2019 DOC NYC movie review: ‘He Dreams of Giants’

November 18, 2019

by Carla Hay

Terry Gilliam and directors Louis Pepe and Keith Fulton on the set of “He Dreams of Giants” (Photo by Jeremy Royce)

“He Dreams of Giants”

Directed by Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe

World premiere at DOC NYC in New York City on November 10, 2019.

For nearly 30 years, director Terry Gilliam tried to get a movie made based on the novel “Don Quixote,” but he experienced the kind of bad luck and setbacks that you might see in a movie. This documentary shows how difficult the journey was for Gilliam to make the adventure comedy “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote,” which had its world premiere at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, and finally had a U.S. release through Fathom Events in April 2019, in a select number of theaters for one night only. The movie is now available on home video, and can be streamed for free on Crackle. “He Dreams of Giants” directors Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe previously did another documentary—2002’s “Lost in La Mancha”—that covered the same topic, so “He Dreams of Giants” is really an update of that documentary.

Gilliam’s production problems for “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” included cast members (such as Johnny Depp, Vanessa Paradis, Ewan McGregor, John Hurt and Gilliam’s former “Monty Python” castmate Michael Palin) who dropped out of the film and moved on to other projects. (“He Dreams of Giants” shows early footage of Depp filming the movie in 2000.) The movie was also plagued by bad weather and other mishaps. And the biggest obstacle of all was the financing, which Gilliam lost several times and struggled to keep, even when the movie began filming. The documentary shows that even while making the movie during this final phase, Gilliam and other filmmakers on the project (including his producer daughter, Amy Gilliam) were bracing themselves for something to go wrong.

Adam Driver and Jonathan Pryce were the actors who ended up being the two main stars of “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.” Driver played an ad executive who goes back and revisits a student film he made called “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote,” in which he had cast an actor (played by Pryce) as Don Quixote. The documentary shows Driver, Pryce and other cast members getting acquainted over table reads of the script. The documentary also has plenty of scenes of Gilliam directing the film and sometimes getting frustrated when things don’t go as planned. He acknowledges that having a quick temper is one of his flaws. For all the years that it took to get the film made, “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” ended up being filmed in just 55 days.

Even though the cast changed over the years, some members of the crew stayed with the film during its entire turbulent journey, including costume designer Lena Mossum, cinematographer Nicola Pecorini and a few of the actors playing supporting roles as giants. The documentary shows Gilliam getting teary-eyed and emotional when Mossum shows how she kept all the original costumes preserved and intact for decades, and he’s elated when he finds out that Pryce fits into the Don Quixote costume. Early on in the documentary, Gilliam gives credit to the illustrations of Gustave Doré, who illustrated the 1868 edition of the “Don Quixote” book, as an inspiration for how he wanted his movie to look.

Much like a book, “He Dreams of Giants” is divided into chapters, with titles such as “Momentum,” “I Can’t Sleep,” “The Madness” and “The Will to Survive.” There’s some archival footage of Gilliam discussing the movie over the years in TV interviews. And there’s new, somewhat pretentious-looking footage of Gilliam looking thoughtful or a pacing around in completely white backdrop, as if to show he’s a “serious artist,” alone in his thoughts.

Even with all the artistic ambitions of “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote,” Gilliam is smart enough to know that the movie has limitations in box-office appeal, and he doesn’t have the clout he used to have in the ’80s, because his last several movies have all been flops. “The marketplace has no faith in this movie,” he says with a tinge of sadness. “I’m no longer an A-list director.” As for what people can learn from all the ups and downs he went through to get the movie made, Gilliam sums it up best when he says, “Life is hard. The idea that it should be fun—who the fuck invented that story?”

2019 DOC NYC movie review: ‘Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over’

November 18, 2019

by Carla Hay

Lydia Lunch
Lydia Lunch in “Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over”

“Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over”

Directed by Beth B

World premiere at DOC NYC in New York City on November 9, 2019.

Lydia Lunch has been serving up her unique brand of angry, sarcastic and unapologetic feminism ever since she was teenager who escaped from her abusive home in Rochester, New York, and fully immersed herself in New York City’s punk scene in the late 1970s. This in-your-face documentary, which was made with Lunch’s participation, shows how she’s been able to survive on her wits and attitude, while being an underrated influence on her peers and subsequent generations of punk-influenced music artists. The riot grrrl movement that became popular in the 1990s owes a lot to the road that Lunch paved two decades earlier, at a time when it was still pretty rare for women to be lead singers of punk bands.

Back in the 1970s, Patti Smith and Blondie’s Debbie Harry represented what can happen when female punk singers have mainstream pop hits. Lunch (whose birth name is Lydia Koch) wasn’t interested in appealing to the masses. She wanted to stay underground and writhe around in the creative and sometimes twisted alleys of her pain. Throughout the documentary, Lunch repeatedly talks about her anger; how she uses her sexuality to channel that anger; and how she has a sadistic side that’s often had fantasies about murdering people. What’s the reason for all this rage? It might not be a surprise to people who’ve listened to Lunch’s song lyrics and spoken-word art over the years, but in the movie, she candidly talks about being sexually abused by her father when she was a child. (She describes her father as a “petty criminal and pretty insane.”)

Edgy sexuality and sexual abuse are ingrained in Lunch’s DNA, she says, but it’s impossible to know how she would be different if she weren’t a survivor of abuse. It’s such a big part of her identity that director Beth B chose to start off the documentary with a close-up scene of Lunch telling a bizarre story about how, at the age of 13, a stranger (whom she describes as looking like “Robert Blake with a cheese-grater face”) lured her into his car to give her a ride. He then drove to a remote area, and forced her out of the car at gunpoint, and ordered her to lick the car’s tires. When telling the story, Lunch said that when that incident happened to her, she knew: “It’s not about sex. It was about power.”

It’s clear that Lunch’s art is an expression of power. And, just like in her love life (she’s never been married and has no kids), she’s not the “settling down” type when it comes to bands, because she’s never stayed in just one band for most of her career. The movie includes early footage of Lunch singing and playing guitar in Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, the first band that got her recognition in the New York club scene. The bands Suicide and Mars were two of her biggest influences in becoming a punk-rock singer/musician, she says.

The documentary also has footage of her performing with other bands she’s had over the years, including the surf-punk group 8-Eyed Spy, the psychedelic rock group 1313 (which Lunch said was partly inspired by serial killer Richard Ramirez), Shotgun Wedding and Retrovirus, as well as footage of Lunch performing as a solo artist. Nicolas Jaar, a DJ/musician who’s obviously a star-struck fan of Lunch’s, talks about how he was able to introduce Lunch to a whole new audience of electronica fans by playing Lunch’s 1990 “Conspiracy of Women” spoken-word album over ambient tracks.

Having grown up around the ’60s counterculture movement, Lunch was part of the generation that rebelled against hippie culture. “We felt the ’60s failed us, our parents failed us, our country failed us,” she snarls. Punk appealed to her because, as she says in the movie: “I wanted to make the angriest, most precise, bitter music that was like a caterwaul, a scream from the walls. It was me exorcising my anger.” She later says in the movie that what makes her different from most other trauma survivors is that she felt homicidal, not suicidal: “I never turned the knife inward. I turned the knife outward.”

And Lunch says she wasn’t going to play nice. She bluntly says in the movie that she became promiscuous “in order to wash the taste of my father off my hands.” But beyond being promiscuous, Lunch also talks about the extreme aggression that was part of her sexuality, where she harassed and used abusive tactics with her lovers. The documentary mentions “Right Side of My Brain,” the 1985 explicitly erotic art film starring Lunch as a woman whose sexuality involves violence, power, and control. “Right Side of My Brain” director Richard Kern and co-star JG Thirlwell are interviewed in the documentary. Lunch called “Right Side of My Brain” an homage to director Roman Polanski’s 1965 psychological horror film “Repulsion.”

Jim Sclavunos, a former drummer of Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, says in the documentary that Lunch wouldn’t let him in the band unless he had sex with her. She was even more intrigued when she found out he was a virgin, and he described what happened on the date where she took his virginity. According to Sclavunos (who’s also worked with Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds), she ordered him to bring “supplies” to the date: whipped cream, Coca-Cola and chewing gum. He nervously thought it would be a kinky encounter, but it turns out she that the food and drink items he brought were her dinner. Sclavunos adds with a laugh by saying that “there was no kinkiness whatsoever” and that Lunch “was very gentle and understanding with the act of seduction” and “successfully accomplished the deflowering without any trauma.”

In this #MeToo era, what Lunch did would be considered sexual harassment, but based on how Sclavunos told the story, the encounter was ultimately consensual, and he was okay with what happened. The documentary doesn’t take sides either way, and allows people to tell their Lydia Lunch stories from their perspectives.

And the anecdotes continue about Lydia Lunch being mad, bad and sometimes dangerous to know.  Bass player Tim Dahl, a longtime collaborator with Lunch, told a more disturbing story of Lunch humiliating a musician whom she had a brief fling with from another band who was an opening act on one of their tours. Lunch’s S&M ways were too much for the unlucky guy. With tears in his eyes, Dahl talked about witnessing Lunch physically abuse and psychologically torture the man, and ordering him around like a slave, until the man couldn’t take it anymore and pleaded her to stop because he was being traumatized. Dahl said that even though Lunch clearly has a taste for sadism, she also showed a tender side by stopping the abuse she was inflicting on her lover and hugging him.

Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore tells a hilarious story (illustrated by animation in the documentary) about being shocked to see Lunch squat down and urinate in an abandoned building when they first started hanging out and barely knew each other. Moore describes Teenage Jesus and the Jerks’ first single “Orphans” as both “a masterpiece” and “the worst-sounding thing I ever heard on record.” He also said the band sounded like “cats howling before they’re killed.”

L7 lead singer Donita Sparks remembers going on a Coney Island roller-coaster ride with Lunch, whom she says was probably on acid, and feeling both terrified and elated by the experience. Singer/filmmaker Kembra Pfahler describes the No Wave movement that Lunch helped pioneer as “a contrarian gesture against classic rock.” Lunch herself describes No Wave as “very user-unfriendly, very discordant, and based on personal insanity.”

Although director Beth B thankfully doesn’t have pretentious music journalists as talking heads in the documentary, the film could have used a better variety of perspectives, other than those who are clearly admirers of Lunch. She’s obviously a divisive personality, so why not interview people who were part of the same punk scene but aren’t fans of her? Lunch herself confirms that she has a “love her or hate her” persona, when she says of former collaborator Nick Cave: “We couldn’t agree on anything,” compared to her “Shotgun Wedding” albums collaborator Rowland S. Howard: “We agreed on everything.”

Has Lunch mellowed with age? No. As the documentary shows, she won’t hesitate to go off on an obscenity filled-rant against Hillary Clinton or anyone else she sees as a sellout or a hack. She hates how today’s female artists don’t seem to be as fearless as they used to be. “We used to be warriors. How we devolved from Medusa to Madonna … I don’t get it.”

And she’s not one of those old-school punks from New York who’ll talk about how much she loves the city, because she’ll be the first to tell you that she hates New York City now. She moved out of New York back in the early 1990s, she says, because she knew that the city was headed toward more gentrification and corporate takeovers that kill off affordable housing and small, independent businesses.

Lunch continues to tour and make music, and she has a vast catalogue of albums as testament to her longevity. As drummer Bob Bert (who’s played in Sonic Youth and Retrovirus) says what is very evident in this documentary: “Lydia’s greatest work of art is herself.”

2019 DOC NYC movie review: ‘Maurice Hines: Bring Them Back’

November 18, 2019

by Carla Hay

Maurice Hines in “Maurice Hines: Bring Them Back” (Photo by John Carluccio)

“Maurice Hines: Bring Them Back”

Directed by John Carluccio

World premiere at DOC NYC in New York City on November 10, 2019.

In the opening scene of “Maurice Hines: Bring Them Back,” Tony-nominated entertainer Maurice Hines Jr. (who is in his 70s) is shown tap dancing with the kind of talent that most people never have in their lifetimes. That opening scene in this fascinating and comprehensive biographical film is a nod to Hines’ dancing roots, because he got his start in showbiz as a tap dancer at the tender age of 5. Throughout his childhood and early adulthood, Hines’ dancing partner was his younger brother Gregory. The two brothers also performed with their musician/singer father, Maurice Hines Sr., as part of the trio Hines, Hines and Dad.

But just like a lot of siblings, Maurice and Gregory (who died of cancer in 2003) often didn’t see eye to eye, and the documentary shows that the brothers’ relationship is the source of Maurice’s biggest lifelong emotional joy and pain. Their on-again, off-again feuding is discussed, but thankfully not exploited in the movie, which shows that Maurice has led a full and interesting life that includes being openly gay from as early as he can remember.

As Maurice’s friend Debbie Allen says in the film: “Maurice is one of the most energetic, alive people I’ve ever known.” And the movie has a spectacular range of archival footage, from his early years as a performer to his stints on Broadway or on tour for such productions as “Eubie!,” “Sophisticated Ladies,” “Uptown… It’s Hot!” There’s also new footage of Maurice dancing up a storm with dancer brothers Leo and John Manzari, who are his protégés and frequent collaborators. Viewers also get to see how much he loves to mentor young dancers, as he’s shown as a guest instructor at the Debbie Allen Dance Academy in Los Angeles, as well as at the University of Hartford in Connecticut.

