(Last week, a trio of HtN contributors provided a list of films they were excited to see at DOC NYC, 2021. HtN contributor and self-proclaimed “doc geek” Lauren Wissot has a great list as well, check it out! Like what you see here on Hammer to Nail? Why not give just $1.00 per month via Patreon to help keep us going?)
For a doc geek like me there’s no such thing as a DOC NYC shortlist. Indeed, my original screener request document contained close to 40 feature films – which to be fair is only a third of this year’s feature-length lineup (so I guess I can’t be accused of being all that greedy). That said, since there’s only 24 hours in a day I find it practical to prioritize according to my own idiosyncratic categories. Which basically breaks down into three (often overlapping) sections: Nonfiction Auteurs, Intriguing Character Studies, and Weird Shit. The following is just a baker’s dozen of my highly personal, admittedly incomplete, DOC NYC must-sees. (DOC NYC, “America’s largest documentary festival,” runs in person November 10-18 and online nationwide November 19-28.)
Nonfiction Auteurs (and some Weird Shit)
LISTENING TO KENNY G (NYC Premiere, Opening Night)
Dir: Penny Lane
Prod: Gabriel Sedgwick
Penny Lane (Our Nixon, Hall Satan?, Nuts!) and polarizing saxophonist Kenny G together at last. What’s not to look forward to?
THE MOLE (US Premiere)
Dir: Mads Brügger
Prod: Peter Engel, Bjarte Mørner Tveit
Danish provocateur Mads Brügger (The Red Chapel) and North Korea together again – this time with “a spy who uncovers the worst of North Korea’s secrets.” (What’s not to look forward to?)
CITIZEN ASHE (NYC Premiere, Centerpiece)
Dir: Sam Pollard
Dir/Prod: Rex Miller
Prod: Beth Hubbard, Anna Godas, Steven Cantor, Jamie Schutz, Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe
While this alternately could have made my Intriguing Character Studies category, since it’s Peabody/Emmy/Academy Award-nominee Sam Pollard at the helm, and tennis and Civil Rights legend Arthur Ashe in his spotlight, “auteur” seems more than applicable.
COW (NYC Premiere)
Dir: Andrea Arnold
Prod: Kat Mansoor
If anyone can make rural farm life in England revelatory it’s Andrea Arnold. Another Cannes Film Festival hit from the British auteur – this time starring a bovine named Luna.
THE ENERGY WAR: “FILIBUSTER” (New Restoration)
Dir: Chris Hegedus, D. A. Pennebaker, Pat Powell
Prod: Pat Powell, Nathalie Seaver
“Newly restored,” plus Pennebaker and Hegedus, plus docu-series about a DC legislative battle, equals a perennial no-brainer.
LIFE OF CRIME 1984-2020 (NYC Premiere)
Dir: Jon Alpert
Prod: Tami Alpert, Duncan Cameron, Maurice Crenshaw, Maryann DeLeo
Since nonfiction vet Alpert spent a whopping 36 years following three street criminals in Newark, New Jersey, I can certainly spend 121 minutes watching their tightly edited journey.
Intriguing Character Studies (and one Weird Shit)
KURT VONNEGUT: UNSTUCK IN TIME (World Premiere)
Dir/Prod: Robert B. Weide
Dir: Don Argott
Robert B. Weide (principal director and EP of Curb Your Enthusiasm for half a decade) teams up with Don Argott (who I’ve been following since being rocked by 2011’s Last Days Here, which follows the heroin-addicted lead singer of doom metal band Pentagram) to tackle the ridiculously prolific Kurt Vonnegut. Decades in the making, and I’m guessing, timeless.
ADRIENNE (World Premiere)
Dir/Prod: Andy Ostroy
I vividly recall the arthouse star Adrienne Shelly’s bizarre murder in her West Village apartment back in 2006 sending shockwaves throughout NYC – a tragedy that haunts to this very day. Tagging along as the beloved actress-filmmaker-screenwriter’s husband digs for some solid answers sounds exactly like the closure that indie film also needs.
THE ROSSELLINIS (US Premiere)
Dir: Alessandro Rossellini
Prod: Raffaele Brunetti, Maria Teresa Tringali, Uldis Cekulis
Legendary director Roberto Rossellini as seen through the eyes of his filmmaker grandson Alessandro Rossellini seems like the perfect recipe for one neorealistic family drama.
MR. SATURDAY NIGHT (World Premiere)
Dir/Prod: John Maggio
Prod: Caroline Cannon, Seth Bomse
“The untold story of Robert Stigwood, the impresario behind Saturday Night Fever.” The UK-residing Australian managed both Cream and the Bee Gees, dabbled in theater with Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar, and ultimately maneuvered his way into movies with Grease and Saturday Night Fever. That’s some big disco balls.
THE SLOW HUSTLE (NYC Premiere)
Dir: Sonja Sohn
Prod: Mahrya Macintire
I’m a sucker for anything David Simon-adjacent. So if actress/activist/filmmaker Sonja Sohn (of The Wire and Baltimore Rising) wants to look into the real life, questionable death (murder? suicide? a BPD-ordered hit?) of Baltimore detective Sean Suiter, I’m all eyes.
HOLD YOUR FIRE (US Premiere)
Dir: Stefan Forbes
Prod: Tia Wou, Fab Five Freddy, Amir Soltani
And since one can never get enough cops and robbers – and Fab Five Freddy, who’s a producer on this one (alongside consulting producer Sam Pollard) – there’s the revisitation of a 1973 robbery (in pre-hipster Williamsburg) at a sporting goods store that resulted in the “longest hostage siege in NYPD history.” Paired with Stanley Nelson and Traci A. Curry’s Attica – a revisitation of the prison uprising that resulted in “the deadliest violence Americans had inflicted on each other in a single day since the Civil War,” and is likewise playing the fest – this might just be DOC NYC’s perfect, fuck-up-by-the-powers-that-be double feature.
ALIEN ON STAGE (NYC Premiere)
Dir/Prod: Danielle Kummer, Lucy Harvey
Likely worth the screen time even if it were simply the story of bringing Ridley Scott’s Alien to the West End. But since the folks doing the adaptation are a bunch of British bus drivers from Dorset, England I, for one, am all in.
– Lauren Wissot