If you’re a New Yorker who loves a good documentary, you’re in luck. The fourth annual DOC NYC Film Festival is now taking place in downtown Manhattan. The Festival’s mission is to cultivate and showcase original documentarians in a nurturing environment, allowing them to present their films to some of the best audiences in the world (but perhaps we’re biased).
There are many diverse films being shown, with topics ranging from the political, the humorous, the shocking and the heartwarming, the heart of DOC NYC is its celebration of the power of the film and of the dedicated artists that devote their talents to the craft of filmmaking.
Several documentaries at this year’s Festival highlight and celebrate the narrative filmmaking process and the sacrifices and skills required to be successful in this field. Whether you’re looking for documentaries about specific people—like sexploitation icon Joe Sarno or arts icon Marvin Hamlisch—or films that both celebrate and examine the craft of moviemaking, DOC NYC has something for you.
Here are our 5 recommendations for narrative film fans at this year’s stellar DOC NYC line-up.
The Act of Killing
Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer
Every year DOC NYC has a “Short List” section that is comprised of the year’s most groundbreaking and original docs that will surely be receiving numerous accolades come awards season. Executive produced by Errol Morris and Werner Herzog, Joshua Oppenheimer’s riveting The Act of Killing is one of the most fascinating and polarizing films of the year. The documentary shows the reflective power of cinema as the filmmakers challenge the notorious Anwar Congo and other former Indonesian death squad leaders (who are also American movie lovers) to recreate scenes from the brutal mass genocide they committed in the 1960s for the camera…in the style of the American movies they love, of course. This is a film you have to see to believe.
The Sarnos: A Life in Dirty Movies
Directed by Wiktor Ericsson
Known as the “Ingmar Bergman” of 42nd Street,” Joe Sarno was in the forefront of the sexploitation movement of the 1960s and 70s. Through beautiful black and white photography and with a focus on female desires in all its forms, Sarno promoted creative self-expression and sexual freedom. When his films started to be rediscovered in recent years, Joe’s love of filmmaking was reignited, and he attempted to return to making movies with the support of his faithful partner and wife Peggy. While Joe passed away in 2010, this documentary is a loving testament to his contributions to cinema and his true mastery of his craft.
Marvin Hamlisch: What He Did for Love
Directed Dori Berinstein
Last year when theater/film and music icon Marvin Hamlisch passed away after a long and rewarding life in show business. In addition to winning every major award possible (yes, he completed his EGOT and won a Pulitzer prize), Hamlisch was perhaps most well-known for his work on A Chorus Line and the scores for films such as The Way We Were, Sophie’s Choice, and The Sting. This documentary features Hamlisch’s collaborators and friends—Barbra Streisand, Robert Klein, Carly Simon, Liza Minnelli, and Steven Soderbergh all appear—as they pay tribute to Hamlisch by sharing their personal stories about one of the industry’s greatest.
What is Cinema?
Directed by Chuck Workman
Who doesn’t love a good movie montage? You might not know the name “Chuck Workman,” but you’ve certainly seen his work. Best known for creating those memorable Academy Award montage sequences at the ceremonies each year (including the In Memoriam Segment), Workman decided to use his knowledge of cinema to craft a feature-length tribute to the movies. What is Cinema is a dynamic visual essay that combines clips from well-known movies—which range from the dawn of cinema to the present day—with interviews from directors like David Lynch, Michael Moore and Alfred Hitchcock to celebrate the craft of filmmaking where no limits should exist.
Misfire: The Rise and Fall of the Shooting Gallery
Directed by Whitney Ransick
The Shooting Gallery was a production company on the forefront of independent filmmaking until it ultimately imploded due to massive debt and incompatible artistic visions among its founders. In their short time at the top, the company, comprised of dynamic young NYC filmmakers, was responsible for indies like Laws of Gravity and You Can Count On Me, but most notably, Billy Bob Thornton’s Sling Blade. The Shooting Gallery is described as the “Enron of Independent Films,” and this documentary explores the effects of egotism, greed and fiscal irresponsibility on a group of young men that had independent film glory at their fingertips and just couldn’t hold on.
Last Days of the Video Store
Directed by Quin O’Brien
Don’t all movie lovers long for the days when they could browse at their local video store? This short documentary follows the plight of Jeff Miller, a film fan who happens to be a clerk at Rocket Video, located in the heart of Hollywood. As he desperately tries to keep his beloved video store going, Miller faces a losing battle. Brick and mortar video stories, like independent bookstores, are being rendered obsolete by the new digital onslaught.