One of the surprising revelations in the movie is that Maurice’s family always accepted him as gay. Living his life so openly as a gay man was rare for his Silent Generation, just as it was rare for out LGBTQ people to be completely welcomed by their families, when homophobia was enforced by society at large. In the documentary, Hines remembers his mother telling him that she always knew he was gay before he told her, and he’d tell his father about the guys he was dating when his father asked about his love life. His straight brother Gregory, who used to go to gay bars with Maurice, had no hangups about dancing with gay men at the clubs.

And Maurice isn’t shy about discussing his favorite type of men: “I like football players the best,” he says. “If they’ve got big calves, we’re going to talk.” He also mentions that he used to date a lot of football players (but he doesn’t name names), and here’s how he described the relationships: “They just fell in love with me.”

The documentary also shows him playfully flirting with a young, stocky black cameraman from the film crew, after Maurice realizes that the cameraman overheard his microphoned comment about how he thinks the guy is sexy. “I’m 75, baby,” he laughed while sizing up the cameraman. “I say exactly what I need.”

Among the other people interviewed in the movie are Gregory’s children Daria and Zach; Gregory’s first ex-wife, Patricia Panella, who’s remained a close friend of Maurice’s; the Manzari Brothers; Ballet Tap USA founder Mercedes Ellinston; and Maurice’s friends Chita Rivera and Mel Johnson Jr., whose decades-long friendship with Maurice began when they when they were in the original 1978 Broadway cast of “Eubie.” Maurice also acknowledges some of his biggest influences, including his mentor Henry LeTang and VOP dance creator Frank Hatchett.

The documentary also covers how Maurice was affected when Gregory split off from him in 1972 to establish a separate career. Gregory still performed in musical theater, but he went on to become a star of films and TV shows, while Maurice stayed primarily in theater, where he sometimes replaced Gregory in touring productions of Broadway shows that previously starred Gregory. Maurice made his film debut in director Francis Ford Coppola’s 1984 drama “The Cotton Club,” in which he and Gregory played estranged, tap-dancing brothers who eventually reconcile. (The movie was also the last time that the two brothers danced together in public.)

The brothers’ relationship in “The Cotton Club” was very much a case of art imitating life. Although there was a period of about 10 years when Gregory and Maurice didn’t speak to each other (even when they lived just a few blocks from each other), they eventually reunited by the late 1990s, and remained close until Gregory’s untimely death in 2003. Maurice says in the movie (and his family and friends confirm) that he will never tell anyone why he and Gregory stopped talking to each other during their long estrangement. One of the most touching parts of the documentary is when Maurice accompanies Coppola to a 2017 Telluride Film Festival restoration/revival screening of “The Cotton Club,” and Maurice gets emotional during a post-screening Q&A when talking about Gregory.

Maurice also shows his tender side when it comes to his daughter, Cheryl Davis, whom he adopted with Silas Davis, who was Maurice’s partner from 1979 to 1996. (It’s another example of how Maurice was ahead of his time, because he adopted when gay adoptions weren’t allowed in most states.) Cheryl is in the movie, and Silas is briefly heard in in the film, in a voiceover interview discussing how they raised her.

“Maurice Hines: Bring Them Back” director John Carluccio, who is also the film’s editor and cinematographer, weaves together a fascinating story by not only respectfully telling Maurice’s life story but also not forgetting to present an overall historical context of the groundbreaking things that Maurice did as an openly gay black man in the entertainment industry. Many of his accomplishments were during a time when being an openly gay black man put him at high risk of being fired, assaulted, or worse.

The movie is also an unflinching look at how Maurice is dealing with aging. He shows some reclusive tendencies as a senior citizen who lives alone, and he openly discusses how much it bothers him to know that he’s losing his short-term memory. But no matter what age Maurice is, his charisma and zest for life are firmly intact, and it’s a joy to watch him in this movie. Simply put, “Maurice Hines: Bring Them Back” isn’t just a documentary about an underrated artist who at times was overshadowed by his more famous younger brother. The movie also shows how Maurice is a person of substance in his own right, and it’s an inspirational look at how someone can live life with passion and authenticity, while uplifting other people.

2019 DOC NYC movie review: ‘Stevenson Lost & Found’

November 18, 2019

by Carla Hay

James Stevenson
James Stevenson in “Stevenson Lost & Found” (Photo courtesy of Salient Films)

“Stevenson Lost & Found”

Directed by Sally Jean Williams

World premiere at DOC NYC in New York City on November 10, 2019.

If you’ve ever wondered why so many people despise or distrust big-city “liberal” media types for being “hypocrites” and “out of touch,” then this documentary about illustrator/author James Stevenson (best known for his illustrations for The New Yorker and The New York Times) is a perfect microcosm to show why there’s so much animosity toward mainstream corporate media. In an era where “liberal” media outlets, now more than ever before, are in the business of exposing sexism and racism, there are large segments of the “liberal” media who ignore these problems in their own companies, and don’t question that the people they choose to elevate to the top aren’t exactly a diverse group.

Things are slowly changing, but Stevenson represents the “old establishment” of media that takes for granted that being a white male automatically comes with privileges that shut out other people who don’t fit into that demographic. It’s the type of people who live or work in one of the most racially diverse cities in the world, and yet they spend decades or an entire life not having any close friends outside of their own race. They live in such a bubble that while they spend a lot of time in their media jobs pointing fingers at all the horrible racists and sexists in the world, they fail to see that they’re not part of the solution, and they might be part of the problem.

That’s not to say that Stevenson was a racist, but it’s very telling that the only people interviewed in this documentary are white. The people in his inner circle—including his closest colleagues at The New Yorker, The New York Times and Greenwillow Books—are all a homogenous group of New York media types who clearly think of themselves as elite intellectuals. It’s very obvious that in his long life and career (he remained employed by The New York Times until his death in February 2017 at the age of 87), Stevenson chose to be close to only a certain type of people, which is a shame because he was in a position that allowed him access to a much broader view of New York and the world. He wasn’t a rank-and-file member of the media. He had prestigious media outlets as platforms that most media people don’t have, and his job at these media outlets was to make social commentary in his work, albeit through comedic illustrations.

Stevenson is interviewed for this documentary, which gives you an idea of how long it’s taken for this movie to finally get a public screening through its world premiere at DOC NYC 2019. A lot has changed in the media landscape since Stevenson died. The New York Times and The New Yorker have been at the forefront of breaking #MeToo stories. Many more women in all walks of life, including the media, are starting to stand up for their rights and no longer tolerate sexism and other forms of bigotry.

It shouldn’t take just the #MeToo movement to point out sexism, and yet this documentary (whose title is inspired by Stevenson’s  work in the “Lost and Found New York” column in The New York Times) fails to address the fact that Stevenson’s illustrious career was the direct result of ingrained sexism in the media that gave and (in some cases) still gives the best opportunities to men. If you don’t believe it, think about how rare it is for a woman to become an illustrator at prominent newspapers and magazines. It’s not because there aren’t talented and qualified women who can do this type of job. Even if they apply for this job, chances are they won’t get hired for it.

