A brand new film festival begins in New York City tonight specifically focused on documentary storytelling. It's called DOC NYC and it's partly the brainchild of Thom Powers, programmer of the increasingly impressive documentary sections of the Toronto International Film Festival and host of the awesome weekly doc series Stranger Than Fiction at Manhattan's IFC Center. Happening now through November 9, the inaugural event will screen around twenty new non-fiction films in and out of competition, as well as select retrospective titles by Werner Herzog and Errol Morris, both of whose latest works are showcased with gala screenings. Veteran documentarian and film historian Kevin Brownlow, who will receive an honorary Academy Award this fall, is also being celebrated through screenings of his work.
DOC NYC will present a number of world premieres, including Thom Zimny's new Bruce Springsteen concert film 'Darkness at the Edge of Town,' the recently Gotham Award-nominated 'Kati with an i' and most of the entries competing in the fest's Metropolis section, which spotlights documentaries set in and/or about New York City. I will be representing Moviefone as a juror for the other, broader DOC NYC competition, called Viewfinder, so I can't say too much about the titles in that section (except maybe that they include highly acclaimed and award-winning docs like 'Armadillo' and 'Windfall'). But I have seen nearly all of the Metropolis films and some of the other selections and can recommend seven personal highlights after the jump.
'Cave of Forgotten Dreams' - The gala screening of Herzog's new 3-D film, about the Chauvet caves and prehistoric paintings found there, is sold out. As is another event presenting a conversation between the filmmaker and New York film critic David Edelstein. But I want to mention it so as to recommend you see it theatrically whenever you have a chance. For one, it offers a deeply magnificent spiritual experience akin to if not greater than those felt with Herzog's 'Lessons of Darkness' and parts of 'Encounters at the End of the World.' And the 3-D is necessary to properly get a sense of the textures of the cave and how much of a difference this makes in appreciating the art, otherwise only viewed with flat photographic images. At the fest, though, you can also make do for now by taking in at least one of his other essential docs, such as 'My Best Fiend' and 'Land of Silence and Darkness.'
'A Brief History of Time' - I don't particularly love Morris' new film, 'Tabloid,' though no hardcore fan should miss it. Those unfamiliar with his work may instead wish to start with the classic 'The Thin Blue Line' or the more characteristic 'Gates of Heaven,' both of which should look really great on the big screen. However, if you only have time for one Morris at this time, I suggest his 1991 Stephen Hawkings adaptation/biography. Not only is it rarely screened, it's also currently unavailable on DVD or Blu-ray.
'Puppet' - By far my favorite entry in the Metropolis competition is this film about the art of puppetry -- a little of its history and discussions of its current attempt at a major renaissance and the critical obstacles against such -- as well as a specific look at the making of a 2009 puppet theater production titled 'Disfarmer.' If you are or have ever been a fan of Jim Henson, 'Being John Malkovich,' the Coen brothers, Julie Taymor's 'The Lion King,' Paul Giamatti or really any kind of puppets made for children or adults, you must see this documentary. It's a whole lot more moving and enlightening than it sounds.
'To Be Heard' - I have a feeling this Metropolis selection will both win its competition prize and probably be shown on HBO at some point. It's basically your typical doc about inner city teens overcoming their environment through sport or artistic expression, here poetry, but it's one of the better examples I've seen lately. Maybe the best. Very fully covered by a multi-talented quartet of co-directors and expertly shot and edited by one of these filmmakers, Edwin Martinez, 'To Be Heard' has the usual heartbreaks and triumphs but you see more and feel more than is expected. You'll truly want more of, from and for the trio of young writers featured in the film.
'U2 3D' - Yes, I'm very serious. I don't even care that much for or about U2, but I had a blast with this 3-D concert film selected as one of the fest's two midnight rock doc screenings (the other is D.A. Pennebaker's 'Ziggy Stardust and the Spider of Mars.') See my review from when it was released.
'mindFLUX' - I recommend this spotlight on avant-garde playwright and stage director Richard Foreman solely for the final moment depicting, with animation, what his marital sex life apparently was like with his ex-wife, film critic Amy Taubin. The rest might solely be for the theater dorks, but if you've never encountered Foreman's work (he did the famous 1976 version of 'The Threepenny Opera' that you might have a trendy poster for on your wall) it could also be a worthwhile and possibly disturbing introduction.
'Make Believe' - Teens and magic. No, it's not the anticipated new 'Harry Potter' film. It's the recent Los Angeles Film Festival winner I've been dying to see (I'm recommending it on faith) that follows a few young competitors from all over the globe hoping to be named the best teen magician in the world. Looks like 'Spellbound' meets Chris Nolan's 'The Prestige.'
Of course, along with that unseen hopeful I'm also interested in some other films I feel guilty for having never seen before now, including 'Ziggy Stardust' and all the Brownlow picks, as well as the one Metropolis film not screened ahead of time for press, the David Byrne concert film 'Ride, Rise, Roar.'
For more info on these and any other DOC NYC selections, visit the fest's website. And watch the official trailer for the event below: