Listen, we all love ourselves a scary horror movie, a heart-racing thriller, and a hilarious comedy. But sometimes, we need to be reminded that there’s more to cinema than narrative features. In fact, there are those who would argue we’re currently living in an age where documentary and other nonfiction projects are as scary, thrilling — and yes, sometimes as funny — as their fictional counterparts. And if you truly want to see what nonfiction cinema has to offer, you really can’t do better than seeing what’s offered at this year’s DOC NYC Fest, the U.S.’ largest documentary festival. The 8th annual festival includes 111 feature-length documentaries (and 85 shorts), and will showcase over 250 films and events overall. Included are 23 world premieres and 23 U.S. premieres, with more than 350 filmmakers and special guests appearing in person. In sum: there’s bound to be something that strikes your fancy.
Among that wide selection are, of course, a few projects that caught our eye. The first one is Peter Gordon’s Still Waters. Chronicling the day-to-day in a unique after-school program in a rapidly gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood, Gordon’s documentary about “Still Waters in a Storm” gives hope to those eager to see people aiming to be better and to better those around them. Filmed in the lead-up to the 2016 election, in which anti-immigrant and anti-Latino rhetoric swirled, the doc shuttles between scenes of engaged students talking about poetry and crying kids discussing how they were bullied at school. It captures a moment in time, but also serves as a reminder that, as Stephen Haff tells his students in his brightly-lit open classroom, what our younger generations need now is less test-prep and more lessons on being brave and true to themselves.
And then there’s Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex Fashion & Disco. Not only does the James Crump doc have the kind of title that grabs you immediately, it has a fascinating subject at its center. Lopez was the most influential fashion illustrator of 1970s New York and Paris. He was known for discovering talents such as Pat Cleveland, Grace Jones, and Jerry Hall. Scored by a thumping 70s disco soundtrack and filled with black-and-white photography on the one hand and Lopez’s colorful illustrations on the other, Crump’s doc is a snapshot of the rockstar fashion world that the Puerto Rican-born illustrator lived and breathed.
In addition to these titles, you can also check out Amazona, where director Clare Weiskopf travels to Colombia’s Amazon rainforest to confront her estranged mother, as well as two other NYC-based docs that deal with the city’s Latino community. One is The Iron Triangle, which follows the fight against gentrification in Queens’ Willets Point, and the other is Cradle of Champions, which centers on New York City’s amateur boxing scene and introduces you to a select group of boxers as they fight for the Golden Gloves title.
DOC NYC runs November 9-16, 2017.