Stevenson, who was educated at Yale University, talks about starting his media career as an office boy for The New Yorker, a magazine that Stevenson describes as having “snob appeal.” He then got promoted to being a joke writer. When he discovered that he had a knack for illustrating (he had no formal training), he became a combination of a joke writer and illustrator. It was basically a career path that owed a lot to luck, talent and connections, without any of the struggles that a woman or person of color would have experienced. We’ll never know if Stevenson ever really understood how opportunities could have been handed to him because of his race and gender, because he was obviously not asked to reflect on it in this film.

He also doesn’t talk about mentoring anyone, which is a little strange, because Stevenson wrote several children’s books, some of which are mentioned and shown in the movie. And yet there’s no sense that he was interested in helping young people achieve their dreams through mentorship or charity work. This documentary is so fawning toward Stevenson, that if he had done any significant charity work, it would have or should have been mentioned.

His first wife, Jane, was also an artist, but like most women of that era, she sacrificed having a career to raise a family. She and James had nine kids together, and some of their children are interviewed in this movie. Having this large family put James under such an enormous financial burden that his kids say that he often had “explosive anger” toward them. Stevenson acknowledges this flaw too, and he seems remorseful that he wasn’t a better father. But nowhere does the film address why he and Jane decided to have so many kids, knowing they would have a hard time affording such a large family.

And while Stevenson talks a great deal about all the pressure he was under to be the family’s breadwinner, nowhere does he acknowledge if Jane (a fellow artist) had any career ambitions outside of raising a family, or if he was ever supportive of her of having a career, even if it was to help pay their bills. He clearly had the connections to help her get work as an artist, but all he says in the movie is that she channeled her creativity into being a nurturing mother. You get the feeling that the filmmakers never asked him these questions. And if they did, they should have put it in the movie.

Jane and James split up around 1980, and their divorce had long-lasting effects on the family. He eventually remarried (to Josephine “Josie” Merck, in 1993), and stayed in his second marriage until his death. Merck is also interviewed in the movie, but she doesn’t offer much insight, other than having the role as Stevenson’s adoring and doting wife who helped him recover from alcoholism.

“Stevenson Lost & Found” is very much a “bubble” biography that falls into the same trap that many authorized documentaries tend fall into when they’re about someone who has a certain level of fame: The filmmakers are so concerned about wanting the celebrity to like the film that they don’t ask hard questions or show how the celebrity’s life fits into a larger cultural context. It’s very easy to do a documentary as a star-struck fan. It’s much harder to be a more objective filmmaker and shine a light on some unflattering truths. A biography isn’t an “intimate portrait” if you just interview a small group of people in the subject’s inner circle, because that narrow view often makes the biography very superficial indeed.

Yes, Stevenson talks about his alcoholism in this movie, but nowhere do we hear how having this disease affected his job. Did he show up to work drunk? Was he tardy or absent because of his alcoholism? And if so, did people make excuses for him because of his clout? Did his work colleagues or supervisors know about his drinking problem and try to help him get treatment? These are all questions that are not asked in the movie.

Yes, Stevenson opens up about problems in his family (alcoholism, mental illness, divorce and possible verbal abuse of his children), but they’re framed in that bubble of not acknowledging how lucky he was that none of these problems ruined his career. Stevenson was no doubt part of a “good ol’ boy network” that protects its own and will condemn other people for making the same mistakes or having the same flaws and problems. Because the documentary doesn’t ask any real, probing questions and lets Stevenson control the narrative, it’s clear that director Sally Jean Williams wants this documentary to be a love letter to Stevenson instead of a truly insightful biography.

And although Stevenson’s work was based in humor, the movie barely scratches the surface in how his work was also meant to be social commentary, and yet he remained oblivious to addressing a lot of uncomfortable social issues. During Stevenson’s long career, New York City experienced many social ills and tragedies, such as the Son of Sam killings; the Central Park jogger rape case and the Central Park Five who were wrongly convicted of the crime; the World Trade Center bombing; 9/11; and Eric Garner’s illegal chokehold death by a NYPD officer.  Stevenson acknowledged some of these issues in his work, but the movie shows that Stevenson avoided a lot of commentary about the city’s social tensions over race and class, and mainly focused instead on more light-hearted concerns for the privileged set. It’s yet another example of living in that bubble that doesn’t really like to include or acknowledge non-Caucasian people in this very racially diverse city.

As for Stevenson’s own background, he says he went to a “radical” high school that allowed the students to have a lot of creative freedom. His family and friends talk about how close he was to his mother, and how distant he was from his father, who used to be in the Army and was frequently away from home. Ironically, Stevenson said one of his biggest regrets is that when he became a parent, he also was a frequently absent father because of his work. His father ended up being an architect, and is described as “formal” and “stern.” Stevenson relays an anecdote that probably influenced his career ambitions. He said his father once told him: “I don’t care what you do, as long as you do it better than anyone else on earth.”

Stevenson should not be criticized just because he was a white male who benefited from racism and sexism in his chosen profession. He was obviously very talented and worked very hard for all the success that he had. And despite the flaws in his personality (no one is perfect), he was an upstanding person who never abandoned his family. All of that should be commended, but not at the expense of exploring why an exalted media person who was supposed to be an observer of the world through a New York City lens chose to shut out a fascinating amount of diversity he could have had in his own world.

There are a lot of talented artists in this world, but a truly great artist is one who goes outside comfort zones, pushes boundaries, and uses any position of power as a platform to help others who aren’t as fortunate. Stevenson was clearly not that kind of artist. In fact, the documentary points out that he was very resistant to change and different points of view. According to his former colleagues at The New Yorker, he and some other old-time staffers quit the magazine because they couldn’t stand working for Tina Brown, who made sweeping changes when she was editor-in-chief of The New Yorker from 1992 to 1998. Coincidence or not, she was also the first (and only) female editor-in-chief in The New Yorker’s history.

The filmmakers of “Stevenson Lost & Found” missed an opportunity to present his story in the social context of why he ended up in his privileged position and why an illustrator whose job was to provide social commentary chose to surround himself with a very limited social circle. If Stevenson had a diverse group of close friends of different races and backgrounds (it’s obvious that he chose not to), his world view would have been much more culturally informed. And by “close friends,” that means people who you vacation with and who are welcome in your home anytime, not co-workers or colleagues you only interact with in a business setting.

