There is in some corners of the world, the misconception that documentaries are no more than information dumps. Films that merely assault you with lecture-like insights, sometimes some cool statistics, and perhaps introduce you to a handful of experts. But nonfiction filmmaking has a long history of producing fascinating projects that run the gamut from off-kilter character studies and roving observational portraits of communities around the globe to impassioned political manifestos and experimental attempts at understanding the world. Committed to showing the full breadth of nonfiction filmmaking, DOC NYC is returning for its 10th year with a full slate and over 300 screenings in New York City.
If you’re looking for awe-inspiring documentaries that will energize you politically, We are the Radical Monarchs and The Cordillera of Dreams are here to offer you powerful testaments to engaged citizenship. The former, directed by Linda Goldstein Knowlton tells the story of how two moms, Anyavette Martinez and Marilyn Hollinquest, began their own youth organization Radical Monarchs as a way to better serve young girls of color. Based in Oakland, a city with a long history of social justice movements, this progressive group is more likely to participate in protest marches than in bake sales.
If Radical Monarchs shows the power of engaged young activists, The Cordillera of Dreams offers a portrait of those who have been in the ranks for decades. Acclaimed Chilean director Patricio Guzmán continues his journey of cinematic self-reflection by looking at the Andean Cordillera mountain in his native Chile. But what begins as a nature doc soon becomes a powerful chronicle of the way filmmakers under Pinochet’s dictatorship became witnesses to atrocities and used their cameras as ways to resist and document the political unrest around them.
Music fans will definitely want to check out two Cuba-set docs, one on musical theater and the other on heavy metal. Andy Señor Jr. and Victor Patrick Alvarez’s Revolution RENT follows Andy’s personal journey as he heads to his parents’ homeland in Cuba to mount a production of Jonathan Larson’s famed Tony-winning musical, RENT. The 1980s-set rock musical about the AIDS and housing crises in New York City becomes an opportunity to bridge cultural boundaries, reclaim his complicated heritage and address the piece’s controversial themes when imported into Cuban society. Meanwhile, Nicholas Brennan’s Los últimos frikis takes on a decidedly different musical genre. Offering a kind of musical bio of heavy metal band Zeus and their frontman Diony Arce, Brennan’s doc is centered on the band’s 30th anniversary which puts into relief the ways they’ve challenged Cuba’s status quo. As they set out to tour around the country, the bandmates get to contemplate the cultural influence of metal as a genre and music as their life’s purpose not to mention the island’s shifting political and social climate.
Elsewhere, the U.S. Latino and Latin American offerings are just as exciting. There are screenings of HBO’s Diego Maradona doc, which puts the soccer superstar under the watchful eye of Asif Kapadia (he of Amy and Senna fame) capturing the man behind the legend. There are screenings of The Journey of Monalisa, a New York-set look at Chilean-born performer and writer Iván Monalisa who fully embraces his dual selves: scrappy, masculine Iván as well as diva, trans sex-worker Monalisa. And that doesn’t even get at the comedic doc thriller set in Honduras (After the Murder of Albert Lima), the thrilling look at Mexico City’s for-profit ambulance system (Midnight Family) or the take on a Williamsburg nonprofit that works as both a recycling center and a community space for immigrants, homeless individuals and outcasts (El cuarto reino: el reino de los plásticos). Which is to say there’s no shortage of great work to be seen at DOC NYC that embraces everything a nonfiction film can be.
DOC NYC runs November 6 – 15, 2019.