DOC NYC early bird highlights

Becoming Cousteau, The Velvet Underground, Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain and Shoot From The Heart

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Morgan Neville will introduce DOC NYC highlight Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain
Morgan Neville will introduce DOC NYC highlight Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Lifetime Achievement Award honoree Joan Churchill and Alan Barker’s Shoot From the Heart on Haskell Wexler (featuring DA Pennebaker, Chris Hegedus, singer Lisbeth Scott, Jane Fonda at the Viennale for Coming Home, and a John Sayles and Maggie Renzi anecdote); Todd Haynes’s The Velvet Underground (with on-camera interviews shot by Ed Lachman and capturing the transformations and interactions between Lou Reed, John Cale, Maureen Tucker, Sterling Morrison, Andy Warhol, and Nico); Morgan Neville’s fast-paced Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain, and Liz Garbus’s revealing Becoming Cousteau on Jacques-Yves Cousteau are four of the early bird highlights of DOC NYC 2021.

The three highlights in DOC NYC’s Short List programme shed light on the workings of adventurous, troubled men who have been idolised by many and put on a pedestal as role models of independent masculinity. The fourth, the short, is a loving portrait of a colleague.

Becoming Cousteau
Becoming Cousteau

Becoming Cousteau

Jacques-Yves Cousteau, the most famous explorer of the oceans, known by anyone who grew up during the second half of the 20th century from his many fascinating TV programs, is always worth another look. Liz Garbus traces Cousteau’s moral development from a daredevil who saw the underwater world as his playground to someone who became a groundbreaking fighter for environmental causes. Through writings by Cousteau, read by Vincent Cassel, interviews, and plenty of archival footage from above and below sea level, we learn about his life. After the war, mentioned for a mere minute, a new chapter in underwater research began in Toulon, France. In 1951 the first trip begins on the legendary Calypso, which had started its life as a mine sweeper in America. A group of volunteers and the whole family, which included Simone, their two sons Jean-Michel and Philippe, plus their dachshund on board are seen in what looks like one big adventure. Besides later family tragedy and a double life, the inventor of an underwater camera, who together with his cameraman Louis Malle, gave us The Silent World in 1956, had trouble brewing. The Cousteau Society’s work for environmental protection, his poignant attack of the shamelessness of industry, and his farsightedness concerning Antarctica in 1979s Voyage to the End of the World, are important parts of his legacy.

Becoming Cousteau screens on Friday, November 12 at 4:30pm - IFC Center - Expected to attend: Liz Garbus

The Velvet Underground
The Velvet Underground

The Velvet Underground

Todd Haynes in all his films, and often aided by longtime cinematographer Ed Lachman, never gives an inch of aesthetic pleasure for substance, as we realise they can be the same. In this case especially, add the music to it and the split screen unfolds like a precocious flower, sometimes cut into the little boxes we all have become so cosily familiar with in these pandemic times. An overfull experience of what was and is The Velvet Underground and its periphery is the result. “Music fathoms the sky…” - the quote by Baudelaire functions as epigraph and Andy Warhol’s Screen-Tests, where the subject looks straight at us, lasso us in while moving footage from the Sixties flickers and winks and visually comments on what we are hearing, as if we were partly dreaming. A mood and Lou Reed’s voice likening going to the movies to a drug. “Writing about things that hurt,” was Heroin. “Lou’s tales of shock therapy brought it all together,” says John Cale: “How to be elegant and how to be brutal.” We get to hear the irresistible “If you close the door” sung by drummer Maureen Tucker, go to Max’s Kansas City and see images of nature flickering by very very fast. “It had entropied” - is that the band or the world? At this point, Haynes has us in the palm of his hand and I don’t know may be the best of all answers.

The Velvet Underground screens on Wednesday, November 10 at 9:30pm - IFC Center - Expected to attend: Todd Haynes with producers Christine Vachon, Julie Goldman, Christopher Clements, Carolyn Hepburn, and David Blackman.

Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain
Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain

Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain, younger than Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Lou Reed, emerges as a driven, disjointed soul in Morgan Neville’s portrait. Interviews with friends, family, colleagues - in other words, people who really knew the chef turned author turned world-traveling TV personality - form a colourful collage, together with private and public footage of the man himself, as well as brief glimpses into the movies that formed him more than one would guess. The desire to “be normal” and lead a normal life, whatever that may mean, eluded him for the most part. This coveted and simultaneously rejected normalcy forms a leitmotif. Unspecified goals and disruptive energies clash, as Neville raises his magician wand, never satisfied with surface explanations. There is a clip from the chess match with Death from Ingmar Bergman's Seventh Seal and footage from one of Bourdain’s all-time favourites, Apocalypse Now. Hate for mediocrity, a plea for open eyes and curiosity, while rushing through a modern pirate’s life, Bourdain lives up to the image of the “hungry ghost” he described himself as during his first trip to Japan. When famous chef and dear friend Eric Ripert says “You have good karma,” Bourdain looks puzzled. The mountains of unaddressed issues and self-hatred are moving in, the zone in the middle cannot hold.

Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain, with an introduction by Morgan Neville, screens on Thursday, November 11 at 9:45pm - IFC Center

Shoot From The Heart
Shoot From The Heart

Shoot From The Heart

“Joan! No, no, no!” Shouts Haskell Wexler half in jest to Joan Churchill who is setting up to shoot him in his living room. The portrait that follows feels like an extended conversation through different places and times. You get a sense in the end that you understood something about Wexler’s core and about the nature of filmmaking that had been fleeting and undefined before. From Karel Reisz’s definition of cinéma vérité being quoted by Joan (it is “to want what you get, not getting what you want”) during a conversation with DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus and mystery man in a kitchen, to Wexler being profoundly touched by the performance of singer Lisbeth Scott he shoots on film for a music video, Churchill and Alan Barker’s short is packed with profound asides and surprises. Pennebaker insists that he doesn’t know what reality is, and that he shoots without thinking, “I’m like a cat watching a room full of people,” he says. In Vienna in 2007, Wexler steps out of a limousine with Jane Fonda to attend a screening of Hal Ashby’s Coming Home (he is the cinematographer) from 1978 and to participate in a post-screening discussion together. Fonda tears up on stage about how America has learned nothing about war and what it actually means for people, which triggers Wexler to talk about the word love and how it has been highjacked. A mentorship with young inner-city aspiring filmmakers and clips from Wexler’s experiences at Occupy LA in 2011 lead to a final important definition, of what for him is an artist. “To be able to communicate to people’s heart beyond their cognitive mind,” he says “that gives them the feeling of being human.”

In Conversation With Joan Churchill and Allan Barker, moderated by Kirsten Johnson follows the screening of Shoot From the Heart on Thursday, November 11 at 7:30pm - Cinépolis Chelsea

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

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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