There are 104 features crammed into the eight days of the sixth-ever DOCNYC, and that’s not even counting the shorts. As such, there’s no unifying theme — just lots and lots of non-fiction work, showing off the diversity of a genre that’s impossible to narrow down. We sometimes think of documentary as mere journalism, and there are many titles here who main m.o. is to expose ignored strifes and social maladies. But form is always key, and there are plenty here as driven by aesthetics as any fiction film.
It’s best to break these up via loose category. Here are some ways in to this vast program:
New York stories
Gotham City is duly represented in DOCNYC’s lineup, though even there lies great diversity. “Missing Ingredient” portrays two longtime eateries struggling to last in a changing, increasingly moneyed metropolis. The ever-widening income gap is underlined in “Class Divide,” which finds low-income families living amongst the hyper-wealthy in Chelsea. Both are grim reminders of our wintry economic times, but “An Autobiography of Michelle Maren” singles out a middle-aged woman living on disability and still trying to overcome an abusive past.
Nipping at the heels of “20 Feet from Stardom” and the Pandora’s Box of great but not always recognized soul gods who seeped forth, “Miss Sharon Jones!”, from the legendary Barbara Kopple (“Harlan County USA”), hangs with someone who only became a star late in life, racking up her first Grammy nomination only last year. “Blur: New World Towers” tracks the Britpop greats as they managed to finally not only reunite but put out a not bad album — their first in 12 years. “Feelings are Facts: The Life of Yvonne Rainer” digs in deep on the dance pioneer.
“I am Sun Mu” is the latest of many docs critical of North Korea, but with a difference: its focus is on an ex-pat who went from a propaganda artist back home to someone who uses his skills to create satirical art about his former government. Likewise, “Kingdom of Shadows” concerns an oft-covered topic — the drug war with Mexico — but specifically digs into from it the Texan side, where we spend time with a transplanted nun. Many of these are made by people playing anthropologist in other countries, so it’s apt that the fest has a film, “The Anthropologist,” about the queen of them, Margaret Mead.
Much as America loves its troops, it’s less interested in taking care of them when they come home. The latest expose of PTSD and our deplorable treatment of vets and the rise of military suicides can be found in “Thank You for Your Service.” And thanks to “Serial” and “The Jinx,” serialized documentaries are all the rage, meaning people will likely be all about “Making of a Murderer,” a 10-part series about a man who was exonerated from a death row sentence thanks to DNA testing who becomes a suspect in a new crime. DOCNYC-ers will get but the first two episodes before the thing streams soon.
A decent chunk of the DOCNYC lineup is filled with titles that have already come and gone, giving you the chance to watch them again on a big screen with strangers, as god intended. Some are among the year’s very best, including the disturbing Amy Winehouse doc “Amy,” the record-straightening “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution,” the intimate “Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck” and “The Look of Silence,” Joshua Oppenheimer’s equally, differently important companion film-of-sorts to “The Act of Killing.”
DOCNYC runs from Nov. 12 through Nov. 19. Visit the site for venues, schedule and tickets.