Now in its 14th year, America’s largest documentary film festival, DOC NYC, returns this week, showcasing more than 200 feature-length and short documentary films from around the globe, many having their world, North American or U.S. premieres. As in recent editions, the festival’s offerings will be available both through in-person screenings in New York City and streaming online for audiences around the U.S.
The festival, which runs November 8-26, also includes panel discussions, workshops and master classes with notable documentary filmmakers.
Descriptions of feature films are below. For lineup and schedule (including the festival’s short film programs), click here. For tickets and streaming passes click here.
Wednesday’s opening night presentation is the New York premiere of “The Contestant,” Clair Titley’s bonkers tale of an aspiring comedian who “wins” a spot on a Japanese reality TV show in the ’90s, only to find himself confined alone and naked in an apartment for 15 months, forced to survive off of magazine sweepstakes winnings. He’s also unaware that his every move is being broadcast and streamed 24/7 to the world. It’s the kind of stunt that gives reality TV a bad name.
The festival’s centerpiece is the world premiere of “Uncropped,” about photographer James Hamilton, whose photojournalism at the Village Voice, Harper’s Bazaar and the New York Observer, as well as his documentation of the rock music and club scene in New York beginning in the 1960s, and working as a set photographer for George A. Romero horror films, offer a vivid portrait of the times. The film also honors the colorful personalities that fueled the alternative press.
Closing the festival is “South to Black Power,” directed by Sam Pollard (co-director of last year’s “Lowndes County and the Road to Black Power”) and Llewellyn Smith, and written by New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow, in which Blacks are called upon to participate in a “reverse Great Migration,” to reclaim their heritage in the Deep South and build their political power there.
Other special screenings include Wim Wenders’ “Anselm,” a 3-D portrait of German painter and sculptor Anselm Kiefer.
“David Holmes: The Boy Who Lived,” about a stunt double on films (including the Harry Potter series) who is left a quadriplegic following an on-set accident; and “Defiant,” which exposes the fighting spirit of Ukrainians (including foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba) during the first 18 months of Russia’s invasion.
Emmy-winner Chris Wilcha takes audiences on a look back at his film and TV career’s triumphs and false starts, his struggles to live an artistic life, and his connection to a second-hand record store in Pompton Lakes, N.J., in “Flipside.”
“June” is Kristen Vaurio’s in-depth documentary on the singer, songwriter artist and actress June Carter Cash. In “Patria y Vida: The Power of Music,” a protest song created by Cuban hip-hop musicians in exile becomes a call for freedom, with international impact.
And for the documentary “The Kind Stranger,” about influencers in the immersive and tingling world of ASMR, it’s best to stream online with headphones.
Among the biographies being shown at DOC NYC is “The Lady Bird Diaries,” in which director Dawn Porter uses audio of first lady Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson (which she recorded as a diary of her years in the White House) to capture a private view of one of the most tumultuous periods of U.S. politics.
“Liv Ullmann – A Road Less Travelled” is a portrait of the remarkable actress-director and muse of Ingmar Bergman.
“Merchant Ivory” traces the award-winning partnership of director James Ivory and producer Ismail Merchant, which resulted in such classic films as “Howard’s End,” “A Room With a View,” and “The Remains of the Day.”
In “Bye Bye Tiberias,” filmmaker Lina Soualem explores the lives of four generations of Palestinian women, including her mother, actress Hiam Abbas (“Succession”).
“Shari & Lamb Chop” tells the story of ventriloquist Shari Lewis and her companion puppet.
“The Trials of Alan Dershowitz,” narrated by Dershowitz, is an examination of the lawyer and professor whose defense of disreputable characters has not always reflected well upon himself.
“How to Come Alive… With Norman Mailer” is a vivid evocation of the literary pugilist and his stand as a public intellectual across decades, a role fueled by his insatiable ego and thwarted by violence.
A very different artist is brought back into the spotlight with “Obsessed With Light,” about dancer Loïe Fuller and her influence at the turn of the century through performances that turned silk and colored lights into a kind of magic.
In “Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Tomorrow,” cinematographer Martina Radwan returns to Mongolia, where she’d photographed the plight of homeless Mongolian children, to support three orphans, unprepared for the personal responsibility of taking on their care and education. “36 Seconds: Portrait of a Hate Crime” looks at the aftermath of the 2015 murder of three young Muslims in Chapel Hill, N.C., as a family, and a community, comes to terms with gun violence and Islamophobia.
“The Cowboy and the Queen” tells the story of Monty Roberts, a California horse trainer who becomes friends with Queen Elizabeth II. In Amy Nicholson’s “Happy Campers,” vacationers at a Virginia seaside trailer park face their last summer idyll when a developer buys the property.
