A few months back, I was hired by the fine folks over @ DOC NYC to craft their 2017 design identity. To be honest, I didn’t know much about the festival, but it didn’t take long for me to realize I had seriously been missing out. For those of you who don’t know about DOC NYC, it’s America’s largest documentary festival, and includes more than 250 films and panels, accompanied by over 350 filmmakers and special guests! This year’s festival ran from Nov. 9-16 at IFC Center, SVA Theatre & Cinepolis Chelsea. From the outset of the collaboration, I knew I wanted to attend the festival, but it wasn’t until I started laying out the catalog that I realized how much there would be to see and do. So after spending over three months collaborating with the DOC NYC team, I was thrilled to make the journey to New York for the festival. Below is a quick recap of my experience. And I’ll be candid upfront and say I wish I was able to see more films. I met so many passionate filmmakers, and was bummed when I wasn’t able to make it out to support their screenings. Splitting my time between the PRO panels, screenings and networking ops was definitely the most challenging aspects of the festival. So I only managed to see a handful of films and what follows are some of my favorites.
The Final Year, a fascinating time capsule that focuses on key members of Barack Obama’s administration during their last year in office. I definitely had a complicated reaction to this film, mostly because while it starts out as an uplifting look at the previous administration, it quickly turns into a horror story leading up to the election of 2016. The doc premieres on HBO in January 2018.
44 Pages, a charming and heartwarming, behind-the-scenes look at the creation of the landmark 70th anniversary issue of beloved children's magazine, Highlights. Not only did all of my fond memories of Highlights come washing over me, I discovered their headquarters are in Honesdale, PA (30 minutes from my current homebase Scranton). And proud to say I am now a subscriber again - this time for the benefit of our 5 year old daughter. The film is currently in the midst of a festival run, but you can check upcoming screenings and even host a screening through the film’s site, 44pages.com
Chasing Coral, an urgent yet beautiful chronicle of the environmental devastation happening to the world’s coral reefs. Streaming on Netflix. You can also learn more about the issue and get involved at ChasingCoral.com
The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography, documentary Godfather Errol Morris (The Fog of War) profiles legendary large-format photographer Elsa Dorfman. A very intimate and personal documentary filled with lovely moments getting to know Elsa. Streaming on Netflix.
The Force, an intense and immersive look at the troubled Oakland Police Department as it attempts to reform its scandal-ridden image. Currently in select theaters via Kino Lorber.
This is Congo, photojournalist-turned-filmmaker Daniel McCabe’s stunning examination of the endless war that plagues the Democratic Republic of Congo. The film is still in the early stages of their festival run, but hoping they’ll get some distribution set up soon. You can check out the trailer on their official site, ThisisCongo.com
Rodents Of Unusual Size, A quirky film follows bounty hunters and other colorful Gulf residents as they try to defend Louisiana from the invasive giant swamp rat known as the nutria. DOC NYC was their world premiere, so while I’m not sure what’s next for this doc you can follow along via their Facebook page.
Saving Brinton, My favorite film of the festival! This majestic film centers on eccentric collector Mike Zahs who makes a remarkable discovery in his farmhouse basement on the Iowa countryside: the showreels of Frank Brinton, the man responsible for bringing moving pictures to America’s Heartland over one hundred years ago. I may be a bit biased because I had the good fortune of designing the film’s key art for AFI Docs. I was thrilled to not only see the film on the big screen but also see the poster up close & personal when the team brought this wonderful documentary to New York. The cherry on top was getting to hang out with filmmaker's Tommy and Andrew as well as the film's protagonist, Mike Zahs. The film is currently touring America, and you can keep up with it and learn more about the collection through their official site.
A Murder in Mansfield, Oscar®-winning filmmaker Barbara Kopple explores the legacy of the 1989 murder of Noreen Boyle in Mansfield, Ohio and its impact on her family. Her 12-year-old son Collier gave a devastating videotaped testimony blaming his father for the murder. Now, over two decades later, Collier returns to Ohio seeking to retrace his past and confront his imprisoned father, who remains in denial of his guilt. This one needs to be seen to be believed. DOC NYC was the film’s world premiere, but you can keep an eye on it via Facebook.
