antonio’s world. There was something magical about it. He had this way of bringing joy into people’s lives.’ Lange is just one in a long list of Lopez’s collaborators who appear in James Crump’s seductive new documentary, Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex Fashion & Disco . . . And their admiration and devotion toward the artist are key in understanding the magnitude of his work.”

    In IndieWire’s preview of highlights in the DOC NYC lineup, we find:

    One of the films Manuel Betancourt previews at Remezcla is Peter Gordon’s Still Waters. “Chronicling the day-to-day in a unique after-school program in a rapidly gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood, Gordon’s documentary about ‘Still Waters in a Storm’ gives hope to those eager to see people aiming to be better and to better those around them.”

    For the Villager, Scott Stiffler writes about Alice Elliott’s Miracle on 42nd Street: “It’s got jazzy transition music and charismatic star power, plus its archival footage of seedy ’70s Midtown puts HBO’s The Deuce to shame—but this documentary on NYC’s iconic housing complex for ‘qualified singers, actors, dancers, and behind-the-scenes members of the entertainment community’ comes up just short by adhering to that old showbiz adage about leaving the audience wanting more.”

    Women and Hollywood gets a few words with Elliott and has also been interviewing other female directors with work in the lineup:

    The Detroit Free Press notes that a film it’s produced, 12th and Clairmount, is in the lineup: “Using Detroiters’ home movies and other archival video and photos, the Brian Kaufman-directed film aims for an immersive look at Detroit’s tumultuous summer of 1967.” It’s one of the films Glenn Dunks writes about at the Film Experience, along with Chard Freidrichs’s The Experimental City and Prudence Katze and William Lehman's The Iron Triangle.

    A few more titles to mention; clicking on them will take you to collections of reviews either here or at Critics Round Up:

    As more reviews, interviews, and so on appear throughout the festival, we’ll be making note of them here.

    Updates, 11/10: For Jason Bailey, writing for the Village Voice, “the real thrill at a festival of this magnitude is discovering an unknown director, with a thrilling story to tell, and a new way to tell it.” And he offers “a selection of the standouts—along with one notice of a movie to avoid.” That one would be David Wexler’s Vigilante: The Incredible True Story of Curtis Sliwa and the Guardian Angels. But the standouts are The Final Year, 12th and Clairmount, David Bowie: The Last Five Years, Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood, Barbara Kopple’s A Murder in Mansfield, Ben Lewis’s The Beatles, Hippies and Hell’s Angels: Inside the Crazy World of Apple, Katherine Fairfax Wright’s Behind the Curtain: Todrick Hall, Chris Smith’s Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond — Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton, and Steve Mitchell’s King Cohen.

    Daniel Eagan, writing for Film Journal International, finds that “it helps that director of programming Basil Tsiokos, artistic director Thom Powers and executive director Raphaela Neihausen have split the program into eighteen sections, or themes, such as True Crime, Science Nonfiction and Sonic Cinema. The seven features in Sonic Cinema run a gamut of musical styles from classical to hardcore. They also show the strengths and weaknesses of a genre that often settles into complacency.” But with Sammy Davis, Jr.: I've Gotta Be Me, Sam Pollard “avoids all of the pitfalls of music documentaries . . . Pollard keeps a firm grip on the remarkable details in Davis’s life, includes generous performance clips, and seems to understand what was behind this famously driven man.”

    Filmmaker editor Scott Macaulay talks with Thom Powers, who tells him that “no matter what the backdrop of politics and current events is, you are always looking for a well rounded program. You can’t put together a program that is only super serious or beating the drum of social issues. Good docs reflecting the times we are living in are not just about politics.”

    At ScreenAnarchy, Christopher Bourne picks six highlights: The Final Year, EuroTrump, Sammy Davis, Jr., David Bowie, Attiya Khan and Lawrence Jackman’s A Better Man, and Michael Melamedoff’s The Problem with Apu.

    Women and Hollywood’s got a couple of more interviews, one with Barbara Kopple, the other with Jessica Wolfson (Hot Grease).

    Updates, 11/11: “I studied psychology in Boston before I became a filmmaker,” writes Barbara Kopple at the Talkhouse. “I always felt this background has served me well in the documentary profession. Understanding people and their motivations is a big part of telling their stories, gaining their trust, and striving to craft compelling and accurate personal journeys in the edit room. My latest film, A Murder in Mansfield . . . , tells the story of a boy who grew to manhood haunted by unresolved issues with his family. Many of us have issues like those with our own pasts, with our own families. But for Collier Landry, it was more extreme. The reason those issues remained unresolved between him and his mother was because she was murdered when he was 11 years old. And they remained unresolved with his father because his father was convicted of that murder.

    More interviews at Women and Hollywood: Julia Bacha (Naila and the Uprising), Talya Tibbon (Sky & Ground), and Paige Goldberg Tolmach (What Haunts Us).

    TIFF Long Take host Rob Kraszewski talks with Greg Barker about The Final Year and “ how documentaries fit into a ‘post-truth’ world” (27’14”).

    Updates, 11/12:A Murder in Mansfield stands out from other true crime documentaries that often expose the graphic details of a violent crime, without connecting them to the persistent anguish of individuals living in the aftermath of tragedy,” writes Kate Hearst for Film International. “With Kopple’s empathetic gaze, A Murder in Mansfield chronicles one man’s courageous struggles with memory and trauma. In the end, there is a sense of incompleteness to Landry’s journey. However, precisely because of this lack of resolution, Kopple’s documentary comes closer than most to capturing the authentic experience of trauma.”

    For Filmmaker, Soheil Rezayazdi talks with Kopple about “her approach to documentary production, interviewing a sociopath, and the power of small talk.”

