New York Film Festival 2012: Documentary Overview

The Film Society of Lincoln Center celebrates a half century of the New York Film Festival beginning next week. The 50th Anniversary edition of North America’s second oldest film festival runs from September 28 through October 14, and is also notable as Richard Peña’s 25th and final festival as the Film Society’s Program Director and NYFF Selection Committee Chair.

For NYC film lovers, the launch of the NYFF marks the start of the Fall, and its carefully curated programming exposes audiences to some of the world’s best cinema. Among the offerings this year, there are easily more than fifty documentary features, made up of new films, retrospective screenings, experimental essays, and doc/fiction hybrids. While I won’t be able to see the bulk of these what with hundreds of Sundance submissions to watch, the following highlights those in which I’m most interested:

At the top of my list in the festival’s Main Slate are two films I missed at Toronto, Lucien Castaing-Taylor & Véréna Paravel’s look at the dangerous world of commercial fishing, LEVIATHAN (pictured), and Dror Moreh’s insider’s look at the Israeli Secret Service, THE GATEKEEPERS. Also of interest here are the world premiere of Alan Berliner’s FIRST COUSIN ONCE REMOVED, in which the filmmaker records the gradual onset of Alzheimer’s, and two hybrids: THE LAST TIME I SAW MACAO, João Pedro Rodrigues & João Rui Guerra da Mata’s rumination on the former Portuguese colony of Macao; and CAESAR MUST DIE, Paolo and Vittorio Taviani’s Berlin Golden Bear winner that restages JULIUS CAESAR in a prison with convict actors.

The festival has multiple strands designated as Special Events. Cinema Reflected presents a number of docs on films and filmmaking, including Marina Zenovich’s recent Toronto title ROMAN POLANSKI: ODD MAN OUT and Rodney Ascher’s infectious Sundance film ROOM 237. Titles here I haven’t yet seen but would like to include Francesco Patierno’s THE WAR OF THE VOLCANOES, chronicling the face off between Roberto Rossellini’s lovers on the Aeolian Islands; and Shivendra Singh Dungarpur’s ode to the National Film Archive of India’s PK Nair, CELLULOID MAN. Documentaries catching my eye in the doc strand On the Arts, on the performing arts, include Molly Bernstein and Alan Edelstein’s exploration of the world’s greatest magician, DECEPTIVE PRACTICE: THE MYSTERIES AND MENTORS OF RICKY JAY (pictured); and Philippe Béziat’s behind-the-scenes look at opera, BECOMING TRAVIATA.

Masterworks strand features retrospective screenings of three rarely-screened documentaries: Peter Whitehead’s 1966 THE ROLLING STONES – CHARLIE IS MY DARLING – IRELAND ’65, an early look at the band on tour, restored and amplified by Mick Gochanour and Robin Klein; a restored version of Dominique Benicheti’s 1972 “lost” film, COUSIN JULES (pictured), about a French farmer and his wife; and a 30th anniversary screening of Amos Gitai’s 1982 FIELD DIARY, on the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Perhaps even more notable, this section includes screenings of more than thirty documentaries from the French TV series Cinéastes/Cinema of Our Time, featuring a staggering array of auteurs, including John Cassavetes, Chantal Ackerman, Busby Berkeley, George Cukor, Jerry Lewis, David Lynch, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Josef von Sternberg, and many more.

Finally, NYFF’s experimental sidebar, Views from the Avant-Garde, returns in an expanded form for its 16th edition, including a hybrid doc (Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s MEKONG HOTEL), a retrospective essay film (the late Chris Marker’s SANS SOLEIL), and eight new experimental documentaries/essays. Of the latter, I’m most drawn to: PSYCHOHYDROGRAPHY‘s Peter Bo Rappmund’s tracing of the US/Mexico border from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific, TECTONICS (pictured); Mike Gibisser’s personal essay doc on time and memory, THE DAY OF TWO NOONS; Phil Solomon’s Andy Warhol remake “EMPIRE,” screening free in the Elinor Bunin Monroe Film Center Amphitheater; Jeff Preiss’ STOP, structured around home movie conventions and shot between 1995-2012; and Luke Fowler’s THE POOR STOCKINGER, THE LUDDITE CROPPER AND THE DELUDED FOLLOWERS OF JOANNA SOUTHCOTT, for the title alone.

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Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Overviews, Recommendations

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