The art of festival planning

From baby elephants to Bert Berns with DOC NYC's Thom Powers.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Brett Berns and Bob Sarles's Bang! The Bert Berns Story narrator Steven Van Zandt
Brett Berns and Bob Sarles's Bang! The Bert Berns Story narrator Steven Van Zandt Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Paul G Allen's Vulcan Productions' Ben Bowie and Geoff Luck's Naledi: A Baby Elephant's Tale and Richard Ladkani and Kief Davidson's The Ivory Game; Jon Nguyen, Rick Barnes and Olivia Neergaard-Holm's David Lynch: The Art Life and the making of Eraserhead; Claire Simon's Venezia Classici Award winner Le Concours; Scott Hamilton Kennedy's Food Evolution, narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Bang! The Bert Berns Story (featuring Paul McCartney, Van Morrison, Keith Richards, Cissy Houston, Andrew Loog Oldham, Jerry Ragovoy, Ronald Isley), and the voice of Steven Van Zandt come up in my conversation with Thom Powers.

Naledi: A Baby Elephant's Tale
Naledi: A Baby Elephant's Tale

Jimm Lasser and Biff Butler's Long Live Benjamin (about a Capuchin monkey and artist Allen Hirsch) and Markie Hancock's Feral Love (on Central Park's cats) join Naledi in DOC NYC's Wild Life section.

Anne-Katrin Titze: What about Wild Life?

Thom Powers: Wild Life is a section where we have three films this year. I think a really special one is Naledi: A Baby Elephant's Tale. This is produced by Vulcan. You know, sometimes we see films about elephants or animals going extinct that can be tough to watch. This is a film that really emphasizes the beauty of a baby elephant.

AKT: You have The Ivory Game in the Short List.

TP: Yeah, Ivory Game is really forcing you to confront the scary fact that elephants may go extinct within our lifetime.

AKT: I did a feature with Simon Trevor on White Gold and another on the impact of ivory poaching.

TP: Yeah, that's right.

AKT: It is such an important issue. I am glad that you have two films in your lineup.

David Lynch: The Art Life
David Lynch: The Art Life

TP: And they come at it from very different angles. The Ivory Game is almost like a thriller and Naledi: A Baby Elephant's Tale, is something you could bring younger people to.

AKT: Do you sometimes get films, for example for the Wild Life section, that you look at and then say no, because it's too tough?

TP: No, I mean, we just try to do the best job we can at describing the films in our program notes so that audiences sort of know what they're getting.

AKT: That is super important. There are things that I would not like to watch. Let's talk about Le Concours.

TP: Yes, this is something that any film student should take an interest in. It gives us an inside look into the selection process for one of France's most renowned film schools [La Fémis]. I think anyone who aspires to make films will take an interest in that.

AKT: I think it won a prize in Venice, the Venezia Classici Award for Best Documentary on Cinema.

TP: That's possible. You know, I should know that.

AKT: Sticking with films on film, there is David Lynch: The Art Life.

Food Evolution
Food Evolution

TP: This is a terrific film about David Lynch talking more about his life as an artist, as a painter and the struggle he went through kind of discovering his voice as an artist. And that leads up to the making of his first film Eraserhead. He is a terrific raconteur. I could listen to him twice as long as he speaks in this film.

AKT: Let's talk about Food Evolution.

TP: Food Evolution is a new film with its world premiere by a filmmaker who was nominated for an Academy Award a few years ago for his film The Garden. This is a film that may take some people by surprise in its approach to GMOs. For all kinds of good reasons there are a lot of cautions, but this film puts forth an argument from scientists and agriculturalists about why GMOs are something well worth considering. And it's narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson who will be here.

AKT: I was very confused about this film, actually. Where it was standing and what exactly it was doing.

TP: I think it's a film that tries to take in a number of viewpoints but including some that may feel unorthodox for some people.

AKT: I just wasn't sure what I was watching. Who is with whom?

