2021 DOC NYC: What to expect at this year’s event

October 19, 2021

by Carla Hay

Celebrating its 12th edition in 2021, the annual DOC NYC, which is headquartered in New York City, is one of the world’s leading documentary festivals, with a slate of more than 200 films (of which more than 100 are feature-length films) from a diverse array of topics. In 2021, DOC NYC takes place from November 10 to November 28, and continues the festival’s tradition of offering an outstanding variety of feature films and short films, with several of the movies focusing on under-represented people and marginalized communities.

After being a virtual-only event in 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, DOC NYC is now a hybrid event in 2021. DOC NYC is returning to in-person screenings at IFC Center, SVA Theatre and Cinépolis Chelsea. The in-person screenings will take place from November 10 to November 18. In accordance with New York City’s COVID-19 policies, all in-person festival attendees ages 12 and older must present proof of being fully vaccinated and a photo ID, in order to be admitted into the venue. People under the age of 12 who aren’t old enough to be vaccinated must wear masks, which are required for everyone inside the festival venues at all times, except when eating and drinking. All of the festival’s movies will be available to view online to the general public from November 19 to November 28. Tickets are available on the official DOC NYC website.

In 2021, DOC NYC is debuting three new competitive categories for DOC NYC awards: “a U.S. Competition for new American non-fiction films; an International Competition for work from around the globe; and the Kaleidoscope Competition for new essayistic and formally adventurous documentaries,” according to a DOC NYC press release. These new competitive categories join DOC NYC’s awards program that includes Metropolis Competition (for feature-length films with a New York City focus); Viewfinders Competition (for feature-length films with a disintinctively unique directorial vision); Audience Award (voted for by DOC NYC attendees); and Shorts Competition for short films. All competitive awards are voted for by appointed juries, except for the Audience Award.

DOC NYC’s annual Short List spotlights movies (features and shorts) that are considered top contenders to get Oscar nominations. The movies on the 2021 Short List are to be announced.* The Short List: Features jury gives awards in the categories of Director, Producer, Editor and Cinematographer. The Short List: Shorts jury gives a Director Award.

*October 26, 2021 UPDATE: This year’s Short List feature films are “Ascension,” “Attica,” “Becoming Cousteau,” “Bring Your Own Brigade,” “Faya Dayi,” “Flee,” “Homeroom,” “In the Same Breath,” “Introducing, Selma Blair,” “Julia,” “Procession,” “The Rescue,” “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain,” “Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised” and “The Velvet Underground.” This year’s Short List short films are “Audible,” “The Bree Wayy: Promise Witness Remembrance,” “A Broken House,” “Camp Confidential: America’s Secret Nazis,” “Coded: The Hidden Love of J.C. Leyendecker,” “Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma,” “Eagles (Águilas),” “Joe Buffalo,” “Lynching Postcards: Token of a Great Day,” “Nothing to Declare,” “The Queen of Basketball,” “A Ship from Guantánamo,” “Snowy,” “They Won’t Call It Murder” and “What You’ll Remember.”

“Anonymous Sister”

DOC NYC’s selections for the festival’s inaugural U.S. Competition are “Anonymous Sister,” “Be Our Guest,” “Boycott,” “Exposure,” “Grandpa Was an Emperor,” “Newtok,” “Objects,” “Once Upon a Time in Uganda,” “Refuge,” “The Slow Hustle,” “A Tree of Life” and “The United States vs. Reality Winner.”

The movies in the International Competition are “After the Rain,” “Be My Voice,” “The Bubble,” “Comala,” “Come Back Anytime,” “The Devil’s Drivers,” “[email protected] This Job,” “The Forgotten Ones,” “Go Through the Dark,” “The Mole,” “On the Other Side” and “Young Plato.”

The selections for the Kaledeiscope Competition are “Cow,” “Edna,” “Invisible Demons,” “The Man Who Paints Water Drops,” “Nothing But the Sun,” “Nude at Heart” and “Three Minutes: A Lengthening.”

“Young Plato”

DOC NYC, which was co-founded by Thom Powers and Raphaela Neihausen, also has special events in addition to screenings. DOC NYC Visionaries Tribute returns as an in-person invitation-only event, set to take place at Gotham Hall, on November 10, 2021. The honorees for the 2021 DOC NYC Visionaries Tribute are cinematographer Joan Churchill and filmmaker Raoul Peck, who will each receive the Lifetime Achievement Award; filmmaker Peter Nicks, who will get the Robert and Anne Drew Award; and Ford Foundation’s JustFilms senior program officer Chi-hui Yang, recipient of the Leading Light Award.

For the third year in a row, the festival is presenting DOC NYC’s Winner’s Circle collection, which spotlights movies that have won awards at other film festivals, but might be underrated or overlooked for Oscar nominations. Winner’s Circle documentaries this year are “All Light, Everywhere,” “Children of the Enemy,” “A Cop Movie,” “Mr. Bachmann and His Class,” “A Night of Knowing Nothing,” “Option Zero” and “Writing With Fire.”

Even though most of the movies at DOC NYC have had their world premieres elsewhere, DOC NYC has several world premieres of its own. Here are the feature films that will have their world premieres at DOC NYC. A complete program can be found here.


All descriptions are courtesy of DOC NYC.

“14 Peaks: Nothing Is Impossible” 
Directed by Torquil Jones

In 2019, Nepalese mountain climber Nirmal “Nims” Purja set out to do the unthinkable by climbing the world’s 14 highest summits in less than seven months.

Nirmal “Nims” Purja in “14 Peaks: Nothing Is Impossible” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

Directed by Andy Ostroy

The death of acclaimed actress/filmmaker/screenwriter Adrienne Shelly sends her husband on a search for answers.

