Reaching out

Thom Powers on the Lifetime Achievement Award honorees, new juried sections and Q&As at DOC NYC

by Anne-Katrin Titze

DOC NYC Artistic Director Thom Powers with Anne-Katrin Titze on Lifetime Achievement Award honoree Joan Churchill: “We’re really pleased to be able to put a spotlight on her important work.”
DOC NYC Artistic Director Thom Powers with Anne-Katrin Titze on Lifetime Achievement Award honoree Joan Churchill: “We’re really pleased to be able to put a spotlight on her important work.”

The afternoon before the Short List selections were announced (highlights include Questlove’s Summer Of Soul (...Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised), Betsy West and Julie Cohen’s Julia on Julia Child, Liz Garbus’s Becoming Cousteau, Morgan Neville’s Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain, Lucy Walker’s Bring Your Own Brigade, and Todd Haynes’s The Velvet Underground on Lou Reed, Maureen Tucker, John Cale, Sterling Morrison, and Nico) DOC NYC Artistic Director Thom Powers spoke with me about the 12th edition being back in cinemas. In addition, films will be available online “to reach people who aren’t able to be at the theater.”

In the first instalment Thom and I discussed the Visionaries Tribute Lifetime Achievement Award honorees Raoul Peck and Joan Churchill, the new juried sections in the festival, in-cinema Q&As only, and a DOC NYC PRO panel from the past.

Attorney Bryan Stevenson (Ava DuVernay's Oscar-nominated 13th), Raoul Peck (Oscar-nominated I am Not Your Negro), and Ezra Edelman (Oscar winner O.J.: Made In America) with Thom Powers at the 2016 DOC NYC PRO Short List panel.
Attorney Bryan Stevenson (Ava DuVernay's Oscar-nominated 13th), Raoul Peck (Oscar-nominated I am Not Your Negro), and Ezra Edelman (Oscar winner O.J.: Made In America) with Thom Powers at the 2016 DOC NYC PRO Short List panel.

From New York City, in great anticipation of DOC NYC, Thom Powers joined me on Zoom for an in-depth look at the 12th edition.

Thom Powers: Hi Anne-Katrin! Good to see you!

Anne-Katrin Titze: Hi Thom! Good to see you, too. How are you?

TP: I’m well. It’s always a hectic time in the lead-up to the festival, but it’s exciting that it’s all coming together.

AKT: Yes, DOC NYC is coming back after a year online! How do you feel? Is it mainly exciting or are you anxious as well?

TP: I would say excitement is the prevailing emotion. And as you know, this year we will be in person like we have been for most of our history, but will also be online to reach people who aren’t able to be at the theater. We’ve had such a wonderful experience with that last year, we’re really pleased to be able to continue with it.

AKT: The Q&As you scheduled, will they mostly be in person or online?

TP: The Q&As will all be in person. We do want to make some things a special reward for coming out to a theater, being there in person, so that’s one of those things.

AKT: For your Visionary Tribute, you gave a Lifetime Achievement Award to Raoul Peck this year. I was so happy to hear that. I will forever remember one of your panels at DOC NYC in 2016. Do you remember the PRO Short List panel with Raoul Peck and Ezra Edelman

TP: … and Bryan Stevenson.

AKT: … and Bryan Stevenson, exactly!

Joan Churchill with Haskell Wexler (Vino Vérité), who is in Shoot From The Heart
Joan Churchill with Haskell Wexler (Vino Vérité), who is in Shoot From The Heart

TP: I remember it well! It was just a few days after Donald Trump’s election. We were all processing a lot and to have those three really smart thinkers on stage that helped us process it was definitely a highlight of all the panels we’ve done in the past.

AKT: And in the audience you had Gianfranco Rosi and Kirsten Johnson and Barbara Kopple who had their panels right after and before. It was one of those fabulous moments. Joan Churchill is your other Lifetime Achievement choice.

TP: That’s right. You know when we were reaching out to people asking for their recommendation, we received more endorsements for Joan than anyone else. She’s a figure who’s very beloved in our community, has often been behind the scenes, working mainly as a cinematographer in her life. Of course, she’s done directing as well. We’re really pleased to be able to put a spotlight on her important work.

AKT: There will be an event with her and Kirsten Johnson where they have a discussion?

TP: That’s right. Joan will share some clips from her work and she also has a new short film, called Shoot From the Heart, where she filmed some conversations with Haskell Wexler, DA Pennebaker, and Chris Hegedus and compiled those into this film, really a tribute to her peers.

AKT: You always tweak and change the festival and every year is always slightly different at DOC NYC. This year brings us the new Kaleidoscope Competition?

DOC NYC 2021 poster
DOC NYC 2021 poster

TP: Yes, we introduced three new competitions this year. A US Competition, an International Competition, and the Kaleidoscope Competition. US and International are perhaps self-explanatory for what they cover. The Kaleidoscope Competition is really the brain child of our longtime programmer Ruth Somalo, who for years has been bringing in cinematically adventurous work which was spread out throughout the festival. And creating a specific section, Kaleidoscope, is an effort for people who are looking for those more poetic, essayistic films, that Ruth is such a champion of. Now this is the place where they can look for them.

AKT: Thank you so much, Thom, it’s always very nice talking to you about your upcoming festival. You seem to have an unbelievable memory of films. It’s as if they are all playing in your head.

TP: I’m so appreciative of all the hard work you put in covering these films. It’s an annual treat to get to talk to you!

AKT: Thank you and I wish you a great festival.

TP: Thank you very much, hope to see you!

The Visionaries Tribute ceremony will take place as an in-person event on Wednesday, November 10 at Gotham Hall.

In Conversation With Joan Churchill, moderated by Kirsten Johnson, following a screening of Shoot From the Heart will take place on Thursday, November 11 at 7:30pm - Cinépolis Chelsea

Coming up - Thom Powers on DOC NYC U (Hunter College, Columbia, NYU, The New School, School of Visual Arts, New York Film Academy, Brooklyn College) and Thom’s comments in detail on many of the films that I am looking forward to in the 12th edition of DOC NYC.

DOC NYC 2021 in cinemas (IFC Center - SVA Theatre - Cinépolis Chelsea) runs from November 10 through November 18 with select films screening online in the US from November 19 through November 28.

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