New York Film Festival 2014: Documentary Overview

imgres-2For New York cinephiles, Fall truly hasn’t begun until the start of the New York Film Festival. The 52nd edition of the venerable event kicks off this Friday, September 26 and runs through Sunday, October 12. While the festival was never particularly nonfiction-minded under the long tenure of Richard Peña, that has changed drastically in recent years, with documentaries now claiming a significant portion of the lineup – by my count, nearly half of the new features represented are documentaries or essay films. The following runs down several of these works:

snowden-citizenfourNYFF’s Main Slate is typically reserved for fiction, but two docs made the cut: Significantly, the world premiere of Laura Poitras’ CITIZENFOUR (pictured), an in-the-moment recounting of how Edward Snowden revealed the government’s surveillance programs; and Nick Broomfield’s Toronto title, TALES OF THE GRIM SLEEPER, an investigation into a notorious South Central serial killer.

irisThe bulk of the festival’s non-fiction programming appears in the fifteen-film strong Spotlight on Documentary. While nearly all the films here have had premieres at notable festivals like Toronto or Cannes, one standout making its world premiere here is IRIS (pictured), Albert Maysles’ infectious portrait of the inimitable fashion doyen Iris Apfel. Other titles that may not be as familiar to audiences include: Arthur Jafa’s DREAMS ARE COLDER THAN DEATH, an exploration of black American identity; Les Blank and Gina Leibrecht’s HOW TO SMELL A ROSE: A VISIT WITH RICKY LEACOCK IN NORMANDY, in which two late documentary masters meet; JP Sniadecki’s THE IRON MINISTRY, an ethnographic study of China through its railways; Jung Yoon-Suk’s NON-FICTION DIARY, an exposé of class inequities in South Korean justice system; Ed Pincus and Lucia Small’s ONE CUT, ONE LIFE, a personal film inspired by the deaths of two close friends and Pincus’ terminal condition; and Debra Granik’s STRAY DOG, a portrait of a Vietnam veteran.

mingAdditional nonfiction and hybrid screenings appear in Convergence, the festival’s new media section; and Projections, the avant-garde sidebar, including Phillip Warnel’s MING OF HARLEM (pictured), about the unlikely case of a pet tiger and alligator in Harlem; and Jacqueline Goss and Jenny Perlin’s THE MEASURES, a creative historical exploration of the metric system. Finally, the Revivals section includes two retrospective doc screenings: MOANA WITH SOUND, a restored version of Monica Flaherty’s 1980 sound version of her parents Robert Flaherty and Frances Hubbard Flaherty’s 1926 Samoan ethnography; and Howard Brookner’s 1983 portrait of the author, BURROUGHS: THE MOVIE.

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

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