Basil Tsiokos on DOC NYC, part 1

Making the selection.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

DOC NYC Director of Programming Basil Tsiokos
DOC NYC Director of Programming Basil Tsiokos Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

What do Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado's portrait of Sebastião Salgado in The Salt Of The Earth, Ben Cotner and Ryan White's The Case Against 8, Rory Kennedy's Last Days In Vietnam, Life Itself, based on Roger Ebert's memoir directed by Steve James, D.A. Pennebaker and William Ray's David on jazz trumpeter David Allen, Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo's Rich Hill and Divide In Concord directed by Kris Kaczor and Dave Regos have in common?

All of these documentaries and more are screening in the 2014 DOC NYC Film Festival.


Albert Maysles, D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus will receive Lifetime Achievement Awards, Citizenfour director Laura Poitras will receive the Robert and Anne Drew Award for Documentary Excellence and Dan Cogan the Leading Light Award which honours "an individual making a crucial contribution to documentary in a role other than as a filmmaker" at the inaugural Visionaries Tribute ceremony and luncheon on November 14.

Director of Programming Basil Tsiokos and I met up at the IFC Center to have a look at what's in the cards for this year's lineup and to explore if DOC NYC's Short List will foretell an Oscar nomination.

Anne-Katrin Titze: I'd like to start with your Lifetime Achievement Awards.

The Case Against 8
The Case Against 8

Basil Tsiokos: Thom Powers [DOC NYC Artistic Director] really led the organising of that. We have done different kinds of recognitions and awards in the past but this is the first year that we have sort of codified it into an event that is stand-alone and not a part of closing night or anything else. The people that were chosen are quintessentially New York documentary filmmakers, that we would have to start with them.

There is one film in particular that they, Thom and Raphaela [Neihausen, DOC NYC Executive Director], were able to secure. They wanted to show David [D.A Pennebaker and William Ray] and had to get permission from the Academy [of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences] to screen the print. It's a very rare film, 35mm. There's very specific constraints on it. It made sense to fold it into the festival.

AKT: This is the 5th year of DOC NYC. Have you been with the festival from the beginning?

Divide In Concord
Divide In Concord

BT: I have not. I moderated a panel the first year but wasn't part of the organisation at all. The second year, I was the shorts and panel producer. Last year, I was the senior programmer and this year, I am the director of programming. I guess I missed one year.

AKT: This year, the program is bigger than ever. How do you choose?

BT: There are certain festivals that are very much geared toward curating from other festivals and others that are very much about discoveries that come in through the submission process. We are both. We definitely have films that were at Toronto, that were at Sundance [Film Festival]. We do take a fair amount of films out of the submission process, which is really nice, I think. It is a way to democratise the process. I have a team that helps me look through material.

Last Days In Vietnam
Last Days In Vietnam

Thom Powers is involved with Toronto [International Film Festival] so he sees a lot of films that for one reason or another may not be an appropriate fit for Toronto, so he was able to funnel some ideas towards me. I have a relationship with Sundance and I program the Nantucket Film Festival. There are a few films from Nantucket that I brought in.

AKT: Can you give an example?

BT: Divide In Concord [Kris Kaczor, co-presented by The Nation] is a film that I showed in Nantucket and that I really quite liked and it's actually by a Brooklyn based filmmaker.

AKT: How do you come up with your categories each year? Do you first have the films and then give them a category or do you have categories in mind and try to find clusters of films?

Life Itself
Life Itself

BT: There's certain categories that have been perennials for DOC NYC. Some version of a music doc section has existed from the first edition. At some point it was part of the Midnight program. But it's been Sonic Cinema for a couple of years now. We can count on that happening. With something like Jock Docs, which is a new program this year…

AKT: Which is about sports…

BT: Sports, yes, we don't necessarily know if we'll have enough athletics related films in future years. We are very flexible. We can decide, okay, we have enough films to do a activist oriented program like Fight the Power, let's do it. The ones that are perpetual are the awards categories, the Viewfinders, and Metropolis.

Rich Hill
Rich Hill

AKT: Metropolis is about New York. Tell me about the Short List. Are these your suggestions for the Oscars?