The 1960s Kerner Commission, formed to study the eruption of riots and unrest in Black communities, offered findings that proved to be equally inflammatory to the powers-that-be, as studied in “The Riot Report.” “Mediha” is comprised of a video diary by a Yazidi teenager from northern Iraq, a former captive of ISIS.
In “Shaken,” a young couple’s scare over their baby’s medical emergency turns into a legal nightmare when they are accused of abuse.
Did the U.S. government conspire to win the 1964 Venice Biennial art competition for American artist Robert Rauschenberg? “Taking Venice” investigates the Cold War scenario.
“Dancing on the Edge of a Volcano” recounts a group of filmmakers in Beirut and their effort to keep shooting in the wake of the 2020 port explosion that obliterated part of the city, followed by the COVID pandemic.
In “The Dmitriev Affair,” historian Yuri Dmitriev, an “archaeologist of terror,” works to unearth those killed during Stalin’s “Great Terror” of 1937, history that Russia would prefer to keep buried. “Total Trust” delves into China’s surveillance of human rights attorneys and journalists.
In “Le Spectre de Boko Haram,” schoolchildren in Cameroon live under the constant threat of the Islamist militant group. A pregnant woman, her partner and young son flee Honduras for a better life in “The Caravan.”
Jamaican singer Dalton Harris struggles to succeed in the music industry despite homophobia and his own toxic past, in “Dalton’s Dream.”
In “Neirud,” filmmaker Fernanda Roth Faya explores the mysterious life of an aged family friend, a woman whose colorful history ranged from performing in a circus to wrestling.
In Toronto carpenter Khaleel Seivwright went against government bureaucracy to build tiny shelters for the city’s homeless, only to become caught between local officials and the public, in “Someone Lives Here.”
In “Al Djanat – The Original Paradise,” the death of a patriarch in Burkina Faso leads to divisions within the family, in a conflict between traditional Islamic law and the country’s legal practices.
In “The Home Game,” football fans in a tiny Icelandic fishing village built a national FA Cup regulation soccer pitch, but it went unused for 25 years. What does it take to attract a team to Hellissandur (population: 369)? How about fielding a scrappy football team of your own?
The festival’s films about music include the world premiere of “Garland Jeffreys: The King of In Between,” an adoring look at the singer-songwriter whose music (a blend of rock, folk, soul and reggae) made him unclassifiable, and consequently less commercial than the affection for him expressed by his peers would suggest.
“Fanny: The Other Mendelssohn” traces the life and talents of the 19th century German composer and musician Fanny Mendelssohn, whose legacy was overshadowed by her much more famous brother, Felix, in a society more advantageous to male composers.
For a taste of African drumming, “Famoudou Konate – The King of Djembe” is a portrait of the Guinean percussionist.
“Paul Muldoon: Laoithe ‘s Liricí /A Life in Lyrics” explores the life’s journey and writings of the Irish poet, librettist and rock lyricist.
Manuel Gagneux, a biracial Swiss-African American musician, creates a new genre of “Black Death Metal” with his band, Zeal & Ardor, in “Play With the Devil – Becoming Zeal & Ardor.” “Pretty Ugly – The Story of the Lunachicks” recalls the ’90s all-female punk band, which rocked New York City’s underground scene.
The origins of bossa nova are told in the animated documentary “They Shot The Piano Player,” from directors Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal (the Oscar-nominated “Chico & Rita”).
Birth tourism, and the underground industry that caters to pregnant Chinese women who come to the United States to give birth to U.S. citizens, is explored in “How to Have an American Baby.”
At age 22, a young Polish man is a member of a far-right, anti-LGTBQ hate group; four years later, he’s joining his girlfriend for a Gay Pride march. What happened during those four years is the subject of Hanna Nobis’ “Polish Prayers.”
In “Searching for Nika,” filmmaker Stanislav Kapralov returns to Kyiv to help rescue pets – including his parents’ dog – lost or left behind during the Russian invasion.
“Who I Am Not” explores the lives of two intersex individuals battling prejudice in South Africa.
Cryptocurrency is the subject of the comic exposé “Bull Run,” while globalization and its effects in the Central African Republic is the target of “Eat Bitter.”
“A Disturbance In the Force” shines a light on one of the most infamously awful TV shows ever aired, the 1978 “Star Wars Holiday Special” (on CBS, no less). And yes, it really was as bad as you can imagine.
“Between Life & Death” looks at the “right to die” debate through the Terri Schiavo case.
In “Caterpillar” a man undergoes surgery to change his eye color.
“Naked Ambition: Bunny Yeager” tells the story of the ’50s model and contemporary of Bettie Page, who helped popularize the bikini and “invented” the selfie.
