DOC NYC 2012

Radioman with actor Matt Damon

DOC NYC comes to IFC (Independent Film Center) and the SVA (School of Visual Arts) Theatre from November 8-11.  It will be the third year for this exciting documentary film festival.

DOC NYC will present 115 films and festival events.  Filmmaker appearances include Michael Moore, Jonathan Demme, Alan Berliner, Ken Burns, Alex Gibney, Barbara Kopple and Rory Kennedy.  Other guests include Pete Seeger, Jared Leto, Andy Summers, Jared Leto, Rufus Wainwright and Ice-T.

In my film festival experience bad documentaries are few and far between.  While they certainly do exist, there seems to be a consistently higher level of quality in the documentary world than in the world of narrative feature films, at least as far as film festivals are concerned.  Since a film festival consists of untested commodities (in other words, we do not usually know, in advance, what is good) there is a greater chance of seeing quality work by sticking with the documentaries.  Therefore, in the case of DOC NYC, a film festival composed entirely of documentaries, I submit that it is hard to go wrong.

Three of the most interesting documentaries that I was able to preview, although very different, have in common the theme of obsession.  These three films are “Persistence of Vision,” “Radioman,” and “Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: the Tomi Ungerer Story.”

Persistence of Vision

“Persistence of Vision” is director Kevin Schreck’s fascinating look at the efforts of visionary animator Richard Williams to complete his magnum opus, “The Thief and the Cobbler.”  Williams, who was the head animator for the film “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” (1988), chose not to participate in this documentary.   Schreck has compensated by inter-cutting archival interviews with Williams, present day interviews with Williams’ animators, plus excerpts of preliminary and final animation from “The Thief and the Cobbler.”  The result is a compelling tale of artistic integrity and obsession.  “Persistence of Vision,” has a double meaning.  The film’s title comes from the concept that enables us to see movies, which consist of a series of still pictures.  As one still after another is projected, at the appropriate speed, our brains see them as a smoothly flowing film.  The title’s other meaning has to do with Williams’ tenacity, craftsmanship and quest for perfection.

Radioman

Tom Hanks, George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, Josh Brolin, Ron Howard and many others hold forth on the virtues of Radioman, a scruffy, bearded, bicycle riding, eccentric movie set groupie and film extra whose obsession is the film business.  A former homeless alcoholic, Radioman now lives in a house in Brooklyn that is jam packed with movie memorabilia and garbage.  It may not be anybody’s idea of a life, but Radioman has found his bliss and has no qualms about following it.  While we are not told his real name, we learn that Radioman has pulled himself up in part by the companionship and sense of community he receives from visiting movie sets and acting in films. Director Mary Kerr has created a lively portrait of an obsessive character who, in his own way, just may have found the key to happiness for which so many search.

Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story

Author and artist Tomi Ungerer first made his mark in the late 1950s with a series of very popular yet unconventional children’s books that, among other things, featured a boa constrictor, burglars and a child eating ogre.  “Books should give children a taste of life, even if it tastes bad,” Ungerer explains in Brad Bernstein’s documentary “Far Out Isn’t Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story.”   Through interviews with Ungerer, fellow children’s author Maurice Sendak, and others, Bernstein has woven together a compelling portrait of Ungerer whose dark side comes from having lived in Nazi occupied France and who has an insatiable need to be creative.  “When I work, it’s amnesia,” Ungerer explains in discussing the multitude of ideas that come showering down upon him on a daily basis.  The film also employs animated sequences based on Ungerer’s books.  In addition to children’s books, Ungerer also created iconic 60s protest posters and books of pornographic drawings.  The latter resulted in Ungerer’s being shunned from the world of children’s literature, something which forms the film’s central conflict.  “Far Out Isn’t Enough” is a lively look at the creative process of a one of a kind artist.

IFC Center is located at 323 Sixth Avenue, at Third Street.  The SVA Theatre is located at 333 West 23rd Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues.  For more information visit http://www.docnyc.net.

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About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

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