The documentary doesn’t even have Stevenson’s thoughts on the current and future state of the media. In this day and age of many print media outlets consolidating or going out of business, it’s become increasingly rare for anyone in the media to expect job security for decades at the same outlet. Perhaps Stevenson, who had the same employer for decades and spent most of his career in the heyday of print media, couldn’t relate to what younger generations of media people are experiencing, and maybe he didn’t care to comment on the problems of modern media. Or maybe he just wasn’t asked. We’ll never know, because it’s not in the movie. And in the end, with more people expressing their distrust of the media, this movie shows that just like in society at large, success in the media isn’t really about being “liberal” or “conservative.” It’s about being “privileged” or “not privileged.”

2019 DOC NYC movie review: ‘Tyson’

November 18, 2019

by Carla Hay

Mike Tyson in “Tyson” (2019)


Directed by David Michaels

World premiere at DOC NYC in New York City on November 9, 2019.

Not to be confused with the 2009 Mike Tyson documentary “Tyson” (directed by James Toback), this new “Tyson” documentary (directed by David Michaels) is also about Mike Tyson, but it’s an updated look at the former boxing champ’s life. There’s also another movie called “Tyson,” which was a 1995 HBO biopic, starring Michael Jai White as Tyson. The filmmakers of the Michaels-directed “Tyson” movie made a huge mistake by choosing this title for the film, since it’s bound to confuse people who might think the movie is the other “Tyson” documentary. So with all these “Tyson” movies in the world, how is this second documentary different from the first one?

For starters, the Michaels-directed “Tyson” documentary doesn’t cover anything new in Tyson’s pre-2008 life that wasn’t already covered in the Toback-directed first “Tyson” documentary. The Michaels-directed “Tyson” documentary should’ve had a title like “The Redemption of Mike Tyson.” That’s essentially the theme of the film, as it pushes a narrative that Tyson is now an upstanding family man, after having a long history of violence and abuse against others. Tyson is interviewed in the documentary, as well as his current and third wife, Kiki; his daughter Mikey; his son Amir; his biographer Larry Sloman; his addiction specialist Sean McFarland; and his longtime friends Dave Malen, Al B. Sure and Damon Elliott. It’s a very one-sided narrative, because Tyson’s critics are not interviewed at all.

The 2009 “Tyson” documentary was unique because Tyson was the only person interviewed for the movie; the rest of the film consisted of archival footage. The result was that the 2009 “Tyson” documentary was rambling and flawed, but a riveting and unflinching look at Tyson’s troubled soul. There were things he said in that first documentary that would be cause for alarm in this #MeToo era. For example, he called his rape accuser Desiree Washington “wretched swine,” and admitted that although he “took advantage” of many women, he didn’t take advantage of her. He also vividly described how he liked to sexually dominate women.

Even though Tyson was convicted in 1992 of raping former beauty contestant Washington, and he spent three years in prison for it, he still denies committing the crime. His denial is more muted in Michaels’ “Tyson” documentary (which doesn’t have the victim-shaming language the first “Tyson” documentary had), but Tyson’s anger over spending time in prison for the crime is still palpable.

His short-lived, disastrous first marriage to actress Robin Givens (who was married to Tyson from 1988 to 1989) is portrayed in the Michaels-directed documentary as mostly her fault, even though Tyson has admitted in previous interviews that he physically and emotionally abused her. In this documentary, Givens and her mother are described as nasty, lying gold diggers who targeted Tyson to con him into marrying Givens, because she allegedly lied to him about being pregnant. Although Tyson shed tears in both documentaries when discussing his traumatic childhood, his past mistakes, and deaths of loved ones, director Michaels portrays Tyson in a much more filtered, sympathetic way than what viewers see in director Toback’s “Tyson” documentary, because Michaels allows several Tyson family members and associates to constantly defend him and insist that Tyson is one of the sweetest people they’ve ever met.

In the Toback-directed documentary, Tyson was divorced from his second ex-wife, Monica Turner, and had not yet begun the next chapter in his life as a professional entertainer. Tyson made a comeback in pop culture with his memorable cameo playing himself in the 2009 blockbuster comedy film “The Hangover.” In 2014, Tyson became the co-creator and star of Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim animated series “The Mike Tyson Mysteries.” In the Michaels-directed documentary, Tyson admits he was still strung out on drugs during his “Hangover” comeback period, and it took him several years and multiple stints in rehab to get to where he is now.

Tyson claims he’s now clean and sober, and that his kids (he currently has seven children by three different women) are now his top priority. (One of the movie’s opening scenes is of Tyson accompanying his daughter Milan to her tennis game.) His wife Kiki is described as a “breath of fresh air” and an “angel,” but like a carefully Photoshopped and curated Instagram account, her marriage to Tyson, as it’s presented in this movie, looks too good to be true. The cracks show when Tyson admits that he’s never been faithful to his wives and partners, and that infidelity is one of the main reasons why he’s had a string of failed relationships. Kiki also acknowledges that she and Tyson often argue, but family members (including her parents) say she’s strong-willed and is no pushover.

Kiki describes their rocky courtship as something she chose to endure in order to get a so-called happy ending. They started dating when she was 19, and he was 29, and he broke her heart when he abruptly married second wife Monica in 1997. After Monica and Tyson divorced in 2003, Kiki and Tyson reunited and got married in 2009, the same year that Tyson’s 4-year-old daughter Exodus tragically died from an accidental strangling by exercise equipment. It’s a loss that Tyson says he’ll never get over, and his most sympathetic moment in the movie is when he cries as he talks about losing Exodus.

One of the recurring themes in both “Tyson” documentaries is how he describes himself as a “pig” but also “generous” to a fault, and how he lost millions to what he calls “leeches” in his life, which led to him declaring bankruptcy in 2003. Based on the lavish spending by him, Kiki and ex-wife Monica (he openly talks about these spending sprees in the film), his money problems won’t be going away anytime soon.

Tyson has stayed out of trouble for years, so maybe he really has changed into someone who no longer abuses drugs, alcohol or women. Maybe he really is no longer the conflicted bully that he had the reputation of being for most of his life. But if there’s another documentary about him in 10 years (and please let it have another title besides “Tyson”), we’ll have to see if this reformed Mike Tyson is real or is a façade.

2019 DOC NYC movie review: ‘Martin Margiela: In His Own Words’

November 18, 2019

by Carla Hay

Maison Margiela fashions in "Martin Margiela: In His Own Words"
Maison Margiela fashions in “Martin Margiela: In His Own Words” (Photo courtesy of Dogwoof Pictures)

“Martin Margiela: In His Own Words”

Directed by Reiner Holzemer

World premiere at DOC NYC in New York City on November 8, 2019.

If you think about how much the fashion industry relies on photography and a designer’s image to sell products (it’s why designers always come out on the runway with the models at the end of a designer’s show), it’s pretty remarkable that Belgian fashion designer Martin Margiela could spend 20 successful years in the business and avoid being photographed or interviewed. Yes, there are a few random photos of him that you can find in an Internet search, but he wasn’t a complete recluse at the time he was in the fashion industry. He was backstage at his fashion shows, where there were photographers galore, and somehow, he convinced them and other people around him not to take photos of him. At the height of his success, Margiela abruptly quit the fashion industry at the end of his last fashion show in 2008, and then he really becoming a recluse.