Bang! The Bert Berns Story
Bang! The Bert Berns Story

TP: Right. Right. I think that the value is in that it forces the viewer to think a little bit harder and to be a little bit more challenging, then films where you kind of know exactly what someone is going to say. And this is not one of those films.

AKT: Bang! The Bert Berns Story went in some directions I didn't expect.

TP: And we're expecting Stevie Van Zandt who is affiliated with that film to be here for that screening.

AKT: Anything you would like to point out?

TP: One thing I'd like to point to that I feel very proud of is our DOC NYC Pro section which is for filmmakers and aspiring filmmakers. It's now eight days, every day of the festival we have a different thematic day of panels and master classes and happy hours with leaders in both the creative and business side of documentary filmmaking.

So we feel with this section the festival is helping create opportunities for the next crop of films. We're not just showing the new films, we're trying to foster development of future films.

AKT: Thank you, we're looking forward to the festival!

TP: Well, thank you very much. I always appreciate your attention.

The DOC NYC PRO conference is an eight day event with panels and master classes at the Cinepolis Chelsea throughout the festival.

DOC NYC poster at the IFC Center
DOC NYC poster at the IFC Center Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

First-Time Doc Makers Day: Weiner directors Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg; Martha Shane and Lana Wilson (After Tiller), Amber Fares (Speed Sisters with Rose Vincelli Gustine (SVA Soc Doc); Loira Limbal (Firelight Media) and Kristin Feeley (Sundance Institute), Andrew Catauro (Ford Foundation) with Susan Margolin (Cinedigm); Joe Beirne and Ben Murray from Technicolor-Postworks NY, producer Yoni Golijov and colorist Allie Ames (Project X); Juan Martinez (Sony), Sam Cullman (Art & Craft), Geoff Smith (AbelCine) with Jeremy Workman (Wheelhouse Creative).

Short List Day: Barbara Kopple (Miss Sharon Jones!), Dawn Porter (Trapped), and the directors of Weiner and The Ivory Game; Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn (Amanda Knox), Clay Tweel (Gleason), Brian Oakes (Jim: The James Foley Story), Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (Mapplethorpe: Look At The Pictures); Raoul Peck (I Am Not Your Negro), Ezra Edelman (OJ: Made In America); Kirsten Johnson (Cameraperson), Gianfranco Rosi (Fire At Sea), Clive Oppenheimer (Into The Inferno), Roger Ross Williams (Life, Animated).

Mastering Your Craft Day One: Gary Hustwit (Helvetica), Judith Helfand (Cooked) and Thomas Lennon (Sacred) with Carolyn Hepburn (Motto Pictures); Kirsten Johnson with Filmmaker Magazine’s Scott Macaulay; producer Jessica Edwards (Scenic), Marshall Curry (If A Tree Falls: A Story Of The Earth Liberation Front), Adaora Udoji (Adjunct Professor, NYU) with Debra Anderson (Datavized); Rachel Boynton (Big Men), Marshall Curry, Rohan Spong (Winter At Westbeth) with Eddie Rosenstein (Freedom To Marry).

Mastering Your Craft Day Two: Editor Matthew Hamachek (Amanda Knox, Cartel Land); composer Todd Griffin (Life, Animated), editor David Teague (Life, Animated), composer Paul Brill (Marathon: The Patriots Day Bombing, Trapped), Mike Day (The Islands And The Whales) with June Cross (Columbia University); Archive researchers Rosemary Rotondi (The Freedom To Marry, Iris, Teenage), Sierra Pettengill (E-Team, Kate Plays Christine), Amy Schewel (Soundbreaking: Stories From The Cutting Edge of Recorded Music), and director Matt Wolf (Teenage) with Karen KH Sim (Nothing Left Unsaid); Nanette Burstein (Gringo: The Dangerous Life Of John McAfee), Charlie Siskel (American Anarchist), Jared P Scott and Kelly Nyks (The Age Of Consequences, Requiem For The American Dream), Doug Block (112 Weddings) with author Fernanda Rossi; editor Geof Bartz (Larry Kramer In Love And Anger) in conversation with editor Bob Eisenhardt (Meru).

