DOC NYC: unwrapping presents in (documentary) film
Through Thursday, Nov. 15
IFC Center, 323 Sixth Ave., NYC
SVA Theatre, 333 West 23rd St., NYC
Cinepolis Chelsea, 260 West 23rd St., NYC
By GWEN OREL
Raphaela Neihausen and Thom Powers are a couple with a mission.
They want to lure more filmmakers to Montclair.
The couple, who run the documentary film festival DOC NYC that runs Nov. 8-15, moved to Montclair before the first Montclair Film Festival in 2012, and never left.
At that time, they helped run MFF. They’ve since moved on, amicably. Neihausen is executive director and Powers is artistic director of DOC NYC.
“Thom gets to watch a lot more movies. I get to do everything else,” Neihausen said with a laugh.
Or course, she watches a lot of movies too. Powers, who also curated the Miami Film Festival in March and the Toronto Film Festival in September, said he watches around 400
films a year.
That’s challenging, with an 8-year-old son.
“He does go to school,” Powers said with a laugh.
John Vanco, the general manager of the IFC Center, an art film house in Manhattan, had moved to Montclair a bit earlier. “We trusted his judgment so much when he said it was a great town, we were like, ‘done!’” Neihausen said with a laugh.
It was Vanco who had approached them to create a documentary festival. The couple had been running a documentary series, Stranger than Fiction, at IFC since 2007. It is still running.
Neihausen and Powers thought New York City should have a top-rate documentary film festival. The idea was greenlit, and the festival began in 2010.
“New York has other festivals that showcase documentaries,” Powers said. “I felt the city was missing a big, all-encompassing documentary festival in the model of the one in Amsterdam, IDFA [International Documentary Festival of Amsterdam] or in Toronto, Hot Docs.”
Today, the festival is the largest documentary film festival in America, with a program of more than 300 films and events. That program includes 42 world premieres and 17 U.S. premieres. More than 30,000 people attended last year, Neihausen said.
The festival includes more than 60 panel conversations. The films and panels take place in three different venues in Chelsea and the West Village.
Special guests include Rashida Jones, Wim Wenders, Michael Moore, Jakob Dylan and many others.
“New York really is the world capital of documentary filmmaking,” Powers continued. “More documentary filmmakers call New York City home… if Hollywood is the capital of fiction, New York City is the home of documentaries.”
And by “New York City,” you can include the New York area as slowly, documentary filmmakers are moving to Montclair, Neihausen said. “I’m completely serious. Four or five filmmakers have moved to the area under our nudging. The recruiting is going strong.”
Continuing the Montclair theme, Powers pointed out that the closing night film, “Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists,” about journalists Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hamill, is by three filmmakers from Montclair: Jonathan Alter, John Block and Steve McCarthy. The film looks at journalism in Breslin and Hamill’s times, and also explores race, class and journalism today, using the writers’ own words and insights from peers such as Gloria Steinem and Gay Talese, as well as devoted readers such as Spike Lee and Colin Quinn, according to docnyc.net.
The film will make its world premiere that night, Nov. 15, 6:45 p.m., at SVA Theatre, and come to HBO in 2019.
“I can remember two years ago sitting down with those filmmakers in the Bluestone [Coffee Co.] in Montclair. They were trying to pitch this idea to HBO, and asked me for some advice that I gave. They were able to successfully pitch it, and now two years later it will be the closing night film,” Powers said.
The festival also includes a “short list” of 15 contenders for the Oscar season, Powers said. “One of those 15 films is ‘RBG,’ about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the editor of that film, Carla Gutierrez, is from Montclair.” The film will be shown on Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2:30 p.m., and Thursday, Nov. 15, 5 p.m., both at Cinepolis Chelsea.
One of the jurors for the Metropolis section, which focuses on New York stories, is another Montclairite, Margaret Bodde. Bodde runs Martin Scorsese’s The Film Foundation, which is dedicated to film preservation and restoration.
Olympia Dukakis will appear after the world premiere of the documentary about her, “Olympia,” on Sunday, Nov. 11, 6:30 p.m.
And Reuben Atlas, another Montclairite, director of “Acorn and the Firestorm”, which appeared in the Tribeca Film Festival as well as MFF last year, is on DOC NYC’s inaugural “40 under 40” list.
As is the norm for film festivals, almost all of the films are followed by Q&A’s with film personnel, often directors and producers.
So Michael Moore will appear after his film “Fahrenheit 9/11,” on Friday, Nov. 9, 9:15 p.m. Rasheeda Jones and Alan Hicks will appear after “Quincy,” their film about Quincy Jones, on Thursday, Nov. 8, 9 p.m., at SVA Theatre, and on Saturday, Nov. 10, 10:30 p.m., Cinepolis Chelsea.
Putting the festival together is challenging, with a lot of logistics and details to sort out.
The interview for this article in a hometown paper was hours later than originally scheduled, because the couple were on call after call related to the festival.
Powers hates having to say no to filmmakers, some of whom submit very good films for which they just couldn’t find room.
But the festival and the audience reactions make it worth it, Neihausen said. Powers agreed.
“I feel like someone who’s been wrapping presents for several months,” he said. “I get to watch the audience open them through the festival.”