    Update, 11/13: Women and Hollywood’s new interview is with Laura Fairrie (Spiral).

    Updates, 11/14: For Film Journal International, Chris Barsanti writes about Miracle on 42nd Street, The Experimental City, 12th and Clairmount, Shawn Rech’s “tightly knotted gangland chronicle” White Boy, A Murder in Mansfield, Julie Bacha’s Naila and the Uprising, “a sometimes frustratingly narrow look at Naila Ayesh, a woman from Gaza who joined the anti-occupation resistance in 1987 during the first Intifada,” Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood, and The Problem with Apu.

    More on that last one from Amid Amidi at Cartoon Brew: “While The Simpsons isn’t at fault for being the only piece of American entertainment to include a ‘South Asian’ in their cast, they are at fault for consciously designing the character to be insulting.”

    “A devastating exposé of governmental corruption and the lingering, horrifying legacy of colonialism, This is Congo follows a variety of citizens of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), in central Africa, as they struggle to survive in the current mess that is their country,” writes Christopher Llewellyn Reed at Hammer to Nail. “Making his feature debut, director/cinematographer Daniel McCabe displays uncommon courage—or recklessness, or both—throwing himself and his camera into the middle of the many battles we witness.”

    At Hyperallergic, Jon Hogan writes about Blue Velvet Revisited: “The behind-the-scenes materials can often prove engrossing to fans of Lynch, although the film’s presentation is frustrating.”

    Ben Patterson’s Maddman: The Steve Madden Story is a portrait of the fashion designer who served time in the mid-00s for his role in an insider trading scheme. It’s “well-paced, and mostly engaging throughout,” finds Gary Garrison. “And Madden is hard not to like: a passionate, rabble-rousing outsider, who, through his own redemption, has become an advocate of redemption for others. It’s just a shame that Maddman couldn’t transcend the cult of personality to truly capture the sort of man who attracts such affection.”

    Also at the Playlist, Lena Wilson gives A Murder in Mansfield a C-.

    More Women and Hollywood interviews: Rebecca Cammisa (Atomic Homefront), Sascha Ettinger Epstein (The Pink House), and Attiya Khan (A Better Man).

    Updates, 11/15: At the Film Experience, Glenn Dunks argues that, with Blue Velvet Unlimited, Peter Braatz offers “not just a behind-the-scenes documentary that is worthy of the film it’s about, but made something that feels uniquely in sync with a human subject as famously prickly as David Lynch.” And for Filmmaker, Travis Crawford talks with Braatz about the making of the doc and his “relationship to Lynch and his work.”

    “There are times when A Murder in Mansfield gets a little too wrapped up in Landry's psyche,” writes Frank Scheck for the Hollywood Reporter. “But that's one of the few missteps for this film that may prove nearly as cathartic for viewers as its central figure who endured unimaginable horrors.”

    New Women and Hollywood interviews: Lili Fini Zanuck (Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars) and Tiffany Bartok (Larger Than Life: The Kevyn Aucoin Story).

    Updates, 11/16: With her directorial debut, Baltimore Rising, Sonja Sohn (Detective Kima Greggs on The Wire) “proves an extremely able documentarian” as she “points her lens at the failing Baltimore infrastructure that led to riots following the death of Freddie Gray in police custody,” writes Christopher Llewellyn Reed at Hammer to Nail.

    “It’s not every day that a documentary shakes the ground as surely as the average blockbuster, or keeps us on the edge of our seat like a good thriller,” writes Andrew Crump at the Playlist. “This Is Congo doesn’t care to entertain us, but it does grip us.”

    Latest Women and Hollywood interview: Alison Chernick (Itzhak).

    Updates, 11/17: At the Playlist, Gary Garrison suggests that the “mundane reality of advocacy documentary is that so many such films are middling, mediocre exercises that will never find an audience besides those already invested in the cause. Which is likely the fate of Unfractured, the new doc that chronicles the life of Sandra Steingraber—a scientist and leader of the anti-fracking movement.”

    “For nearly his entire life, Ron, a 66-year-old autistic man under the care of his parents, has been building an extraordinary 50-room maze-like structure in his backyard.” So begins the festival’s description of Guy Fiorita’s Mole Man, which John Fink, writing at the Film Stage, calls “a fascinating, warm and, occasionally heartbreaking film.”

    Fink gives A Murder in Mansfield a “B,” Sascha Ettinger Epstein’s The Pink House a “B+, and another “B+” to Chris Smith’s Jim & Andy, “the hilarious and occasionally moving portrait of Jim Carrey’s time making Milos Forman’s 1999 Andy Kaufman biopic Man on the Moon.” More on that one from Matthew Love at Vulture, where he writes about “ten big revelations we gleaned from the film.”

    This is Congo captures a moment of time and an entire history simultaneously,” writes Jared Mobarak, also at the Film Stage.

    “Despite Kondabolu’s obvious passion for the subject, The Problem with Apu doesn’t come close to resolving the eponymous issue,” writes Danette Chavez at the A.V. Club. “He’s genuinely disappointed when Azaria ultimately declines to appear on camera, which probably cut the documentary short. But though the ending isn’t tidy, the film still offers a lot of insight from Kondabolu’s contemporaries like Aziz Ansari, Aparna Nancherla, Kal Penn, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Russell Peters, and several more, who, if we were to list them all, we’d probably have the full roster of South Asian talent in Hollywood, which just helps make Kondabolu’s point of how relatively small this community still is.”

    More Women and Hollywood interviews: Evan Briggs (The Growing Season) and Lisa Immordino Vreeland (Love, Cecil).

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