Pitch Perfect Day: Visionaries Tribute Lifetime Achievement Award honoree Stanley Nelson (The Black Panthers: Vanguard Of The Revolution) on framing history; Works-in-progress - Landon Von Soest (For Ahkeem), Rodney Evans (Vision Portraits), Susan Muska and Gréta Olafsdóttir (The Aftermath); Works-in-progress - Nathan Fitch (Island Soldier), Oren Jacoby (Shadowman), Julia Bacha (Untitled Women Leaders Of The First Intifada Project); Insider vs Outsider Storytelling - Geeta Gandbhir (Journey Of A Thousand Miles) and Julia Bacha (Budrus).

Documentary & Journalism Day: Laura Poitras (Citizenfour) with journalist Henrik Moltke on Project X; Ezra Edelman, Dawn Porter, Brian Oakes, Jackie Glover (HBO Documentary Films) with Leslie Fields Cruz (NBPC/National Black Media); Matthew Heineman (Cartel Land), Alexandria Bombach (Frame By Frame), and Juan Mejia Botero (Death By A Thousand Cuts), producer Emre Izat (Naledi: A Baby Elephant’s Tale) with Eric Kohn (Indiewire); (T)ERROR director Lyric Cabra, Nancy Schwartzman (Roll Red Roll), Craig Atkinson (Do Not Resist), Brenda Coughlin (Risk, Citizenfour) with Cady Borum Chattoo (Center for Media and Social Impact); The New York Times Op-Docs producer Kathleen Lingo, MTV’s Garth Bardsley, POV’s Emma Dessau, Donal Mosher (Peace In The Valley), producer Shayla Harris with Edwin Martinez (Assistant Professor of Film at SUNY Purchase).

Smart Producing Day: Cara Mertes, director of Ford Foundation’s JustFilms; Kristi Jacobson (A Place At The Table), David Abel (Sacred Cod), Scott Hamilton Kennedy, Discovery’s John Hoffman with Josh Baran (Baran Strategies); Borderline Media’s Jennifer MacArthur and Logo Documentary Films’ Taj Paxton; Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (Norman Lear: Just Another Version Of You), Liz Garbus (Nothing Left Unsaid), Jeremy Chilnick (Warrior Poets, Rats), producer Julie Goldman (Life, Animated) with Erika Dilday (Maysles Center); Borderline Media’s Jennifer MacArthur, Taj Paxton (Logo Documentary Films), Brittany Huckabee (After Fire) with Nancy Schwartzman.

Show Me the Money Day: Tom Quinn (Citizenfour and 20 Feet From Stardom); producers Marilyn Ness (Cameraperson, Trapped), Iyabo Boyd (Feedback Loop), David Bellinson (All The Rage) with Julie La’Bassiere (BAFTA); Esther Robinson (ArtHome) and Jenni Wolfson (Chicken & Egg Pictures) Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg (Marathon: The Patriots Day Bombing), Yoruba Richen (The New Black), Carrie Lozano (The Ballad of Fred Hersch) with ArtHome’s Esther Robinson; Entertainment attorneys Andrea Cannistrac and Marc H. Simon, Maxim Pozdorovkin (Clínica De Migrantes: Life, Liberty And The Pursuit Of Happiness); Kickstarter’s Liz Cook with Jill Campbell (Mr. Chibbs), Damani Baker (The House On Coco Road) and Deirdre Fischel (Care).

Read what Thom Powers had to say on the opening night film Citizen Jane: Battle For The City, Lara Stolman's Swim Team, Adam Irving's Off The Rails, Roland Legiardi Laura, Edwin Martinez, Deborah Shaffer and Amy Sultan's To Be Heard, Gianfranco Rosi and Pure Nonfiction.

Coming up - DOC NYC Artistic Director on the Short List and more.

The seventh annual DOC NYC opens tonight and runs through November 17.


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