“Martin Margiela: In Own Words” is a documentary that tracked down the elusive Margiela and interviewed him in his home, but only his hands are seen on camera. For many fashionistas watching this movie, it might be the first time hearing him speak. (He has a very soft-spoken, almost sing-song voice.) During the course of the movie, he shares his memories of his life in fashion and what he’s been doing in the years since he “disappeared” from the scene.

Margiela (whose real name is Margiela Statin) also opens up his archives, as the documentary shows him flipping through many of his original sketchbooks and showing some of his early illustrations. We also see that Margiela loves Barbie dolls, which served as his earliest models (mini-mannequins, if you will) when he developed an interest in fashion as a child. He still keeps many of his handmade Barbie-doll fashions from his childhood, including his first amateur design: a gray flannel blazer inspired by Yves Saint Laurent. (Yes, it’s shown in the movie.)

As a child, he says he was lonely but had a vivid fantasy life. His earliest memory of wanting to be a fashion designer, he says, was when he was 7 years old and saw a Paris fashion show on TV. His grandmother, who was a dressmaker, was an enormous influence on him—someone whom he considers to be the most important person in his life.

As an adult, Margiela teamed up with business partner Jenny Meirens to launch Maison Margiela, a Paris-based company that had its first collection in 1988. He says of Meirens, who died in 2017, at the age of 73: “We both had a fascination with Japanese designers, which was very intense.” One of Maison Margiela’s early signature looks consisted of shoes designed to look like animal hooves. Another signature Maison Margiela look was to have four stitches in odd places on his clothes.

Sandrine Domas, who modeled for Maison Margiela in the early 1990s, is one of the people interviewed in the documentary, and she remembers how people often thought those four stitches were a mistake and wanted to remove the stitches. It’s an example of Margiela’s eccentric humor that he liked to play with people’s expectations on what should and shouldn’t be part of haute couture.

Other people from the fashion industry who are interviewed in the documentary (and, quite frankly, do nothing but gush over Margiela) include former New York Times fashion critic Cathy Horyn, who says that Margiela is “definitely in the top 10” of the greatest fashion designers of all time. Jean-Paul Gaultier, who used to be Margiela’s assistant, marvels at how impressed he was with Margiela’s first runway show, and admits that, at the time, he didn’t think the show wouldn’t be as good as it was. The NEWS showroom founder Stella Ishii compared that first Margiela show to Andy Warhol “shattering the art world in many ways.” Pierre Rougier, who was Margiela’s publicist from 1989 to 1991, raves that Margiela “was ahead of his time.”

How so? Carine Roitfeld, who was editor-in-chief of Vogue Paris from 2001 to 2011, says that one of the things that Margiela pioneered was to do street casting for models, by randomly inviting people off the street to model in his shows on a first-come, first-served basis. He also encouraged his first street-casted models to smile and interact with the audience, which was the complete opposite of the runway norm to have models walk stone-faced and aloof from the audience. There’s footage in the documentary of these street-casted models in action.

So with all this praise, glory and success, why did Margiela shun the spotlight? He explains in the documentary: “Anonymity was my protection as a person.” Later in the film, he says of the fashion industry: “I’m too serious for that world.” Nina Nitsche, who was Margiela’s assistant from 1998 to 2008, said that when Diesel came in as a major investor in Maison Margiela in 2002, things started to change—and not for the better. Diesel’s emphasis was on the Margiela brand being “sexy” instead of “mysterious.”

Margiela essentially confirms that his disillusionment with the fashion industry was around the time that Diesel started controlling his company. He also wasn’t keen on Diesel’s push to have more of the business on the Internet, and that’s when he knew the fashion industry was going into a direction that he didn’t like. As he says in the documentary: “I felt like an artistic director in my own company, and that bothered me, because I’m a fashion designer.”

There are two moments in the movie where Margiela gets emotional. First, when he talks about the night in 2008 when he shocked everyone by quitting the business right after his runway show. He says his biggest regret was how he chose to leave because “I never had a chance to say goodbye to my team.” The documentary then shows him writing a note on the screen that says, “Thanks to everyone who helped my dream come true!”

The other time he gets emotional is when discussing how flattered and awed he was that the ModeMuseum in Antwerp, Belgium, had an entire retrospective exhibit for his fashion. There’s some footage of the exhibit’s grand opening in 2009. But, ever the recluse, Margiela wasn’t there, although he obviously knew what was in the exhibit.

“Martin Margiela: In His Own Words” director Reiner Holzemer shows an admirable amount of restraint, by staying true to the movie’s title, and not putting himself on camera or having a director’s voiceover narration to steal some of the spotlight from Margiela. Many documentarians who would do a film where they’re the first to interview a famous recluse on camera wouldn’t be able to resist the urge to show off how they achieved this feat, and make sure the audience could see their other investigative journalism skills.

The movie’s main shortcoming is that it’s a non-stop praise fest of Margiela. The worst thing that people say about him is that he’s a perfectionist. A little less fan worshipping and a little bit more of objective viewpoints could have made this a more balanced film. However, that minor flaw does not take away from the fact that Margiela is a fascinating subject, who is a lot more open in telling his life story than people might think he would be.

Although he spends his creative energy nowadays by painting and making sculptures, at the end of the movie, he hints that there’s always a possibility that he might return to the fashion industry. Whether or not he ever does, this documentary serves as an exemplary capsule of Margiela’s fashion legacy, told from his perspective.

2019 DOC NYC movie review: ‘Blessed Child’

November 18, 2019

by Carla Hay

Cara Jones (center) and the Rev. Sun Myung Moon (far right) in “Blessed Child” (Photo courtesy of Storytellers for Good)

“Blessed Child”

Directed by Cara Jones

World premiere at DOC NYC in New York City on November 9, 2019.

Is the controversial Unification Church of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, also known as the Moonies, a misunderstood Korean religion or is it a cult? It’s a cult, according to “Blessed Child” director Cara Jones, an American from upstate New York whose parents raised her and her four brothers in the church. Now in her 40s, Jones takes a riveting, autobiographical look back on her life as a former devout Moonie. She says early on in the film why it was so difficult for her to leave: “To me, the church never felt like a cult. It felt like an extension of family.”

She’s emotionally conflicted because her parents are still in the church. And she’s emotionally recovering from the damage that she says the church inflicted on her and other members because of the suffocating control the church had over their lives, including marriages arranged by the church, teachings that enforced sexism against females, and the Moonies’ condemnation of pre-marital sex and any sexuality that isn’t heterosexual.

