Making the Short List

Thom Powers on DOC NYC choices and discussions.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Attorney Bryan Stevenson (Ava DuVernay's 13th), Raoul Peck, and Ezra Edelman with Thom Powers
Attorney Bryan Stevenson (Ava DuVernay's 13th), Raoul Peck, and Ezra Edelman with Thom Powers Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

At the DOC NYC Short List panel discussions, moderated by Thom Powers, filmmakers Barbara Kopple (Miss Sharon Jones!); Dawn Porter (Trapped); Elyse Steinberg and Josh Kriegman (Weiner); Richard Ladkani and Kief Davidson (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 (O.J.: Made In America); Clive Oppenheimer (Into The Inferno); Roger Ross Williams (Life, Animated); Kirsten Johnson (Cameraperson); Gianfranco Rosi (Fire At Sea), and attorney Bryan Stevenson from Ava DuVernay's 13th gave insight into their working process.

Kirsten Johnson (Cameraperson) and Gianfranco Rosi (Fire At Sea)
Kirsten Johnson (Cameraperson) and Gianfranco Rosi (Fire At Sea) Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Bailey and Barbato also have their HBO film Every Brilliant Thing on comedian Jonny Donahoe's off-Broadway one-man show screening as a Special Event in DOC NYC.

The panels which went on throughout the day this past Friday were broken up into four sections:

Unfolding Stories: Kief Davidson, Richard Ladkani, Dawn Porter, Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg and Clay Tweel.

Character Studies: Rod Blackhurst, Brian McGinn, Barbara Kopple, Brian Oakes, Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato.

American Histories: Raoul Peck, Ezra Edelman and Bryan Stevenson.

Pushing Boundaries: Kirsten Johnson, Clive Oppenheimer, Gianfranco Rosi, and Roger Ross Williams.

The week before panels began, Thom Powers sat down with me to talk about this year's Short List lineup. Last year's had ten of the 15 films on the Oscar Best Documentary shortlist which included the five nominees and the winner, Asif Kapadia's Amy.

Anne-Katrin Titze: In the Short List, there is Weiner which couldn't be more topical.

Miss Sharon Jones! director Barbara Kopple
Miss Sharon Jones! director Barbara Kopple Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Thom Powers: Yes. So [long pause], what to say? I think on the Short List there are so many strong films where you don't know where the story is going. And Weiner is obviously a big one. Another one on the Short List that's very close to my heart is Miss Sharon Jones!, which was our opening night film last year.

AKT: I was there. It was great with all of them on stage.

TP: And, you know, in that film Barbara Kopple is following Sharon Jones as she battles cancer and you're not sure where that story is going to end up.

AKT: Better following Sharon Jones than Weiner?

TP: Yes!

AKT: If you had to make a choice. Last year, all five Oscar nominated films, including the winner were on the DOC NYC Short List. Let's start with that. Talk a little bit about that part of the festival.

TP: So, the Short List, I think has been growing in prominence over the last few years. We've had a good track record of being predictors and advocates for films that then wound up being on the Oscar shortlist. The last three years, nine to ten films from our Short List had wound up on the Oscar shortlist.

Trapped director Dawn Porter
Trapped director Dawn Porter Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: Predictor and advocate are two very different things. Can I just stop you there and ask - how is that balance?

TP: Sure, we look at all 150 or so films that were released theatrically and try and take a measure of what films we think have a lot of momentum behind them. And then we are also looking at some films that we think are extra special. Maybe they are not coming from the biggest companies but we really want people to be taking a fresh look at these films.

A film like Trapped or Cameraperson or Fire At Sea [also Italy's Foreign Language submission]. They don't have as big a marketing budget behind them as some other films but we think they're really worthy films this year.

I'll tell you something special that we're going to do this year that has grown out of something we had done in a smaller way. We have a whole day devoted to conversations with the Short List filmmakers. In past years, we did one single panel where we interviewed all fifteen filmmakers.

AKT: Last year, I was there. You had everyone in three shifts, it was fascinating how you yourself were handling that. I was in awe.

TP: This year, we're going to spread them out over four panels. So each person will have more time to speak.

Mapplethorpe: Look At The Pictures and Every Brilliant Thing directors Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey
Mapplethorpe: Look At The Pictures and Every Brilliant Thing directors Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: Still all in one day.

TP: One day on Friday, November 11.

AKT: I'll be there.

TP: It'll be a great day. We've got a discussion of films that were kind of unfolding stories, a discussion of films that are real character studies, a discussion of American histories and then a discussion of filmmakers who are pushing boundaries in different ways cinematically.

AKT: Who are the ones pushing boundaries?

TP: For that panel I have Kirsten Johnson of Cameraperson, Gianfranco Rosi and from the film Into The Inferno, Clive Oppenheimer [volcanologist] who collaborated with Werner Herzog on that. And also Roger Ross Williams who did such a marvelous job using animation in the film Life, Animated.

AKT: Some films not on the Short List program that I have not seen, I am curious about. [Doug Nichol's] California Typewriter, for example.

TP: California Typewriter is for anyone who loves typewriters. This is about the last typewriter repair store in the United States. In following the story of that store, they use the opportunity to talk to lots of different people who love old typewriters.

Weiner directors Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg
Weiner directors Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: Sam Shepard.

TP: Tom Hanks and Sam Shepard are among them.

AKT: The Slenderman film?

TP: So, [Irene Taylor Brodsky's] Beware the Slenderman - this is a film that had its world premiere at South By Southwest and we are showing the NYC premiere. It's a very eerie story.

AKT: I know the story, yeah.

TP: Two 12 year old girls who felt influenced and intimidated by this internet boogieman, called the Slenderman that drove them to try to attempt a murder. There is obviously a lot to talk about with this film and we will have a long conversation afterwards, moderated by CNN correspondent Brian Stelter.

AKT: You have a film about scoring, about film music [Matt Schrader's Score: A Film Music Documentary].

TP: This is a terrific one for film lovers. You really get inside the creative process of composers who work on film scores.

DOC NYC runs through November 17.

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