New York’s fall documentary festival is back for a second year, with galas Into the Abyss, Lemon and The Island President and a tribute to cinéma vérité pioneer Richard Leacock.
It’s great to catch a film festival at its beginning. It has a vitality similar to that of a young child. Along with that creative energy usually comes some growing pains, but those can be fun to witness as well.
DOC NYC, which starts its second year on Wednesday, November 2, 2011, and goes through November 10, enjoyed an exceptionally strong debut season last year, including a couple of titans of the documentary world. Werner Herzog offered an advance screening of his 3-D French movie, The Cave of Forgotten Dreams, and another event of note was Errol Morris’ Tabloid, perhaps more memorable for the post-screening Q&A where an uninvited Joyce McKinney, Morris’ main subject, inserted herself most vocally into the proceedings.
This year’s season is less star-studded but hardly less interesting. Herzog, in an exceptionally prolific mode these days, returns with his latest film called Into the Abyss. His film, a Sundance Selects title, once again opens the festival. The movie concerns Michael James Perry who, like a character out of In Cold Blood or Errol Morris’ The Thin Blue Line, is on death row in Conroe, Texas (“The capital murder capital of the world”). Herzog, who always remains off-camera, interviews his subjects just once, including Mr. Perry, who is only eight days from being executed by lethal injection.
Charlotte Rampling is the subject of Angelina MacCarone’s bio-doc, Charlotte Rampling: The Look, which reflects on the actress’s unconventional career. The film closes the festival, where Rampling is expected to make a personal appearance. Sarah McCarthy’s The Sound of Mumbai, an HBO Documentary, follows the making of a concert of The Sound of Music from casting through rehearsals and the one-off performance. The cast? A group of children from the slums of Mumbai. It’s a documentary that definitely pulls at the heartstrings. The most cynical will be helpless in avoiding getting swept up into the children’s unfiltered joy.
The centerpiece of the festival is Laura Brownson and Beth Levison’s Lemon. (If it seems as though there is a plethora of women filmmakers this season, it’s true. A quick glance at the slate looks as though the division is roughly 50-50.) Lemon, which will be introduced by hip-hop impresario Russell Simmons, concerns itself with “three-time felon, one-time Tony Award-winner” Lemon Anderson, a poet who first gained notoriety on Simmons’ Def Poetry Jam. Despite his success with that show, Lemon still struggles with his demons. The film includes music by Kanye West, Mos Def and established hip-hop artists.
Another component of the festival worth mentioning is a tribute to documentary-maker Richard Leacock, who died last March. Leacock was 89 and left behind a trove of films, several of which are being shown at DOC NYC: Robert Drew’s breakthrough vérité doc Primary (1960), Robert Flaherty’s Louisiana Story (1948) and The Children Were Watching (1961) to name a few.
Also worth noting are Jason Cohn and Bill Jersey’s Eames: The Architect and the Painter, which goes inside the collaboration between the prolific 20th-century designers, Dominic Allan’s Calvet, about French artist Jean Marc Calvet, and Jon Shenk’s doc about Maldivian president Mohamed Nasheed (and Toronto audience favorite), The Island President.
The festival is the offspring of Thom Powers and Raphaela Neihausen, the husband-wife team behind Stranger Than Fiction, another ongoing documentary series in New York. (Powers is also known as a programmer for the Toronto International Film Festival.)
For a full list of films, shorts and events, visit docnyc.net.