In “One With the Whale,” an indigenous family on Alaska’s remote St. Lawrence Island confronts blowback on social media while engaged in traditional hunting practices.
The worldwide freakout over an impending apocalypse when 1999 was about to turn into 2000 is recounted in “Time Bomb Y2K.”
“Unbroken” tells the story of seven siblings who escaped Nazi Germany after the murder of their mother at Auschwitz.
In “Unseen” a legally blind young man pursues a degree in social work while living under the uncertainty of his undocumented immigration status.
Fight the Power
Edward McGurn’s “Rainbow Warrior” tells the fascinating origin story of the Greenpeace vessel used to protest nuclear testing in the Pacific, and the even more fascinating story of the covert operation by the French intelligence services to take it out.
In “No One Asked You,” Lizz Winstead, co-creator of “The Daily Show,” and a comic group of pro-abortion rights advocates go on the road to support clinics and abortion providers.
“The Cost of Inheritance” examines avenues of wealth transfer and reparations for the descendants of enslaved people.
In “3 Promises” a young man and his mother unearth a box of videotapes of her life in the West Bank, and of the home she lost.
“We Are Fire! (Draw for Change)” follows Maremoto (a.k.a. Mar), an illustrator in Mexico City, whose drawings shed light on the traumas of femicide, and create a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community.
In “Yours In Freedom, Bill Baird,” Oscar-nominee Rebecca Cammisa (“Which Way Home”) directs this profile of Bill Baird, an activist who has long fought for women’s reproductive freedom.
“Ashima” profiles an elite young sport climber, training to tackle her most challenging ascent, under the guidance of her father, a retired Butoh dancer with no climbing experience. “Lucha: A Wrestling Tale” is the redemptive story of members of the Taft High School women’s wrestling team in the Bronx.
Filmmaker Penny Lane explores the nature of altruism after donating a kidney to a stranger, in “Confessions of a Good Samaritan.”
“Diversity Plaza” is a vérité look at the community of Himalayan immigrants and exiles in Queens, New York.
“Nathan-Ism” profiles Nathan Hilu, a Jewish artist who, when he was a 19-year-old soldier, was assigned to guard Nazi war criminals at the Nuremberg trials.
The Electric Circus seems like the place to be in 1960s New York City, if you’re looking for nightclubs where hippies and Hell’s Angels mix with circus performers. “Psychedelicized: The Electric Circus Story” is their tale.
“Scooter LaForge: A Life of Art” profiles the subversive artist.
“Grasshopper Republic” follows trappers collecting grasshoppers – a delicacy – in Uganda.
“Megaheartz” is a meditation on friendship, love, drugs and mental illness facing four young people in Stockholm.
Puppeteers, led by a Syrian refugee, participate in performance art/activism across Europe to advertise the plight of millions of migrant and displaced children, in “The Walk,” from director Tamara Kotevska (the Oscar-nominated “Honeyland”).
“A Wolfpack Called Ernesto” is an immersive look into the lives of young gangsters in Mexico City.
In “Zinzindurrunkarratz,” filmmaker Oskar Alegría, accompanied by a donkey, Paolo, retraces the route through Spain’s Andia Mountains that his grandfather, a shepherd, had taken, accompanied by footage captured with his father’s Super-8 camera.
Game Face Cinema
Films dramatizing the world of sports and competition include “Candace Parker: Unapologetic,” chronicling the life of the WNBA superstar. The rise of women’s boxing is recounted in “Right to Fight.” “Jesszilla” profiles 15-year-old boxer Jesselyn Silva, and her father, as they together battle cancer.
The life and faith of NFL Hall of Famer and ordained minister Reggie White is examined in “The Minister of Defense,” which features never-before-seen footage shot just before his death in 2004.
In Afghanistan, a champion buzkashi rider becomes a target of the Taliban, in “Riders on the Storm.”
“Unsyncable” features seniors (ages up to 90+) pushing themselves to the limits in the competitive world of synchronized swimming.
In “Into the Shaolin,” a Serbian doctoral student does her field work at the Shaolin Monastery, where martial arts training is entwined with Buddhist teachings.
Also featured at the festival are some of the most acclaimed documentaries that have debuted at other festivals this past year, including “20 Days in Mariupol,” the gripping portrayal of Associated Press photojournalists covering the Russian invasion of Ukraine; “The Pigeon Tunnel,” Errol Morris’ engrossing conversation with spy novelist John le Carré; “Bad Press,” about attacks on a free press in the Muscogee Nation of Oklahoma; “Beyond Utopia,” about an underground network aiding defectors from North Korea; “Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Story,” the Sundance Festival prize-winning biography of the poet and social commentator; and “Little Richard: I Am Everything,” the joyous history of the rock ‘n’ roll legend and icon of both the Black and queer communities.