Friday, October 12, 2012

The Movies You Must Watch at DOC NYC

Doc NYC, as the name suggests, is a documentary film festival happening November 8th thru 15th in Manhattan.  At the SVA theater (a Tribeca Film Fest mainstay, in Chelsea) and the IFC Center (where I basically live), to be precise. I’d launch into an impassioned spiel about how much I love this fest, but truth be told, I’ve actually never attended Doc NYC.

I’m poised to change that starting this year, and in a big way. I’ve just bought tickets to 17 movies that are screening there (plus a few shorts I presume).   Crazy doc lady?  You say that like that like it’s a bad thing.

Anyway, I’m one thousand percent positive this festival’s gonna rule, and not just because the popcorn at the IFC Center is basically my version of crack.  It’s that Thom Powers guy – the one who founded and runs the festival along with his wife RaphaelaNeihausen.  I trust his taste since I’ve been enjoying the doc slate he programs at the Toronto International Film Festival for many years.

I’ve been seeing docs all year long, so I’ve got a leg up on this festival.  Here, then, is my list of films that I can heartily recommend.

(CAVEAT: I haven’t seen West of Memphis or Ethel, but based on buzz from past festivals, these films should also be on your radar.)


This follows Jared Leto’s band 30 Seconds to Mars as they record a new album while being sued by their record label for a staggering 30 million dollars.  It’s not a perfect film by any means, but it is of particular interest to anyone who wants to stare into that guy’s gorgeous, gorgeous eyes for two hours, or anyone who has even a basic interest in what happens behind the scenes in the music industry.  The biggest reason to see this film, though, is that it offers something sort of rare for a documentary film – a truly unique theatrical experience.   Moviegoers generally know that watching a horror movie or a comedy is a lot more fun in a big crowd, but it’s widely accepted that most documentaries can be enjoyed just as much on your iPad as in a packed multiplex.  Not so with Artifact.  It was positively delightful to watch this one surrounded by 30 Seconds to Mars devotees who cheered for the first solid minute and snickered at seemingly innocuous lines that must be inside jokes. If you’re at all inclined to see this, make a point to see it at the opening night of Doc NYC.

Of all the subgenres of documentary film out there, competition films and docs about senior citizens are high up there on the charm scale.  Ping Pong is a funny, lighthearted combination of those.  There’s an international Over 80’s Table Tennis championship to be won. You’ll meet a host of characters from around the globe as they vie for the top spot in their age bracket.  If you need to take a break from serious topics, you could do a lot worse than this, which is sure to bring a smile to your face if not a twinge of the inadequacy of your own fitness routine.

This is the story of Radioman, a NYC personality – one of those people you always see and think huh, what’s his deal? This guy loves movies. Particularly, movie sets. He has gained a reputation with top Hollywood actors and directors as the guy who was as common to see around a movie set as a boom mike or the craft services table – so much so that they started giving him walk-on roles. This film won’t change your life, and you may leave it with more questions about this guy than answers, but you’ll chuckle along the way. Mainly it’s fun to watch as huge star after huge star shows up in the documentary to talk about their love for the guy.  And this will go over particularly well here since the film is chock full of NYC sights.

I’ve seen quite a few outstanding personal documentaries lately and this one’s no exception.  The film starts off on a very small scale – one woman’s quest to learn more about her father who left when she was a small child. From there, the viewer gets a front seat to this journey as she discovers more about the man she barely knew.  I was mostly surprised by the universality here. Sure, most of us couldn’t say our Alabama-raised dad missed our formative years on account of his gallivanting around the globe as a flamenco guitarist, leaving in his wake more than one splintered family, and even inspiring a line in a famous pop song.  But - learning to love someone despite of their shortcomings? Reconciling that good can come from bad?  These are the types of lessons that shine through in the film and allow it to resonate with audiences.  I’ve been pulling for this little movie since Sundance and I absolutely recommend it.

Part rock biography, part inspiring survival story, solid heart.  Jason Becker was a guitar prodigy from an early age, and his supportive and loving family nurtured his talent throughout his childhood, which paid off big time when his dream came true and he was selected to play with David Lee Roth on tour and record an album with him.  Those dreams were cut short by a diagnosis of Lou Gehrig’s disease at the age of 22.  Who could have imagined that staring at a future of rapid decline and paralysis, Jason Becker’s creative aspirations were far from over?  You won’t meet a more determined man.  His story provides of the most striking, yet humble, kind and unassuming examples of unending triumph over adversity that you’ll see in any film – fiction or non-fiction. Loved it, loved it, loved it. 

If you can only see one movie at Doc NYC… um,  try harder. See more! There are so many good ones to see!

But okay, seriously.  If you need to place a priority on which film is absolutely unmissable? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered – this is the movie, right here. 

Not only does it make my top three docs of 2012 list but it will surely end up on my top ten films of the year. There were rainbows doing cartwheels through fireworks in my brain when I watched this freaking movie.  I knew exactly zero about the subject before I sat down to watch, so I had no predisposition to the film at all.  But it truly blew me away – both the fascinating man they profile as well as the expertise they apply in crafting his story.

If you want to know more about why I loved this movie, feel free to read the gushing review I posted of it after I saw it at TIFF.


And so, New Yorkers, go forth and buy tickets! It’s time to take full advantage of what your city is offering you. DOC NYC is the kind of event that makes you proud to live here – so don’t just nod at the poster as you run past the IFC Center on your way down to the F train and think “wouldn’t that be fun.” Go online, book some tickets, and treat yourself to some really great docs. 

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