One of Us, A gut-wrenching and emotional story from Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (Jesus Camp) that penetrates the insular world of New York’s Hasidic community. Streaming on Netflix.
Jane, Brett Morgen (On the Ropes) weaves together a beautiful and poetic portrait of primatologist Jane Goodall based on 100 hours of recently discovered 16mm National Geographic footage. The end result is an intimate and inspirational look at Goodall that celebrates her early adventures with love and grace. Bonus, the Philip Glass score is majestic! Currently in select theaters.
Repeat Attenders, A vibrant and entertaining portrait on a unique subsection of the musical theatre fan community, for whom shows like Les Miz, Starlight Express and Cats are an obsession, a refuge and a place where they belong. The film has landed some distribution in it’s hometown of Australia, but not sure when it will be heading to the states. More info @ RepeatAttenders.com (https://www.repeatattenders.com)
Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond, Offbeat documentarian Chris Smith (American Movie) reveals just how fully Jim Carrey took on the persona of idiosyncratic comedian Andy Kaufman on the set of Man on the Moon. This wild ride is currently streaming on Netflix and is a must watch!
It’s also worth mentioning a handful of films I really wanted to see but missed - including, Godfathers of Hardcore, which focuses on Agnostic Front's Vinnie Stigma and Roger Miret who have been synonymous with the New York punk scene for over 35 years; The Experimental City, a fascinating chronicle of an almost successful attempt to build the city of the future by a visionary scientist and futurist comic strip writer in the 1960s; Samantha’s Amazing Acrocats, about a woman and her traveling cat circus; Love, Cecil, a portrait of Cecil Beaton, the multi-talented photographer, writer and painter who designed sets and costumes for films like My Fair Lady.
DOC NYC PRO
In addition to the festival, DOC NYC also has a PRO component, which includes an eight-day series of talks, panels and professional development workshops to provide working filmmakers with vital tools to hone their craft and access the insight of individuals at the forefront of today’s nonfiction renaissance. The PRO days are geared towards filmmakers, but there were a handful of panels that I found extremely insightful:
State Of Documentary: Enter The Market
With the growing number of production and distribution outlets, it’s becoming increasingly important to make sure you’re selecting the best one for your project. How do you get your film out there and how can you get the best deal? Josh Braun (Submarine), Matt Cowal (Magnolia Pictures), Natalie Mooallem (The Orchard) and Eric Sloss (Cinetic) give guidance and answer your questions. Moderator: Dade Hayes (Deadline Hollywood)
Mastering Your Craft: Cinematography Day - Big Images, Small Budget
Filmmakers Mike Day (The Islands and the Whales), Daniel McCabe (This is Congo), Anjali Nayar (Silas) and Mila Turajic (The Other Side of Everything) discuss the bold images in their films and how they were achieved on a modest budget. Moderator: Adaora Udoji
Smart Producing Day - Reaching The Audience: Press, Outreach & Marketing
Christie Marchese (Picture Motion), Sara Kiener (Cinereach), Michael Premo (Water Warriors), and Adam Segal (The 2050 Group) present case studies and give road maps for the best ways for filmmakers to maximize their audience. Moderator: Esther Robinson (ArtHome)
Show Me The Money Day - Going Diy With Distribution
Producers Lindsey Dryden and Alysa Nahmias (Unrest), along with Chris Horton (Sundance Institute) talk about getting your film out there successfully all on your own. Moderator: Iyabo Boyd (For Ahkeem)
One of the most surprising (and enjoyable) parts of DOC NYC were the daily happy hours. While the festival did put on an opening night and Filmmaker party, I found these smaller and more intimate daily gatherings to be much more conducive to conversations and networking. Taking place in the filmmaker lounge at Cinepolis Chelsea, the happy hours were very accessible and casual, and provided an excellent opportunity to get more familiar with the community.
THE BOTTOM LINE
DOC NYC has something for everyone. Whether you're an avid cinefile or a seasoned docmaker (and anything in between) you will get a ton out of this festival. Personally, I was totally overwhelmed with my experience, and was thrilled to spend a week with so many wonderful, creative and like minded individuals. The festival does a fantastic job of bringing together the documentary community and celebrating their accomplishments. For anyone who hasn't had the chance to attend this documentary utopia, I highly recommend it.