Talking about juxtapositions

Thom Powers on dreams, fashion, identity, nature and bright spotlights in DOC NYC

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Thom Powers on Daniel Roher’s Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band; Eva Orner’s Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator, and Ebs Burnough’s The Capote Tapes on Truman Capote via George Plimpton: “The films that we choose for Opening Night, Centerpiece, and Closing Night, are films that we want to give a big bright spotlight to.”
Thom Powers on Daniel Roher’s Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band; Eva Orner’s Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator, and Ebs Burnough’s The Capote Tapes on Truman Capote via George Plimpton: “The films that we choose for Opening Night, Centerpiece, and Closing Night, are films that we want to give a big bright spotlight to.” Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

In the second part of my conversation at Cinépolis Chelsea with DOC NYC Artistic Director Thom Powers, we discussed juxtapositions such as Reiner Holzemer’s Martin Margiela: In His Own Words, Todd Hughes and P David Ebersole’s House of Cardin with the Pierre Cardin: Future Fashion exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum; nature in the Short List programme with John Chester’s The Biggest Little Farm, Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska’s Honeyland, and Mark Deebles and Victoria Stone’s The Elephant Queen; identity with Elegance Bratton’s Pier Kids and Karen Bernstein’s I'm Gonna Make You Love Me on Brian Belovitch; Roger Ross Williams’s The Apollo and Todd Douglas Miller’s Apollo 11.

Terry Gilliam in He Dreams Of Giants with Lou Pepe and Keith Fulton
Terry Gilliam in He Dreams Of Giants with Lou Pepe and Keith Fulton

We also have dreams with Keith Fulton and Lou Pepe’s He Dreams Of Giants on Terry Gilliam's odyssey to The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (the duo also documented Gilliam’s failed Don Quixote project with Jean Rochefort, Johnny Depp, Vanessa Paradis in Lost In La Mancha and did The Hamster Factor and Other Tales Of Twelve Monkeys on 12 Monkeys).

Anne-Katrin Titze: A film I saw at a press screening was He Dreams Of Giants, Terry Gilliam's Don Quixote odyssey. I very much enjoyed the documentary.

Thom Powers: I'm so glad. You know, those filmmakers [Keith Fulton and Lou Pepe] have been following this project, not quite as long as Don Quixote, I mean, as long as Terry Gilliam has tried to make Don Quixote, but for well over a couple of decades they've been following it. And it's wonderful to show the world premiere of that project.

AKT: By coincidence, just last week I spoke with Carlo Poggioli, the costume designer who worked on the original, never finished one, with Johnny Depp.

TP: Right, who had the old costumes.

Reiner Holzemer’s Martin Margiela: In His Own Words
Reiner Holzemer’s Martin Margiela: In His Own Words

AKT: And those costumes are part of the documentary. I didn't even put it together when I spoke with Carlo. There are so many dots to connect. Do these surprise connections occur for you with this festival?

TP: When you have so many films there are unexpected juxtapositions. You see some thematic clusters pop up. We've seen a lot of work around transgender experience in the last few years. This year we have the film Pier Kids about queer and transgender youth who hang out around the Christopher Street Pier.

And then in that same section, the Metropolis section, where we curate New York stories, we have the world premiere of a film called I'm Going To Make You Love Me, about a transgender character of the 1980s who was big on the New York party scene as a woman and then since transitioned back to his male identity.

AKT: The photo is great.

TP: It's one of the most striking in our catalogue.

AKT: Then you have The Pickup Game.

Pierre Cardin: Future Fashion exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum
Pierre Cardin: Future Fashion exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

TP: Did you get to see that?

AKT: I saw it. Quite stunning about an industry, I did not know existed to this extent.

TP: You might need a shower after that one.

AKT: It is rather revolting.

TP: And I think in the backdrop of the #MeToo and Time's Up conversation that's been so robust in the last two years, that that film really stands out.

AKT: I saw the wonderful Martin Margiela: In His Own Words documentary.

