5 DOC NYC Films You Can Watch Right Now
Ivy Lofberg reports on five compelling and must-see documentaries from the DOC NYC Documentary Festival that you can watch right now.
DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary film festival, celebrated another year of award-winning programming November 9-16th. With documentaries continuing to grow in popularity, I squeezed into a bunch of great sold-out screenings around the city.
DOC NYC is known for excelling in its representation of a wide range of filmmakers, topics, and points-of-view. It’s a place for established and new filmmakers alike to present their work to a receptive, enthusiastic audience. Brutal, dare-you-to-watch documentaries live happily alongside films created for pure joyful entertainment. These movies go behind the sound bytes and ticker tapes to reveal the real people and places behind the headlines. This is my fourth year attending the festival and it’s better than ever.
After spending a week immersed in documentary films, I found myself looking at strangers on the subway and thinking “Wow, I wonder what that person has been through. I wonder what the real story is. I have no idea but maybe I can be more open to understanding it. Maybe I can be kinder.” I think that’s the power of a great documentary film festival. I picked out five eclectic favorites that are available to watch now on digital platforms.
Kedi (Ceyda Torun)
Kedi (Turkish for cat) follows the famous street cats of Istanbul and the citizens who love them. This warm, delightful documentary reveals the soulful, sometimes life-saving relationship the people of Istanbul have with the many cats who roam the ancient streets.
Beautifully crafted by Director Ceyda Torun, Kedi follows the daily life of 7 cats and the people intricately linked to them. Feline characters clearly emerge, each with their own soundtrack to bring their unique personalities to life. This enchanting, often hilarious depiction of the famous Istanbul street cats is not to be missed. I thought I wasn’t a cat person until I saw Kedi. This film’s charm is very family friendly.
City of Ghosts (Matthew Heineman)
The latest documentary from the award-winning filmmaker of Carteland, Matthew Heineman, takes his adeptness in life-threatening topics up a notch. City of Ghosts follows the inception of the citizen journalism collective, “Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently”. Raqqa is a Syrian city that’s been overtaken by Isis during the city’s revolution from The Assad. A group of men who had zero journalism experience formed the collective to document the atrocities that were rapidly destroying Raqqa and it’s people.
Knowing death sentences likely awaited them by going up against ISIS in such a public way, these extraordinary men created RIBSS anyways. City of Ghosts follows several members who escaped Syria and still risk their lives everyday to expose the horrors of Isis. It also documents Isis’s chilling realization of the power of media as the terrorist group begins to produce high budget recruitment videos that rival Hollywood blockbusters. Members of “Raqqa is Being Silently Slaughtered” struggle to get documented footage out of the city while battling Isis’s new media savviness, amidst constant death threats, regular member assassinations , and receiving videos of their family members being murdered to get them to stop.
City of Ghosts puts any Hollywood thriller to shame. Witnessing what these men live through to make their voices heard and document the unimaginable nightmare that’s descended on Raqqa was one of the most disturbing and deeply inspiring stories I’ve ever watched. This film has graphic images of extreme violence.
Faces Places (JR and Agnés Varda)
Available: In select theaters now
Legendary French filmmaker, Agnes Varda and acclaimed photographer and muralist, JR, join forces to travel the French countryside, turning everyday life into epic art in Faces Places. Combining their formidable talents behind cameras, the duo jump into a van outfitted as a photo booth that instantly prints building scale images to celebrate the lives of people who usually don’t receive the spotlight.
By plastering these massive prints of every day laborers – a waitress, farmers, miners, chemical factory workers, wives of dock workers – throughout the country side enchanting things begin to happen. And as Agnes eyesight begins to fade, JR commits to elevating the images of her life and memories into unforgettable art installations in the unlikeliest of places.
Their 50 year age gap creates an endearing and graceful portrait of the unifying power of art. There wasn’t an empty seat in the house at this screening, the theater roaring in laughter and applause for this transcendent pleasure.
Step (Amanda Lipitz)
The Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women was created with the goal that everyone who attended would go on to college. A Step team formed as an after school program and quickly became essential for its dancers in navigating the challenges they face in their journey to graduation.
Director, Amanda Lipitz, takes us inside BLSYM’s Step team as they navigate Baltimore’s recent upheavals, using their performances to affirm the Black Lives Matter movement. Step follows three students who prepare for a dance competition while preparing for graduation. Rising above the largely negative media coverage of Baltimore, Step shares the grit, heart, determination, joy and power of the first graduating class of BLSYW.
I was so moved by Step I kept sobbing long after the credits rolled. If you want a real-life inspiration story that will have you leaping off the couch to dance for joy, this is your movie.
The Problem with Apu (Michael Melamedoff)
Hari Kondabolu has been tolerating The Simpson’s Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, voiced by Hank Azaria, for 28 years, despite the character’s blatant stereotypes. Kondabolu, a comedian known for his insightful social commentary, was asked to do a segment about Apu for Totally Biased and found it struck a major cord.
The Problem with Apu follows his deeper investigation into the character’s social impact, and the plague of the character’s ridiculous catchphrases. In a show that’s famous for making fun of everyone, this film exposes why Apu is different.
His experience with trying to get Azaria in the movie brilliantly highlights why a documentary about Apu needed to be made. After reading an email from Azaria, who declined to appear in the film because he wanted complete control over how he was represented, Hari quips, “That’s great that he gets to choose how he’s being portrayed. What a privilege. How ironic.”
Have you seen any of these documentaries? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!
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