The treasure trove of riches at the 5th annual DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary festival, are so abundant and plentiful that it’s actually intimidating. The festival, which kicked off on November 13th and runs until the 20th, boasts 153 films, including 27 world and U.S. premieres, plus panels, masterclasses, and more. In addition to an audience award, DOC NYC presents jury prizes in three competition sections, and it’s also an Academy qualifying festival for the Academy Award for Documentary Short Subject. Looking at the list can be daunting because there’s so much to choose from. But in the interest of brevity, here are five recommendations in a list that could probably be 50 deep.
“An Open Secret”
Director: Amy Berg, the Oscar-nominated documentarian behind (“West of Memphis,” “Deliver Us From Evil”)
What’s It About: The sexual abuse of children Hollywood.
Synopsis: Every year, thousands of children swarm Hollywood in search of fame, but what they often find under the surface is a deep and disturbing underbelly of manipulation and abuse. “An Open Secret” looks at the lives of children who were exploited and assaulted by some of Hollywood’s most powerful players.
Why Should You See It: Berg is a formidable documentary talent, and sharp filmmaker. But here’s the sensationalist angle: the documentary purports to have damning information in the sex scandal case that rocked “X-Men” filmmaker Bryan Singer earlier this year. She’s also moved into the field of dramatic narrative with her upcoming feature “Every Secret Thing” which is a crime thriller in a procedural, David Fincher-esque manner, but right now, this doc is the one that has people talking.
“The Cult Of JT Leroy”
Director: Marjorie Sturm, known for the award-winning doc short, “Smoke the Pipe Dream” and as cinematographer on “99% Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film” that premiered at Sundance in 2013.
What’s It About: Fakester JT Leroy, the celebrity “author” behind the best-selling non-fiction book “The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things,” which was turned into a movie by Asia Argento. Leroy became a cause célèbre and was befriended by people like Marilyn Manson, Shirley Manson, Courtney Love, Billy Corgan, and many more, but was outed in 2006 as a creation by American writer Laura Albert, with Leroy played in public by Savannah Knoop. The scandal was one of the biggest literary hoaxes of our time.
Synopsis Excerpt: Sturm gained access to LeRoy’s circle before the deception was revealed. She chronicles what really happened and explores our culture’s complicity with the author’s seductive cult of personality.
Why Should You See It: Because this story is an utterly fascinating look at identity, gender, role-playing, fraud, and deception. And perhaps most enticingly because Sturm was there on the ground level before Leroy’s true identity was exposed.
Watch a teaser trailer below:
“Merchants Of Doubt”
Director: Robert Kenner
What’s It About: The insidious world of corporate-backed climate control naysayers, this doc explores the shadow world of “experts” who stake claims contrary to scientific consensus, spread confusion, misinformation, and enough doubt around to prevent political interference or regulations all in the name of the almighty dollar. “Merchants of Doubt” examines how public opinion is manipulated by those with the most at capital at stake.
Why You Should See It: Because global warming is going to quickly become one of the most central issues of our time and those who actively seek to thwart it may be looked upon by history as some of the world’s most evil naysayers. Robert Kenner also directed “Food Inc.” a similar look at how shady corporations try and influence what we eat much to our own health and peril.
Watch a clip:
“Banksy Does New York”
Director: Chris Moukarbel (“Me at the Zoo”)
What’s It About: World famous graffiti artist, political activist, film director, culture jammer Banksy, who probably needs very little introduction. This doc is centered on his “exhibition” in New York last year.
Synopsis Excerpt: Last October, when infamous street artist Banksy revealed his New York City residency, he set off a daily scavenger hunt among curious fans, would-be art collectors, and, of course, the police. With camera phones at the ready, everyone wanted a piece of his ephemeral works before they were destroyed—or removed for profit.
Why Should You See It: Because Banksy is another utterly fascinating figure. His identity is completely unknown and the level of secrecy he keeps for himself and his projects is NASA-level underground. Plus, the reactions to Bansky’s art in New York last year were instant, fluid, and met with lightning speed. Everyone wanted a piece of the Banksy action, which the doc also explores.
Watch the trailer:
“Tales Of The Grim Sleeper”
Director: Nick Broomfield, known for controversial documentaries like “Kurt & Courtney” and “Biggie & Tupac.”
What’s It About: A serial killer in Los Angeles who went unchecked for years because he was targeting prostitutes and poor and middle class African-Americans—aka people the police aren’t always interested in serving and protecting.
Why Should You See It: Despite the two aforementioned docs that Broomfield is rather notorious for—both of which were met with a lot of derision at the time—his latest, “Tales Of The Grim Sleeper,” is said to be excellent and has received rave reviews. “Would you prefer to be more outraged by the legacies of sexual predation or police indifference? Broomfield lets you take your pick,” our review wrote. Broomfield appears to be back in fine form and by all accounts ‘Grim Sleeper’ appears to be must-see worthy.
Watch the trailer:
There are literally dozens and dozens of documentaries you could see at DOC NYC. So keeping that in mind, other highlights include Laura Poitras‘ already released Edward Snowden doc “Citizenfour,” which was met with tons of critical acclaim; Robert Kenner’s David Thorpe’s “Do I Sound Gay?”; the Elliott Smith doc, “Heaven Adores You”; Sundance-lauded docs like “The Overnighters,” “Rich Hill” and Amir Bar-Levi’s Penn State/Jerry Sandusky scandal doc “Happy Valley”; Laura Nix and The Yes Men’s culture jammers doc “The Yes Men Are Revolting“; Cheryl Furjanic‘s “Back on Board: Greg Louganis“; Ben Cotner & Ryan White’s “The Case Against 8;” the haunted house doc “Haunters”; Tony Shaff‘s portrait of the telephone in a digital age “Hotline“; Dave LaMattina and Chad Walker’s look at “Sesame Street“’s most iconic character Big Bird and the man who plays him, “I Am Big Bird”; “The Life and Mind of Mark DeFriest”; the Roger Ebert doc “Life Itself”; Gabe Polsky‘s cold war hockey doc “Red Army“; Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado’s haunting photography doc “The Salt Of The Earth”; and many, many more. Again, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Do yourself a favor and have a long perusal through the DOC NYC site because many of the films and topics sound extremely compelling.