This is only the fourth year of DOC NYC, New York’s documentary film festival that is bringing more than 50 New York and World Premieres, as well as a series of shorts and midnight screenings to the documentary-loving public. The festival runs from Nov. 14 to Nov. 21 in Manhattan.
“I Learn America” is a film that hits close (literally filmed close) to home. This is a profile on the International School at Lafayette, a Brooklyn public high school where all the students are recent immigrants, some entering with English, some with no English. For anyone who has familiarity with the experience of integrating into a completely new environment, this film will resonate.
For one year, the filmmakers concentrate on five students and their challenges, one boy emigrated from Guatemala, one traveled from seven countries starting in Burma; a Pakistani girl joined her father that she hadn’t seen since infancy, one girl is from Poland and befriends another from the Dominican Republic. Some of these teens strive to master English and adapt to families they haven’t seen in years. Some are undocumented, one is a political refugee. The obstacles of these students are different but equally challenging, in and out of school. The film is filled with life, their struggles in school, their joys, conflicts and their tears.
Another film in the “Metropolis” (New York stories) part of the festival is the New York Premiere of “The Pleasure of Being Out of Step,” an attentive biopic of journalist Nat Hentoff who championed jazz in his writings in newspapers– the Village Voice for decades– and music magazine outlets. He’s a ferocious free speech advocate and civil libertarian. Hentoff as well as director David Lewis will be at the screenings.
On the international front, “The Abominable Crime” exposes the roots of homophobia in Jamaica. Telling the story of a mother’s love for her child and an activist’s love for his country, the film gives a voice to one who survived an anti-gay shooting and another who is forced to flee the country after being outed. This emotional journey traverses four years and five countries.
Another film with a Jamaican connection, “The Stuart Hall Project” was acclaimed at the Sundance Film Festival. The film is an emotionally charged portrait of Jamaican-born 82-year old cultural theorist Stuart Hall. Combining archival imagery with specially filmed material and a Miles Davis soundtrack, the film portrays this insightful thinker and inspiring voice of the post-war Left.
Other “International Perspectives” films include Death Metal Angola (rock and roll to raise money for an orphanage); God Love Loves Uganda (evangelical fighting homosexuality and immorality); Mission Congo (televangelist raises money seemingly for relief efforts but there is something more lucrative, there). Touba (stunningly shot of annual Muslim pilgrimage in Senegal) and Peru (one laptop, one child). At this festival, one can also be immersed in engaging stories that take place in Lebanon, Mexico, China or Japan, among other countries.
In addition to New York and Harlem (Harlem Street Singer-virtuoso blues guitarist), the American films take place in Detroit (American Revolutionary-long time community activist Grace Lee Boggs), the South (Gideon’s Army-idealist public defenders), Colorado (uranium mining vs. environmental concerns) or Missouri (small Ozark town ponders its fate).
The 11 films in the “American Perspectives” section focus on varied aspects of the political landscape. “Sonic Cinema” is the festival’s music documentary section. For the complete listing: www.docnyc.net/films-events-2/#all.
Of the dozens of film festivals in New York, DOC NYC has grown to be the largest documentary festival in the U.S.
The festival is coupled with three full days of panels relevant to filmmakers. The first Doc-a-thon day of panels (Tuesday, Nov. 19) is an in-depth discussions on elements in the processes of creating films including cinematography and producing.The following days concentrate on funding and distribution.
Films are screening at IFC Center, 323 6th Ave./W. 3rd and SVA Theatre, 23rd St. between 8th & 9th Aves.