TP: Oh yes. So there's an example of the kind of juxtapositions that occur around fashion. We have that film and then we also have a film about Pierre Cardin.

AKT: Who has an exhibition of his work at the Brooklyn Museum right now. They are not connected?

TP: No, I'm not aware of any connection between those two things.

Roger Ross Williams’s The Apollo in the DOC NYC Short List
Roger Ross Williams’s The Apollo in the DOC NYC Short List

AKT: Margiela is such a figure of mystery. Nobody knows what he looks like. Still nobody knows what he looks like. The documentary is called In His Own Words. Yes, we hear his words and we see his hands. The film says a lot about creation and fashion. The second film I saw the same day was Narrowsburg. There we go full circle with the topic of festivals. Plus the unsavoury side.

TP: Narrowsburg is about this small town in the New York Catskills, where this couple came to town and made big promises about starting a film festival and then also made big promises about making an independent film in town. And neither project met people's expectations or dreams for it.

But someone in the film, who was witness to these projects, remarks that people described the couple who came into town and promised this as "liars", for not fulfilling their dreams. But someone in the film says "What is a film but a lie that eventually comes to fruition?" At what point does something go from being a dream to a lie to something that actually comes into being?

AKT: And as somebody says - for many of the people it is the most exciting story they can tell in their lifetime.

Todd Douglas Miller’s Apollo 11 in the DOC NYC Short List
Todd Douglas Miller’s Apollo 11 in the DOC NYC Short List

TP: That's right. I'm happy to say that I've never defrauded anyone, trying to run a film festival before.

AKT: You probably wouldn't be sitting here with the tenth edition starting.

TP: But...

AKT: But?

TP: But I know the feeling of when you're several months out from a film festival and telling people "This is what's going to happen." And all you really have to go on is your word.

And then it is the incredibly hard work of the other people that you convince this is going to happen, as we sit here in our lounge that's being set up. There are production assistants helping out, there are projectionists loading DCPs and there are all kinds of people behind the scenes working to make this happen. If it wasn't for their hard work, this just would be a figment of my imagination.

AKT: Let's talk a bit about your Short List. There is The Apollo, there is Ask Dr. Ruth.

Truman Capote in Ebs Burnough’s The Capote Tapes, DOC NYC Closing Night selection
Truman Capote in Ebs Burnough’s The Capote Tapes, DOC NYC Closing Night selection

TP: Talk about juxtapositions - not only is there The Apollo, there's also Apollo 11.

AKT: Exactly. There is The Biggest Little Farm…

TP: … which last year was our Opening Night film! So it's wonderful bringing it back as part of our Short List.

AKT: Honeyland fits into a thematic cluster with it.

TP: Yes, there's a few different films that deal with nature in different ways, including The Biggest Little Farm, Honeyland, and The Elephant Queen.

AKT: Are there films that you want to point out as particularly important this year? Or are they all your babies and you don't want to single out any?

TP: The films that we choose for Opening Night, Centerpiece, and Closing Night, are films that we want to give a big bright spotlight to. Our Centerpiece film by Eva Orner is called Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator about Bikram Choudhury, the disgraced front person for hot yoga.

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

And our Closing Night film, The Capote Tapes. Both are wonderful films that I've had the chance to show at the Toronto International Film Festival. The Capote Tapes is about Truman Capote, based heavily on these audio recordings that George Plimpton conducted with Capote's friends after his death.

AKT: I can't wait to see that. You also show the Lydia Lunch documentary.

TP: That filmmaker Beth B is someone whom we've featured before. Another nice thing about ten years is to see filmmakers coming back, who now have a history with this festival.

Read what Thom Powers had to say on DA Pennebaker, Martin Scorsese, Michael Apted, the Masters and Winner’s Circle in the tenth edition of DOC NYC.

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

Pierre Cardin: Future Fashion exhibition is on view through January 5, 2020 at the Brooklyn Museum.

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