DOC NYC 2016: early bird highlights

Citizen Jane: Battle For The City; Miss Sharon Jones!; Life, Animated and Fire At Sea.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

The Suskind family of Life, Animated
The Suskind family of Life, Animated Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Last year's DOC NYC had ten films in its Short List program make the Oscar Best Documentary shortlist, including Oscar winner Amy, Asif Kapadia's Amy Winehouse doc, and nominees Matthew Heineman's Cartel Land; Joshua Oppenheimer's The Look Of Silence; Nina Simone in Liz Garbus's What Happened, Miss Simone? and Evgeny Afineevsky's Winter On Fire: Ukraine's Fight For Freedom.

Liz Garbus, Morgan Neville and Asif Kapadia
Liz Garbus, Morgan Neville and Asif Kapadia Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon's Best Of Enemies; Alex Gibney's Going Clear: Scientology And The Prison Of Belief; Davis Guggenheim's He Named Me Malala; Kirby Dick's The Hunting Ground, and Michael Moore's Where To Invade Next round out the list.

Barbara Kopple's Miss Sharon Jones!; Gianfranco Rosi's Fire At Sea (Fuocoammare); Life, Animated by Roger Ross Williams from the Short List, and Matt Tyrnauer's Citizen Jane: Battle For The City, the Opening Night Gala selection, are four of this year's DOC NYC early bird highlights.

Walter, Cornelia, Ron and Owen Suskind, subjects of Life, Animated were presented with a 2016 Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Award during the Tribeca Film Festival and Miss Sharon Jones! the DOC NYC Opening Night Gala in 2015. Fire At Sea won the Berlin International Film Festival's Golden Bear, the first documentary to receive that honour in the festival's 66 year history.

Citizen Jane: Battle For The City

Citizen Jane: Battle For The City
Citizen Jane: Battle For The City

"You can't make an omelette without breaking some eggs," New York metropolitan area city planner Robert Moses is heard saying in a recording. East Harlem and the South Bronx turned out to be not much of an omelette for anyone living there after the old infrastructures were gutted. Matt Tyrnauer's documentary illustrates the two opposing sides of how to look at city planning - from above or from street level - by chronicling the battle over New York in the middle of the last century. On the one hand, there is famous developer Moses, and on the other, Jane Jacobs, far less-known journalist and activist, without whom most likely Washington Square and SoHo would have a vastly different face from the one they have today. Architects and city planners talk about the difference between an almost angelic pre-war Moses who gave the city public parks and beaches and the post-war tyrant whose "war on slums" created far worse than what was torn down. Urban development from above eliminated the sidewalk and with it the culture flourishing on the streets, what makes them safe and messy simultaneously.

Opening Night Gala - Thursday, November 10 at 7:00pm - SVA Theatre; Expected to attend: Matt Tyrnauer with producers Robert Hammond and Corey Reeser

Miss Sharon Jones!

Miss Sharon Jones!
Miss Sharon Jones!

Sharon Jones has a powerful voice and an even more impressive personality. Barbara Kopple filmed the singer's battle with cancer, her comeback show at the Beacon Theater in New York and what lead up to the successful new album with her band The Dap-Kings. Miss Sharon Jones! is also a film about real friendship. During the singer's excruciating months of chemotherapy, she stays with nutritionist Megan Holken in rural upstate New York, and her friend takes care that she eats right and gets to recover. Kopple is right there, when at a salon in Albany, Jones shaves off all her hair before the therapy begins. Confronting these issues head on with so much dignity and honesty is healing to behold. A particularly wonderful sequence shows Sharon and Megan at Beekman Farm picking sour apples and relaxing in nature. When Sharon starts to sing to a goat, the animal, and soon another one too, is so mesmerised and puzzled by this visitor, it's hard to tell who has the greatest effect on whom. The goats love her and so will ewe.

Short List - Wednesday, November 16 at 5:00pm - Cinepolis Chelsea; Thursday, November 17 at 9:45pm - Cinepolis Chelsea; Expected to attend: Barbara Kopple and co-producer David Cassidy

Life, Animated

Life, Animated
Life, Animated

At age three, Owen Suskind started changing drastically. He wasn't sleeping, his motor skills deteriorated, he stopped communicating. Years later, while watching Disney's The Little Mermaid, Ron and Cornelia Suskind, discovered a surprising pathway to their autistic son. "Just your voice," were the first words the silent child spoke to them, copying the animated movie. Just the voice, is what the Little Mermaid has to trade to be human. Disney dialogue became Owen's way to regain speech. Director Roger Ross Williams registers the shifts in family dynamics as well as the flights and limits of this kind of communication. "Walter doesn't want to grow up like Peter Pan or Mowgli," Owen diagnoses his older brother Walter. The film accompanies Owen in his first steps to independence, moving to an assisted living apartment 75 miles away from his parental home with his girlfriend Emily in the same building. The first film he watches, appropriately, on his own, is Bambi. It is Walter, who tries to explain to him what doesn't fit into a Disney script. Owen says "I am the protector of the sidekicks. No sidekick gets left behind," as he faces the obstacles thrown at him on our unfair, yet miraculous, planet.

Short List - Friday, November 11 at 12:45pm - Cinepolis Chelsea; Wednesday, November 16 at 12:15pm - Cinepolis Chelsea; Expected to attend: Roger Ross Williams, producer Julie Goldman, executive producer Carolyn Hepburn, and writer/editor David Teague

Fire At Sea (Fuocoammare)

Fire At Sea (Fuocoammare)
Fire At Sea (Fuocoammare)

Italy's Foreign Language Oscar submission and documentary contender takes us on the disarming adventures of Samuele, who lives on Italy's southernmost island, Lampedusa, south of Sicily, in the Mediterranean Sea, where waves of migrants from Africa arrive in boats often under inhumane conditions. Filmmaker/cinematographer Gianfranco Rosi is a master of light, bathing each image with meaning. The attentive and wise Doctor Bartolo takes care of both locals and migrants, the radio DJ Pippo fulfills music wishes, widows take charge of the cooking and other household chores that do not seem to have changed much since the Second World War, when the waves around Lampedusa turned red one night and the sea caught fire. Audiences are coaxed to weave individual tapestries of reference. Nostalgia trapped in the objects of the island makes for a stark contrast to the starving, dehydrated refugees fighting for their lives. More and more, it dawns on us that these aren't separate stories at all. Time is standing still and races on. Fire At Sea (Fuocoammare) is a masterpiece not only of filmmaking but of timely and abiding storytelling.

Short List - November 12 at 12:45pm - Cinepolis Chelsea - Expected to attend: Gianfranco Rosi

The seventh annual DOC NYC runs from November 10 through November 17.

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