By Sean Boelman
Like so many other festivals this year, DOC NYC saw its plans change as a result of the pandemic we are all facing right now. However, the circumstances didn’t stop organizers from bringing some excellent nonfiction cinema to viewers across the country. Often a precursor to end of year awards, the DOC NYC lineup features a wide and diverse selection of films, and below are some of our favorites.
La Madrina: The [Savage] Life of Lorine Padilla
Raquel Cepeda’s La Madrina: The [Savage] Life of Lorine Padilla is the type of documentary that will hook viewers with an interesting story but leave them thinking something else entirely. On one hand, this is about the history of a notorious Bronx gang, but there is so much more going on in this film beneath the surface. A surprisingly hard-hitting exploration of the poverty that has decimated the BIPOC community in New York City, the film shows not only how the system has it out for the little guy, but also how the little guy can stand up and fight back against the system.
The Viewing Booth
The Viewing Booth isn’t an easy film to recommend, because it isn’t conventional in any sense of the world. In fact, the idea of watching a filmmaker having a conversation with a Jewish-American student may not sound like the most riveting way to spend seventy minutes. That said, Ra’anan Alexandrowicz does a phenomenal job with his film, creating a film that functions on multiple levels. As an examination of the Israel-Palestine conflict, the film poses some interesting questions, but perhaps more fascinating are those ideas which Alexandrowicz challenges about the public’s interaction with the media.
Frank Zappa is without a doubt one of the most iconic and eclectic musicians in all of history. Even if one doesn’t exactly understand what he did, it’s impossible not to admire the way in which he experimented with his art. Filmmaker Alex Winter translates that awe into a captivating cinematic experience with his archival documentary Zappa, which utilizes the extensive collection of materials that Zappa preserved before his death. Avoiding the pitfalls of most biographical documentaries about musicians, Winter is less concerned here with nostalgia, instead focusing on preserving his subject’s legacy.
Elizabeth St. Philip’s 9/11 Kids may be one of the least feel-good documentaries in this year’s DOC NYC lineup, but that doesn’t make it any less of an important watch. Exploring the lives of the children who were with President Bush when the World Trade Center attacks happened, this film is less about that tragic day and more about how society has re-adjusted post-9/11. With hints of the Up series, St. Philip approaches her subjects with a unique empathy that makes the story resonate even harder than one would expect.
9to5: The Story of a Movement
Hot off their Academy Award win for Best Documentary for American Factory, documentarians Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert are back at it with 9to5: The Story of a Movement, again exploring labor issues. Although it isn’t as eye-opening or emotionally affecting as their last work, this more historical approach to labor movements throughout the years offers some interesting insight into some important issues. And unlike some of the other documentaries mentioned on this list, Bognar and Reichert’s film goes down comparatively easy, with slick editing and fast pacing keeping things consistently entertaining.
And this is just a sampling of the great documentaries screening online as a part of this year’s DOC NYC! You definitely won’t want to miss the chance to get to see some of these wonderful films now so that you can be in on the conversation when everyone else is talking about them come awards season!
The 2020 virtual edition of DOC NYC runs November 11-19.
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The Snake Hole
Retrospectives, opinion pieces, awards commentary, personal essays, and any other type of article that isn't a traditional review or interview.