DOC NYC highlights

Five films to catch at this year's edition

by Amber Wilkinson

Once Upon A Time In Venezuela
Once Upon A Time In Venezuela Photo: John Marquez
The 2020 DOC NYC Film Festival kicks off its 11th edition today - which this year has moved online in response to the coronavirus pandemic. US residents can stream the films until November 19. It's a particularly strong year at the festival - and you can read all of our ongoing coverage here - but here are five highlights to look out for.

Once Upon A Time In Venezuela

As the fallout from the recent US election continues, Anabel Rodriguez Rios' documentary serves as a reminder of how important stable democracies like the US are. She takes her camera into the small fishing village of Congo Mirador - which rises on stilts from the water - to offer reflections on the wider state of Venezuela, including political malfeasance and environmental malaise. Here tribal politics is played out in miniature between the Chavistas and the opposition, while like a physical manifestation of the problems, sediment increasingly clogs the waterways. Shot with energy and lithe grace by John Márquez, this film was seven years in the making, allowing a full election cycle to play out - food for thought as the country once again heads to the polls next month.


Jacinta Photo: Endeavour Pictures
Jessica Earnshaw's mother-and-daughter profile won the Albert Maysles Award at for new directing at Tribeca Film Festival with good reason. The level of trust she establishes with Jacinta, her mother Rosemary, and her young daughter Caylynn is exemplary as she explores the ties that bind generations but not always with a positive effect. Jacinta has entered a cycle of addiction that Earnshaw charts with not shying away from the harsh realities of her life but also making sure that the portrait she presents is rounded - it's always possible to see Jacinta's positive side even Jacinta is at her lowest and Earnshaw sticks with her until the full story opens up before us.

Two Gods

Two Gods
Two Gods Photo: Zeshawn Ali
Zeshawn Ali's beautifully shot portrait is, like Jacinta, an exploration of resilience in the face of addiction. Its focus is African American casket-maker Hanif, who is a recovering addict at the time when the documentary begins, offering mentorship to two kids in his community. This is a complex portrait that shows the fragility both of life close to the poverty level in the US and of recovery from addiction. This is balanced in part by an insight into the strength of community - the film also offers an illuminating window into the Muslim rituals around death - and the way that helping others is not necessarily a one-way street. Ali avoids any sort of manufactured arc of positivity in favour of a more realistic message, while the choice of black and white rather than colour film lends the whole affair a stripped back focus.

Acasa, My Home

Acasa, My Home
Acasa, My Home Photo: Radu Ciorniciu and Mircea Topoleanu
Shortlisted this week for the EFA Awards, Radu Ciorniciuc's documentary offers a clear-eyed view of life on the fringes of Romanian society for a single family. The Enache family - dad Gica, his wife and their nine children - spent almost two decades living in the abandoned reservoir of the Bucharest Delta before authorities decided to move them to the city. Ciorniciuc charts their progress in verite fashion, allowing ambivalence to remain at the forefront so that we can see both the positives and the negatives of what transpires for the family as they face the future.

9to5: The Story Of A Movement

9to5: The Story Of A Movement
9to5: The Story Of A Movement Photo: Courtesy of DOC NYC
Julia Reichert and Steve Bognar's latest film is both a celebration of activism in the face of opposition and an invigorating consideration of the ongoing fight for equality in the workplace that is likely to galvanise many. The 9to5 movement, which saw female secretarial staff stand up for their rights on pay and conditions is the focal point for a broader consideration of equality that charts set-backs as well as triumphs, while honouring the women who put their necks on the line in the first place and who have gone on to secure change in a range of areas. Handled with a lightness of touch that allows humour as well as soul-searching, this is a crowdpleaser that emphasises the positive while still leaving room to articulate the ongoing negatives.

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