The Moonies are perhaps most notorious for their massive group weddings, which often take place in arenas, and the brides and grooms usually don’t know each other very well before getting married. Jones was one of those brides in her early 20s, and her arranged Moonie marriage turned out to be a loveless disaster. Her Moonie husband ended up being more like a roommate to her (they didn’t have any kids together), and they eventually got divorced, even though divorce is a major stigma in the Unification Church.

Complicating matters, Jones’ parents are prominent members of the church, so she was considered a “blessed child,” which made it harder for her to leave the Moonies. (Her mother used to be Catholic. Her father, a former atheist, was president of the Moonie church from 1969 to 1972.) In the documentary, Jones tries to make sense of how the Moonie religion affected not just her family but also other current and former members of the church, whom she interviews in a style that is admirably non-confrontational and non-judgmental.

However, she doesn’t gloss over a disturbing pattern that she sees with former Moonie members, particularly with those who grew up in the church. These former members say that they often experienced childhood physical and emotional abuse, done in the name of discipline by church members. That trauma led to abusing drugs and/or alcohol in their teen and adult years—and tragically, in some cases, suicides or suicide attempts.

These self-destructive patterns are especially prevalent with former Moonie members who are members of the LGBTQ community, as was the case with Cara Jones’ younger brother Bow, who came out as gay when he was in his 20s. (Bow is also in the documentary as one of the cameramen.) Cara also mentions her own rebellious phase of hard partying before she came to terms with her past and decided to leave the church. The documentary also has a subplot of Cara’s quest to become a mother (viewers see her getting IVF treatments and freezing her eggs), which she wants to do regardless of her marital status.

To her credit, Cara doesn’t dismiss the positive aspects of the Moonie church, such as its tolerant views on interracial relationships, its philosophy of peace and its emphasis on helping people who are less fortunate. The movie also doesn’t demean current members of the church. There’s an emotionally touching scene in the movie where Cara goes back to visit Mary Larson, the Moonie member who raised her for the first two years of Cara’s life, when Cara’s mother was away on missionary duties. Larson was a caretaker/guardian for several other Moonie kids.

However, the movie points out that for all the goodness that comes from church members, the Moonie church has been tainted by too many stories of greed, abuse and corruption. (Moon, who died in 2012, and his family have been involved in scandals alleging infidelity, domestic abuse and embezzlement.) Where does that leave Cara’s relationship with her parents, who are still devoted members of the church? The documentary answers that question in a way that is testimony to how family ties can be complicated, but not broken, by religion.

2019 DOC NYC movie review: ‘I’m Gonna Make You Love Me’

November 18, 2019

by Carla Hay

Brian Belovitch in “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me”

“I’m Gonna Make You Love Me”

Directed by Karen Bernstein

World premiere at DOC NYC in New York City on November 7, 2019.

Brian Belovitch is the embodiment of “gender fluid.” He lived as a male in his childhood and teen years, transitioned into a transgender woman in his 20s, and then decided to go back to living as a gay man when he was in his 30s. Why did he want to be a woman in the first place? Belovitch explains in this documentary: “I loved the idea of being something other than myself. Let’s forget about Brian, and become some other creation.” How did that work out for him? “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” tells that fascinating story in a way that is entertaining and informative without being exploitative.

Karen Bernstein, who directed “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” is a close friend of Belovitch, and that kinship shows in how the film was made, as he’s allowed to share his life story with dignity and respect. The movie’s main flaw (which is a minor one that doesn’t take away from the movie’s overall message of self-acceptance) is the editing, which jumps back and forth in the story timeline. This zig-zag narrative might be off-putting to people who like biographical stories told in chronological order.

So, who is Brian Belovitch? Born in Fall River, Massachusetts, in 1963, Belovitch was raised primarily in Providence, Rhode Island, in a family of two daughters and five sons. (Some of his siblings are interviewed in the movie.) His father was a Russian Jew, his mother was Portuguese, and he grew up in a culture of homophobia, which was very common in families of that era. As a child, Belovitch was shamed and bullied by his family members and other people for being effeminate, and his father often physically abused him. When strangers mistook him for a girl, his mother would get very angry and offended. In the documentary, Belovitch looks back on this traumatic period in his life and says, “By today’s standards, I would be considered a trans kid.”

A turning point in his life was his teenage relationship with his first boyfriend, Paul Bricker (Belovitch calls him a “soul mate”), whom he met at a gay bar in Providence. Unlike his unhappy home life where his parents had trouble accepting his sexuality, Belovitch found complete acceptance in his relationship with Bricker, whose mother, Gloria, treated Belovitch like a family member. Gloria, who is interviewed in the documentary, says of Belovitch: “He was worth putting in my time and love.”

While living in the Lola Apartments (what Belovitch calls a “trans ghetto”) in Providence, he began dressing as a woman. He says, “I was addicted to the reaction and attention I got from folks.” Throughout his younger life, as a man and as a woman, Belovitch says he would often be a sex worker, out of desperation to help pay the bills. He says in the documentary that his biggest decisions were “made for love,” but “most of my decisions were made for survival.”

At 18 years old, he moved to New York City and tried to live as a gay man for about nine months. His relationship with Paul Bricker ended, and then Belovitch decided to commit to being a transgender woman, and changed his name to Natalie Belo. Belovitch says there was another reason why he wanted to live as a woman, besides preferring the attention that he got as a female: He didn’t want to be a gay, and he didn’t want to be a man, because being a man reminded him of the homophobic men from his childhood. Even though Belovitch tells his life story with amusing wit, there’s a lot of deep-seated trauma that’s brought up in this documentary (including childhood sexual abuse), so people who are easily triggered by similar issues should be warned that this is not always an easy film to watch.

While living as a Natalie Belo, Belovitch said he spent “thousands” on his physical transformation, including electrolysis, breast augmentation, butt implants (he still has silicone-related health issues) and female hormones. As Natalie, she met her first husband, David (a bartender at the time), in 1979, and they married in 1980. David joined the Army, and the couple moved to Germany, where David was stationed. While in Germany, Natalie became a “Tupperware lady,” but being an Army wife didn’t suit her, and she was still going through some confusion about her gender identity. She and David broke up after they moved back to New York City.

Natalie’s life then took an exciting but dark turn, as she reinvented herself as aspiring actress/singer Natalia “Tish” Gervais (this became her legal name for a while), and she plunged into the downtown Manhattan nightlife scene of the ’80s. She found a small level of fame as a cabaret singer/celebutante, including as a member of the “It’s My Party” revue. Her close friends included other nightlife scenesters, such as entertainment journalist Michael Musto (who’s interviewed in the documentary) and drag queen Nelson Sullivan. However, Tish became an alcoholic and drug addict, and spent years as a slave to her addictions. She got sober in 1986, after a rock-bottom incident when she stole money from the box office of a theater owned by her friend Edith O’Hara, who gave Tish an ultimatum to go to rehab and stay off of drugs.

