Festival Preview: DOC NYC takes over the city’s film scene this week

An image of a scene from the documentary and DOC NYC selection Patrimonio.

The documentary film “Patrimonio” will see its New York debut when it screens as part of the DOC NYC festival. PHOTO CREDIT: Robert Saltzman

In terms of film festivals, DOC NYC is relatively young: it started in 2010.  However, this hasn’t stopped its explosive growth, and by 2014 it was the largest documentary film festival in America.  DOC NYC shows no signs of slowing down in 2018, and will present over 135 feature-length documentaries among over 300 films and events overall.  Here are some of the noteworthy entries screening as part of the ninth annual DOC NYC(November 8 – 15). 

Note: All screening times are Eastern Standard Time(EST).



From director/producers Lisa F. Jackson(“The Secret life of Barbie”) and Sarah Teale comes a modern story of too-infuriating-to-be-false corporate injustice. A real-estate investment and development group sets its sights on the small town of Los Santos. They want to build a luxury hotel and resort, and thousands of new homes.

The occupants of this small Baja California Sur, Mexico, village have valid concerns about their water supply. After somehow surviving multi-year droughts, they fear the new construction and population influx of tourism will strain their already scarce resources. The local fishermen band together to fight the new construction, which seems to be fueled by shady practices and back-handed deals. With the support of a skilled lawyer as their ace in the hole, the fishermen take their fight to the streets and the local government bodies. “Patrimonio” is a compelling, emotional look at the ever-lurking dark side of capitalism, and the resolve, strength and struggle of humanity rising up to challenge it.


Tuesday, November 13 – 5:15pm(IFC Center)

Wednesday, November 14 – 10:15am(IFC Center)


“Fahrenheit 11/9”

It seems like it’s been awhile since Michael Moore last made a film, but only three years have passed since 2015’s “Where to Invade Next.” And in that time, the national media and political landscape have certainly offered up enough fodder for a new project. “Farenheit 11/9” is the conglomeration of that fodder.

Moore explores topics like the 2016 election, the Flint Water Crisis, and student activism in the wake of the Parkland Massacre and other school shootings. It is hard to believe the topics of gun control and mass shootings are as relevant as ever, sixteen years after Moore’s Oscar-winning “Bowling for Columbine.” While Moore’s films may not have quite the same fanfare with passing time, they are still a mild spectacle, and still prove to be informative, entertaining, and thought-provoking. “Fahrenheit 11/9” already passed through most theaters earlier this year, so this second-chance screening might just give festival attendees another chance to catch it with fresh eyes.

Moore is scheduled to attend DOC NYC, and the “Fahrenheit 11/9” presentation is also slated to include a screening and discussion of the controversial documentary short “A Night at the Garden”, which contains archival footage of a pro-Nazi rally at New York’s Madison Square Garden in 1939.

Fahrenheit 11/9” screens Friday, November 9, at 9:15pm(SVA Theatre)


“The Girl and the Picture”

Xia Shuqin survived the Nanjing Massacre of 1938, and a photo of her in the short time afterward becomes the centerpiece of this documentary short by Vanessa Roth. Her granddaughter feels it highly important to make sure her story stays alive and is passed on to her son and future generations.  The result is a letter to her son, providing a backdrop to the documentary’s tale.

The film is an important history lesson, often told through the archival camera footage of an American missionary who lived in Nanjing at the time of the tragedy. It is equally the story of survival, but sometimes presented from an angle of necessity and matter-of-fact simplicity.  The human condition is not always altruistic.  People persist and live on because they feel they must; it’s their only choice.  This is a short film with a grand story and lots of psychological depth.

The Girl and the Picture” screens as part of the “Short List: Shorts” program Friday, November 9 at 10:30am(IFC Center)


“The Insufferable Groo”

This North American Premiere chronicles hyper-amateur filmmaker Stephen Groo, who has produced over two hundred ultra-low-budget films to date. The documentary timeline follows his latest venture, which is a remake of one of his previous films. This go-around, he wants better production values, and more polish. He believes that this is the one that will sell and put him on the map. He even meets with a production company in one of the first scenes.

The viewer gleams insight from Stephen’s friends and past collaborators amidst his pre-production journey to get his film underway. The doc also highlights his family and their money struggles, and also provides a peek into Groo’s mindset about money and employment. He has four children, and the oldest seems mature beyond his years. One has to wonder if that was a natural evolution, or one that developed out of necessity and the need for survival, considering who his father is.  This is an interesting portrait of a man who flirts with fitting his titular description.

The Insufferable Groo” screens Wednesday, November 14 at 9:30pm(SVA Theatre).


“Fire on the Hill”

Brett Fallentine impresses with his first documentary feature, which carves out a unique, small niche in the notoriously well-known suburb of Compton. The film brings new identity to an urban cowboy, chronicling three men who found purpose and freedom on the top of a horse, instead of on the streets. One seeks to make his mark on the professional bull-riding world. Another finds comfort and excitement in horse riding, but the newfound attention his hoofed friend brings gets him into trouble. Finally, there is a man who dreams of building a new equestrian center in the neighborhood.

Fallentine does a great job of juggling these multiple stories, and his cinematography stands out in an indie documentary crowd. As much as the opening shots are beautiful and expressive, the film’s final moments are heightened; it almost feels like cheating as the editor and director do all they can to build up the suspense as one particular story arc concludes. Even the title proves clever after the initial viewing and some quick reflection. Who says a documentary can’t be as entertaining as a narrative feature film?


Friday, November 9 – 7:45pm(Cinepolis Chelsea)

Wednesday, November 14 – 12:30pm(IFC Center)



The documentary “Hillbilly” opens with a celebration of hillbilly culture at the ‘Hillbilly Days’ festival in Pikeville, Kentucky. The film then goes on to explore the ‘real’ hillbilly culture: not the stereotypes of people who have made the Appalachian region their home, but the diversity and unique perspectives that could easily be found in any large American City.

Filmed in the midst of the 2016 presidential election, the documentary definitely could have skewed towards the political. Especially in its subject region, where coal is a way of life and a means to a living for so many people. But the directors(one of whom also plays part-time subject as she returns to Kentucky to visit her family and hometown) wisely take an approach of capturing without commentary. Also, look out for a surprise cameo connected to a famous cinematic moment from the past.

Hillbilly” screens Monday, November 12 at 7:45pm(IFC Center).

DOC NYC runs November 8 to November 15.

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