Documentaries have been a staple of the New York Film Festival, the city’s eclectic and now-49-year-old showcase of international auteurs, and 2011 is no exception.
It appears that documentaries about music or musicians, in particular, have been growing in popularity over the past few seasons of NYFF with titles such as Martin Scorsese’s Bob Dylan: No Direction Home, Murray Lerner’s The Other Side of the Mirror: Bob Dylan Live at The Newport Folk Festival, Todd Haynes’ I’m Not Here, Peter Bogdanovich’s Tom Petty and the Heartbreaker: Runnin’ Down a Dream, and even Michael Epstein’s LennonNYC to name more than a few.
My guess is that the demographic of the festival’s subscriber base comes from that generation where film and contemporary pop music merged seamlessly in the hands of such masters as D A Pennebaker (Dont Look Back) and the Maysles brothers (Gimme Shelter), among others.
What else could explain the inclusion this season of Xan Aranda’s Andrew Bird: Fever Year, Nelson Pereira dos Santos’ Music According to Tom Jobim, Mike Kerry and Chris Hall’s The Ballad of Mott the Hoople, and Martin Scorsese back with George Harrison: Living in the Material World?
Here’s a preview of these docs and the other nonfiction films among the New York Film Festival’s slate…
George Harrison: Living in the Material World
The film is a comprehensive look back at the most reluctant of the Fabs, his spiritual journey and how it wove within his career. This is Martin Scorsese’s latest contribution to the HBO Documentary library (after last years’ Fran Lebowitz doc, Public Speaking).
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory
Perhaps the most highly anticipated documentary of this year’s festival, if not the year, is Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s third and final installment of their Paradise Lost series, about three Arkansas teens convicted of killing young boys. The arrival of the film, another HBO documentary, is all the more relevant by the release of the West Memphis 3 this summer.
The 39th documentary by the granddaddy of vérité himself, Frederick Wiseman. On the heels of La Danse and Boxing Gym, the octoganarian filmmaker takes us back to Paris and the titular erotic dance club. The film follows cast and crew as they ready for a brand new production. We get to watch as it unfolds from soup to nuts.
The Ballad of Mott The Hoople
The last of the bands from the British Invasion to get its own documentary, Mott the Hoople now gets the treatment, with never-before-seen footage of the band backstage and on stage. The Ballad of Mott the Hoople might be a sleeper hit among fans of the festival.
Another documentary about dance, but entirely unlike Frederick Wiseman’s film, Pina is Wim Wenders’ love letter to the legendary choreographer Pina Bausch. Wenders made the film only months before Bausch would succumb to cancer at age 68.
This is Not a Film
While something of a hybrid, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb collaborated on this day-in-the-life film with the Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi as he awaits the verdict on a prison sentence. Panahi has been accused of betraying his country and been banned from making further films. Shot with an iPhone and digital camera, the film skirts the line between fiction and reality.
Andrew Bird: Fever Year
A look into the life of the eclectic singer-songwriter, Andrew Bird. The movie offers a lot of performance footage for his fans, old and new.
Music According to Tom Jobim
Brazilian director Nelson Pereira dos Santos’ documentary is a music-filled tribute to bossa nova master composer and performer Antonio Carlos (“Tom”) Jobim (“The Girl from Ipanema”).
Don’t Expect Too Much
Susan Ray, Nicholas Ray’s widow, made this documentary about her late husband, the iconic Hollywood director of Rebel Without a Cause and In a Lonely Place. Late in life, the director turned his back on traditional studio movie making and tried his hand at experimental filmmaking. The result, also shown at this year’s festival, is We Can’t Go Home Again. Don’t Expect Too Much is a fitting companion piece.
Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel
Roger Corman practically invented the B movie. He knew how to make movies fast and cheap, and often quite entertaining. Despite his moviemaking talent, he had an eye for talent as well. Filmmakers such as Francis Ford Coppola, Ron Howard and James Cameron are just a few that came out of his movie mill. Alex Stapleton’s film is an affectionate look at Corman and his work.
Jeffrey Schwarz’s film take a glimpse into the life of the author of the seminal book The Celluloid Closet, Vito Russo.
The title refers to the Cairo town square where protesters collected during 2011’s Egyptian revolution. Stefano Savona’s film follows a number of those who lived through the events.
The New York Film Festival runs from September 30 through October 16. The full calendar of events and films is at the Film Society at Lincoln Center.
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