Anonymous Sister” 
Directed by Jamie Boyle

Filmmaker Jamie Boyle turns the camera on her own family when her mother and sister become dependent on opioids.

“Be Our Guest” 
Directed by Diane Tsai

A family in a small New Hampshire town learns to balance their needs with their unconventional home life when they open their doors to those recovering from addiction.

Directed by Julia Bacha

Award-winning filmmaker Julia Bacha looks at the recent explosion of laws designed to penalize Americans who push boycotts against Israel.


“The Business of Birth Control” 
Directed by Abby Epstein

Filmmaker Abby Epstein and executive producer Ricki Lake re-team after “The Business of Being Born” to explore the controversial secret history of the birth control pill.

“The Cannons” 
Directed by Steven Hoffner and AJ Messier

Legendary youth hockey coach Neal Henderson, an institution in the Washington, D.C., community, shepherds a new group of teens toward manhood through the game he loves.

“Dean Martin: King of Cool” 
Directed by Tom Donohue

This in-depth biography explores Dean Martin’s varied career, including his complicated relationships with Jerry Lewis, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and others.

“DMX: Don’t Try to Understand” 
Directed by Christopher Frierson

An intimate look at Earl “DMX” Simmons’ final year, highlighting the complex man, father and musician behind the raucous rapper persona.

DMX in “DMX: Don’t Try to Understand” (Photo courtesy of HBO)

“Exposing Muybridge” 
Directed by Marc Shaffer

A complex look into the compelling life and times of the father of cinema: Eadweard Muybridge.

“Go Through the Dark” 
Directed by Yunhong Pu

A blind boy in China being raised by a struggling single father displays great skill at the ancient board game Go.

Directed by Alex Contell and Tommaso Sacconi

Featuring professional and amateur photographers, film lab technicians, community organizations, ICP educators, and even Kodak and Lomography representatives, “Grain” explores the stories of those committed to using real, physical film in the digital era.

“Grandpa Was an Emperor” 
Directed by Constance Marks

Yeshi, great granddaughter of famed Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, investigates what happened to her beloved father after the 1974 coup that landed most of her family in prison.

Directed by Tommy Haynes

Two competing high school hockey programs fight for the pride of their communities and a coveted state championship.


Directed by Sandra Alvarez

Filmmaker Sandra Alvarez follows patients and activists as they band together to fight a multi-billion dollar nonprofit hospital system that limits vital care for vulnerable patients.

“The Invisible Shore” 
Directed by Zhao Qi

The audacious tale of Guo Chuan, the first Chinese man to embark on a solo, non-stop circumnavigation of the world—and went missing.

“The Job of Songs” 
Directed by Lila Schmitz

Next to the breathtaking cliffs of an Irish coastal village, a tight-knit group of musicians finds joy and community through traditional Irish folk songs.

“Kevin Garnett: Anything Is Possible” 
Directed by Daniel B. Levin and Eric W. Newman

Over the course of a Hall of Fame NBA career, Kevin Garnett transformed from a brash kid fresh off the prep circuit into a grizzled veteran lauded for his trademark passion for the game.

“Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time” 
Directed by Don Argott

Decades in the making, this biography of Kurt Vonnegut covers his years as a struggling writer to his eventual superstardom. The film makes its world premiere on what would have been his 99th birthday on November 1.

“Let Me Be Me” 
Directed by Dan Crane and Katie Taber

Kyle Westphal grows up as an isolated autistic boy whose life is transformed by his fascination with fabric, leading him to become a fashion designer.

“McCurry: The Pursuit of Colour”
Directed by Denis Delestrac

Unravel the world through Steve McCurry’s eyes and discover what these journeys can teach us about our place in the universe.

Directed by Emily Kuester and Brad Lichtenstein

Two Milwaukee area high schools—one black and urban, the other white and suburban—combine their football programs, and tensions rise as the disparities between them become increasingly apparent over the course of the season.

“Mr. Saturday Night” 
Directed by John Maggio

The untold story of Robert Stigwood, the impresario behind “Saturday Night Fever” and its record-breaking disco soundtrack.

Robert Stigwood and John Travolta in “Mr. Satuday Night” (Photo by Brad Elterman/BuzzFoto/FilmMagic, courtesy of HBO)

Directed by Andrew Burton and Michael Kirby Smith

As the effects of climate change become ever more apparent throughout the world, the Yup’ik people and their lands on the western outskirts of Alaska face a much more imminent threat.

Directed by Vincent Liota

An NPR correspondent, a literary author and a graphic designer let us in on the secret life of the special objects they keep as a way to preserve memories, conjure experiences and find meaning in their lives.

Directed by Hugo Perez

Omara Portuondo, internationally beloved grande dame of Cuban music best known from the Buena Vista Social Club, continues to delight audiences on her final world tour.

Directed by Erin Berhardt and Din Blankenship

In a small, uncommonly diverse town in Georgia, a successful Kurdish doctor and a Muslim-hating white supremacist form an unlikely and healing friendship.


“A Tree of Life” 
Directed by Trish Adlesic

Survivors of the deadly white supremacist attack at a Pittsburgh Synagogue in 2018 recount their harrowing experience.

“Young Plato” 
Directed by Neasa Ní Chianáin and Declan McGrath

A visionary headmaster at a Catholic primary school in Belfast teaches ancient Greek wisdom as an antidote for pessimism, violence and historical despair.

“Yung Punx: A Punk Parable” 
Directed by Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller and Jeremy Newberger

The Color Killers, a hard-rocking punk group of tweens, must overcome infighting and jealousies to ace their biggest live-performance ever.

“Yung Punx: A Punk Parable”
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