It was around this time that Belovitch decided to go back to living as a man. He’s now an addiction counselor who’s happily married to second husband Jim (a botanist), who’s also interviewed in the movie, which has a scene of them attending a Pride parade in Providence. (This isn’t spoiler information, since it’s shown in the beginning of the film.) To understand Belovitch’s difficult journey to self-acceptance, he says it partly comes from his “fear of being average,” but he admits: “Having lived the life that I’ve lived is hardly boring dinner conversation.” As for coming to terms with what his true identity is, he sums it up this way: “All I ever wanted to be was comfortable.”

2019 DOC NYC movie review: ‘Vas-y Coupe!’

November 18, 2019

by Carla Hay

Jacques Selosse employees in "Vas-y Coupe!"
Jacques Selosse employees in “Vas-y Coupe!” (Photo courtesy of By the By Productions)

“Vas-y Coupe!”

Directed by Laura Naylor

French with subtitles

World premiere at DOC NYC in New York City on November 9, 2019.

If you’ve ever wondered about some of the people behind the making of French champagne, you’ll get a look in “Vas-y Coupe!,” a candid but slow-paced peek into the crucial harvesting process. “Vas-y Coupe!” translates to “Go ahead, cut!” in English. This movie focuses on Jacques Selosse, a family-run vineyard in France’s Champagne region and what happens during harvest season. The documentary was inspired by director Laura Naylor’s real-life experiences harvesting grapes at the vineyard in 2016, about a year after she first discovered the vineyard through a sommelier friend.

Founded in the 1950s, Jacques Selosse is located in the small village of Avize, and much of the culture in the movie feels like a 1950s time warp. The roles of the men and women are, for the most part, sharply segregated by gender. Although there are a few harvesters who are female (and they’re briefly spotted on camera), the male harvesters and their male supervisors get most of the focus in this documentary. The women in the film are primarily shown in the kitchen and fulfilling the roles of cooks, food servers and maids. The women are preoccupied with preparing meals and trying on beauty products, while the men do the dirty work of picking and distilling the grapes. Even with the Selosse family that owns the vineyard, the men in the family are the ones who get to taste and evaluate the company’s product made from the harvested grapes.

In addition to the gender lines that are clearly defined, there are also class lines that are almost never crossed. The laborers know their place as servants, and there’s sometimes tension with the vineyard owners/supervisors over wage issues. The rough-and-tumble nature of this working-class crew sometimes leads to them clashing with each other, as minor squabbles are captured on camera. But if you’re looking for shocking, dramatic moments, you won’t find them here in this mostly quiet film. To its credit, what’s shown in this movie doesn’t look staged, like a reality show.

But to its detriment, the movie suffers from editing that shows too much repetition of mundane tasks. It’s not necessary for viewers to keep seeing similar scenes of the women in the kitchen discussing the meals they’re preparing, followed by scenes of the women serving the meals to the laborers gathered in the dining room area. In order for a documentary like this to stand out, there has to be at least one big, riveting personality to keep viewers interested, but the people in this movie are just too average to make this a compelling story. And unfortunately, the movie gets bogged down in so much “slice of life” footage that the end result is a documentary that is duller than it should be.

2019 DOC NYC: recap and award winners

November 16, 2019

by Carla Hay

The 10th annual DOC NYC—which took place in New York City from November 6 to November 15, 2018—has continued its status as an outstanding international festival for documentary visual media, with more than 300 films at the festival. Almost all of the DOC NYC screenings and other events took place at the SVA Theatre, IFC Center and Cinépolis Chelsea. DOC NYC also has panel discussions about filmmaking, offering a wealth of opportunities to share knowledge, discover new talent and network with professionals. This year’s DOC NYC was dedicated to D.A. Pennebaker, the iconic documentarian (best known for “Don’t Look Back”), who died on August 1, 2019, at the age of 94.


Wang Tiancheng in "City Dream"
Wang Tiancheng in “City Dream”

DOC NYC 2019 also had competitions, with all voted for by juries, except for the Audience Award and the Kanopy DOC NYC U Award. The winners were:

Viewfinders Competition (for films with a distinct directorial vision): “City Dream,” director Weijun Chen’s look at a feisty street vendor Wang Tiancheng’s battle to not be displaced by the Urban Management Bureau in Wuhan, China.

Special mention: “Love Child,” director Eva Mulvad’s portrait of an Iranian man who flees Iran with his mistress and their son because of Iran’s death-penalty laws against adultery.

Metropolis Competition (for films with New York City stories): “Maurice Hines: Bring Them Back,” director John Carluccio’s profile of Tony-nominated entertainer Maurice Hines, the older brother of Gregory Hines.

Shorts Competition: “Bob of the Park,” director Jake Sumner’s profile of Robert “Birding Bob” DiCandido, who’s described in the DOC NYC materials as the “archvillain of New York City bird watchers.”

Special mentions: “A Childhood on Fire,” directed by Jason Hanasik; “Yves & Variation,” directed by Lydia Cornett

Audience Award: “I Am Not Alone,” director Garin Hovannisian’s profile of former Armenian political prisoner Nikol Pashinyan, who becomes a Member of Parliament and leads a peaceful protest against injustice.

DOC NYC PRO Pitch Perfect Award: “After Sherman,” directed by Jon-Sesrie Goff

Kanopy DOC NYC U Award (for student directors): “Kostya,” directed by Oxana Inipko (School of Visual Arts)

In addition, category awards were given to DOC NYC’s Short List films, which are considered frontrunners to be nominated for Oscars and other major film awards.

Short List: Features

“The Edge of Democracy” (Photo by Orlando Brito)

Directing Award: “The Edge of Democracy,” directed by Petra Costa 
Producing Award: “American Factory,” produced by Steven Bognar, Julie Parker Benello, Jeff Reichert and Julia Reichert 
Editing Award: “Apollo 11,” edited by Todd Douglas Miller 
Cinematography Award: “The Elephant Queen,” cinematography by Mark Deeble
Special Recognition for Courage in Filmmaking: “For Sama,” director Waad al-Kateab
Short List: Shorts
Directing Award: “Stay Close,” directed by Luther Clement and Shuhan Fan

The 2019 DOC NYC Visionaries Tribute (which has non-competitive categories), an invitation-only event presented on November 7, honored Martin Scorsese and Michael Apted, each with the Lifetime Achievement Award; “American Factory” directors Steven Bognar and Julia Reichart with the Robert and Anne Drew Award for Documentary Excellence; and New York Women in Film & Television executive director Cynthia Lopez with the Leading Light Award.

Other celebrities who attended DOC NYC included Robbie Robertson, J.K, Simmons, Ron Howard, Katie Couric, Andre Leon Talley, Michael Moore, Kate Nash, Dr. Ruth Westheimer and Olivia Harrison.