BT: We don't go quite that far! Thom and I and the IFC Center staff that are very much part of DOC NYC, John Vanco and Harris Dew, we all are involved in this process deciding what goes on that Short List. We are not prescriptive, saying that these should be the Oscar choices. However, we want to put our own stamp on what we think are contenders in this past year, whether it be for the Oscars or some other recognition.

We will of course recognise that last year we had ten films in the category and nine of them did end up on the "other" short list. There are plenty of Academy voters in New York City and we make our screenings available to members for free. So maybe that helps films to get on the "real" short list.

The Salt Of The Earth
The Salt Of The Earth

AKT: I am looking at the titles on your "fake" Short List. Some films came out earlier in the year and you keep them from possibly already being forgotten, which they shouldn't be. Rory Kennedy's Last Days In Vietnam or Life Itself by Steve James.

BT: A fair amount of those films premiered at Sundance a couple were at Tribeca [Film Festival]. The Salt of the Earth [Juliano Ribeiro Salgado and Wim Wenders] was at Cannes [Film Festival] and is not even released yet. Rich Hill [Andrew Droz Palermo and Tracy Droz Tragos] is one of my favorite films out of Sundance this year. It already was a Sundance winner but it came out in the summer and may not be as remembered. Including it is another reminder and an endorsement to say, don't forget about this amazing film.

AKT: Are there any other personal favourites that stand out for you?

BT: I'm a big fan of all of these films. The Case Against 8 [Ben Cotner and Ryan White] is another one that had done strongly, again was a Sundance winner for directing. It screened on HBO in the summer and people might not think of it as a theatrical film. Finding Vivian Maier [John Maloof and Charlie Siskel], which was our Centerpiece film last year. Some people might think of it as last year's film although it did really well in theaters, in this theater [IFC Center] especially for a very long time it played. We increased the number this year to 15. 1. Because, hey, why not the same number as the [Oscar] short list number. And 2. Why not highlight more films that we really enjoy.

DOC NYC Film Festival screenings:

  • David - 11:45 AM, Sun, Nov 16 - IFC Center; Scheduled to appear: Director D.A. Pennebaker, Jill Drew
  • The Case Against 8 - 4:00 PM, Sun Nov 16 - Bow Tie Chelsea Cinemas; Scheduled to appear: Directors Ben Cotner and Ryan White
  • Divide In Concord - 7:30 PM, Mon Nov 17 - IFC Center; Scheduled to appear: Directors Kris Kaczor and David Regos, editor Steve Nemsick, film subjects Jill Appel and Janet Rothrock
  • Finding Vivian Maier - 12:30 PM, Fri Nov 14 - Bow Tie Chelsea Cinemas; Scheduled to appear: Directors John Maloof and Charlie Siskel
  • Last Days In Vietnam - 7:00 PM, Fri Nov 14 - Bow Tie Chelsea Cinemas; Scheduled to appear: Director Rory Kennedy, film subject Binh Pho
  • Life Itself - 9:15 PM, Sat Nov 15 - Bow Tie Chelsea Cinemas; Scheduled to appear: Director Steve James
  • Rich Hill - 2:45 PM, Fri Nov 14 - Bow Tie Chelsea Cinemas - 9:30 PM, Sun Nov 16 - IFC Center; Scheduled to appear: Director Tracy Droz Tragos
  • The Salt Of The Earth - 7:00 PM, Wed Nov 19 - Bow Tie Chelsea Cinemas

The fifth annual DOC NYC, running from November 13-20, will showcase 153 films and events, including screenings of 91 feature-length films, 37 shorts, and 24 doc-related panel discussions and master classes.

In part 2, Amy Berg's An Open Secret, the Dardennes' Two Days, One Night and Iñárritu's Birdman Or The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance turn into questions of identity and passages of time in films such as Homme Less, Rich Hill, Little White Lie, Love and Terror On The Howling Plains Of Nowhere, Miss Tibet: Beauty In Exile, All American High Revisited, Marmato and Florence, Arizona.

For full details of the schedule and to book tickets, visit the official DOC NYC site.

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