Another Extraordinary Slate of Programming in the Books- DOC NYC 2021 Thrills Again
By Christine Connallon
The first ever hybrid DOC NYC festival was a rousing success, filling 19 days with 250 documentaries being screened at the heart of the festival, in New York City, as well as across the country. With over a million minutes of films being enjoyed online as well as over 175 live Q&As and panels with filmmakers and guests, the 12th edition of DOC NYC was the perfect example of the new way we consume movies .
Narrowing down the films that should be on your radar was a challenge since the slate of films was strong, literally with something for everyone. We’ve managed to select some absolute favorites but keep in mind that this list represents merely a drop in the bucket of the wonderful films we watched, perched on the edge of our seats.
Adrienne: Director Andy Ostroy is the only person who could have brought us a film of this magnitude. His sadness is palpable in this poignant tribute to his creative force of a wife, Adrienne Shelly, who was murdered in 2006 in her New York City work studio in the West Village. You may know her face from her starring roles in over twenty films or may recognize her as the creator of Waitress but Ostroy and their daughter Sophie provide a true sense of the beautiful woman as well as the heartbreaking journey that they have traversed in grieving their loss.
Bring Your Own Brigade: From Academy Award-nominee Lucy Walker, we are given a unique perspective on the overwhelming 2018 California wildfire season. By focusing on two polar opposite cities in terms of wealth, northern Paradise and its middle class residents as well as the rich of Malibu in the south, we are given a well-rounded perspective of the impact of these fires with footage that will make your heart race.
Come Back Anytime: This sweet and unassuming film depicts a year at an intimate ramen noodle restaurant in Tokyo. Guaranteed, you’ll get hungry thanks to the artful cinematography of the delicious looking cuisine. If only this cozy restaurant with its wonderful chef-owners and its loyal patrons could be around the corner!
End of the Line: The MTA is something that is a necessary evil for those who live or work in New York City and this film from director Emmett Adler does a superb job in critically examining the role of the MTA, especially during the global pandemic. Andy Byford, who served as the President of the NY Transit Authority from January 2018- February of 2020, is honest, candid and emerges as a victim of collateral damage when politics impede his ability to do his job.
The Art of Making It: Are you an artist if you don’t have a Master of Fine Arts? Or carry over $120,000 in student debt? This film from director Kelcey Edwards shares the perspective of young artists who are trying to create art in a world that is constantly changing, leaving some headed for the spotlight and others with mounting debt to tackle.
The Bengali: An absolute gem of a documentary, director Kavery Kaul accompanies Fatima, a woman from New Orleans as she journeys to Kolkata, India. In the 1900s, it was common for Indian men to immigrate to Louisiana and marry African American women. Searching for her family, Fatima approaches a small village in India with an open heart and mind, discovering so much on her excursion to learn more about her family and herself.
Once Upon a Time In Uganda: Hands down, one of the most delightful films of the festival, directors Cathryne Czubek and Hugo Perez document the friendship of two men from different places in the world who are joined by a love of action cinema. When Alan Hofmanis, a film programmer from New York City becomes enraptured by the work of “Africa’s Tarantino” Isaac Nabwana, their friendship grows in Kampala, where money is tight but creativity is abundant. Welcome to Wakaliwood!
Refuge: The uncomfortable moments in this film by directors Erin Bernhardt and Din Blankenship provide an eventual catharsis. Set in two small towns in Georgia, we meet a Kurdish refugee turned doctor and a white supremacist who has a particular distaste for Muslims. It is difficult to imagine the circumstances where these men could see eye to eye, much less become friends but the conversations, understanding and acceptance that follow are beautiful to witness.
The Rossellinis: Quirky and complicated, we are taken on a fascinating journey with director Alessandro Rossellini, who delves into his family, including the patriarch of his clan, director Roberto Rossellini- the father of Neorealism. Traveling to speak to his relatives including his mom and well known aunt Isabella Rossellini, you’ll emerge with a new perspective about this family.
McCurry: The Pursuit of Color: Do you know the name Steve McCurry? You definitely know this iconic photographer’s work. Following his amazing rise as a photographer always on the roam who has documented the times we live in, we get a glimpse into what he gave up to achieve success only to literally have it all in the later years of his life.
Messwood: You don’t need to be a football fan to root for the hybrid football team in Milwaukee made up of players from two high schools. Kids from a white, suburban school are calling plays with their counterparts from a black, urban school. How the boys and their families handle the huge chasm that separates their home lives is at the center of this compelling documentary.
Listening to Kenny G: Think you know smooth-jazz musician Kenny G? Think again! Filmmaker Penny Lane personalizes the icon with witty interviews with the man himself as well as fascinating footage. Is his music a guilty pleasure? Or do you proudly proclaim your fan status? Either way, you’ll walk away from this film with a whole new appreciation for the talented man.
Life of Crime – 1984-2020: An absolute standout, filmmaker Jon Alpert takes us on a near-four decade journey with three people who hail from Newark, NJ. We follow the ups and downs in the lives of Rob, Freddie and Deliris as they struggle with issues like drug addiction, crime and family drama. Powerful and poignant, this film will give you hope and simultaneously rip your heart out.
Keep an eye out for these amazing films when they hit a theater or streaming service near you. Make a promise to yourself to check out DOC NYC next fall for the 13th fantastic year.
Photos courtesy of DOC NYC.