Dedicated to DA Pennebaker

Thom Powers on Martin Scorsese, Michael Apted, the Masters and Winner’s Circle in the tenth edition

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Thom Powers with Anne-Katrin Titze on DOC NYC Lifetime Achievement Visionary Tribute honourees Michael Apted and Martin Scorsese: “We feel very blessed in our tenth year to have two filmmakers who are working at the peak of their craft and the peak of this industry.”
Thom Powers with Anne-Katrin Titze on DOC NYC Lifetime Achievement Visionary Tribute honourees Michael Apted and Martin Scorsese: “We feel very blessed in our tenth year to have two filmmakers who are working at the peak of their craft and the peak of this industry.” Photo: DOC NYC

2019 marks the tenth anniversary of DOC NYC and it is dedicated to the memory of the great DA Pennebaker. Barbara Kopple: “On August 1st 2019 I lost someone irreplaceable in my life, my friend and inspiration DA Pennebaker.” Andrew Rossi: “DA Pennebaker was such a monumental influence on so many filmmakers. It's not just because his films were so poetic and historically important, putting him on the Mt. Rushmore of documentarians like Maysles, Wiseman and Varda.”

Andrew Rossi puts DA Pennebaker, Albert Maysles, Frederick Wiseman and Agnès Varda on the Mt. Rushmore of documentarians
Andrew Rossi puts DA Pennebaker, Albert Maysles, Frederick Wiseman and Agnès Varda on the Mt. Rushmore of documentarians Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Chris Hegedus and Pennebaker’s Town Bloody Hall (1971 NYC Town Hall debate with Norman Mailer, Jill Johnston, Diana Trilling, Susan Sontag, Betty Friedan, Elizabeth Hardwick, Female Eunuch author Germaine Greer); Alan Berliner’s Letter To The Editor; Joe Berlinger’s The Longest Wave, and Barbara Kopple’s Desert One will screen in the newly created Masters program.

Special Events include Michael Apted’s 63 Up and the Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese (with Patti Smith, Joan Baez, Sam Shepard, Joni Michell, Anne Waldman, Gordon Lightfoot, Allen Ginsberg).

On the afternoon of the opening of the largest documentary festival in the US, before the première of Daniel Roher’s Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band, DOC NYC Artistic Director Thom Powers joined me in the Cinépolis lounge in Chelsea for a tenth anniversary conversation.

Anne-Katrin Titze: The first time we had a DOC NYC conversation was after Superstorm Sandy.

Thom Powers: Oh yeah, in 2012. It was our third festival.

AKT: I remember the relief packages all around us and the chaos. This is fairly calm, the tenth edition.

TP: Yeah, compared to doing a festival a week after a hurricane, this feels better. It also feels better than in 2016 when our festival was starting two days after Donald Trump's election. We, in our ten years, have had a few different curveballs thrown at us.

Thom Powers on seeing Michael Apted’s 28 Up as a teenager: “That really stood out to me and made me feel like documentary filmmaking was the most exciting profession in the world.”
Thom Powers on seeing Michael Apted’s 28 Up as a teenager: “That really stood out to me and made me feel like documentary filmmaking was the most exciting profession in the world.” Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: No curveballs this year.

TP: Don't make me say that out loud!

AKT: The tenth edition! This is a success story. Who would have thought?

TP: Not me! I would not have imagined that the festival would grow into what it became.

AKT: The biggest documentary festival in America.

TP: Every year we've tried to add something new. Over the years we added our Short List section, honouring the works that we think are the leading contenders for award season.

We added our PRO conference, which has grown to be eight days of panel discussions. We added our Visionaries Tribute, where we give our Lifetime Achievement honours and other awards. This year we added a new section called Winner's Circle, really focusing on international films.

AKT: Those are films that won international awards. One of them is Mads Brügger's Cold Case Hammarskjöld.

TP: That's right. And another new section this year is called Masters, where we're throwing a spotlight on some of the most accomplished documentary filmmakers, like Barbara Kopple and Joe Berlinger and Kim Longinotto [Shooting The Mafia].

AKT: Let's go right to your Lifetime Achievement Visionary Tribute winners for this year - Michael Apted and Martin Scorsese. What a choice!

Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman at Broadway’s Belasco Theater
Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman at Broadway’s Belasco Theater Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

TP: We feel very blessed in our tenth year to have two filmmakers who are working at the peak of their craft and the peak of this industry.

AKT: I'm going to speak with Michael Apted on Friday. I have never met him before and am very much looking forward to that.

TP: Wonderful.

AKT: And Martin Scorsese at the moment is everywhere with The Irishman. Have you seen it?

TP: Yes, I saw it at the New York Film Festival.

AKT: People sometimes forget that there's a documentary side to him.

TP: Yes, that he has a whole layer of making documentary films throughout his career.

AKT: Do you remember the first documentary you saw as a child?

TP: I couldn't answer that question. But I do remember when I was about 19 years old, living in Detroit, going to the Detroit Institute of Art that still to this day has a wonderful film programme.

There was a series of films in one season that included Michael Apted's 28 Up. That really stood out to me and made me feel like documentary filmmaking was the most exciting profession in the world.

The tenth annual DOC NYC poster at Cinépolis Chelsea
The tenth annual DOC NYC poster at Cinépolis Chelsea Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: It is a fascinating series. Every seven years we come and revisit these people. We know nothing about them in-between; we don't think about them for seven years. Now we are at 63 Up and you say you first saw 28 Up.

TP: Of course it causes us to hold a mirror up to our own lives, where we are in that trajectory.

AKT: This edition is dedicated to DA Pennebaker.

TP: A very special part of this festival. The very first DOC NYC festival in 2010, Penny was here, showing a rare screening of his film about David Bowie, Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars.

I'm pretty sure he attended every single DOC NYC in some capacity. We gave him our first Lifetime Achievement award in 2014. And I'm trying not to focus on his loss, but to focus on the luck we had to have him in our lives.

Coming up - Thom Powers on Keith Fulton and Lou Pepe’s He Dreams Of Giants, Elegance Bratton’s Pier Kids, Karen Bernstein’s I’m Going To Make You Love Me, Todd Hughes and P. David Ebersole’s House Of Cardin, and more in this year’s DOC NYC.

The 10th DOC NYC runs through November 15 at Cinépolis Chelsea, SVA Theatre, IFC Center.

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