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What to Watch at This Year’s DOC NYC Festival

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Imelda Marcos in “The Kingmakewr” (Photo: Lauren Greenfield)

Cult leaders! Despots! And a man who goes by the name of Mr. Toilet. One of the city’s most popular film fests, DOC NYC, starts tonight, bringing over 130 feature-length documentaries– many of them premieres– to screens in Greenwich Village and Chelsea. With a total of more than 300 films showing through Nov. 15, it can be hard to decide what to see. Lucky for you, we’ve been living on a steady diet of popcorn lately and can tell you what’s worth watching.

FILMING THE PHILIPPINES

The Kingmaker

Nov. 6 (rush only) and Nov. 7 (tickets $12)

If you think of Imelda Marcos as little more than the punchline of a joke about footwear, you need to watch the latest doc from Lauren Greenfield, who previously explored conspicuous consumption in The Queen of Versailles and Generation Wealth. Despite all the charges of corruption and her late husband’s ruthless prosecution of political enemies, Marcos is still an active force in Philippine politics, and this doc gets intimate access to her as she supports her son Bongbong’s run for vice president. After its New York premiere at the Hamptons Film Festival, Greenfeld said she saw Bongbong’s run as an opportunity to examine “the return to authoritarian regimes that we’re seeing all around the world.” Read our full review here.

The Nightcrawlers
Nov. 8 at Cinepolis Chelsea, tickets $12.
This National Geographic doc rides along with the photojournalists tasked with documenting Philippine president Roberto Duterte’s brutal war on drugs and its thousands of extrajudicial killings. In addition to riding along with the “nightcrawlers” as they race to gruesome crime scenes presided over by sobbing family members and all but ignored by a jaded citizenry, director Alexander A. Mora gets access to hit men who confess that the police have handed down orders to kill, covered up the death of innocent victims, and let killers walk free. Read our full review here.

NEW YORKER STATE OF MIND

Stevenson Lost & Found
Nov. 10 at Cinepolis Chelsea (rush only) and Nov. 11 at IFC Center (tickets $12)
If you enjoyed Very Semi-Serious but wished it went deeper with the quirky cartoonists of The New Yorker, here’s your chance to learn more about one of the magazine’s most prolific doodlers. James Stevenson produced countless covers and cartoons during his time at the magazine, and some beloved children’s books to boot– all while raising nine rambunctious children. But behind all the one-liners was a man struggling to reconcile his family life with a drinking habit and a raw ambition instilled in him by his distant father. Director Sally Jean Williams attempts to unpack it all while Stevenson literally unpacks his archive and reminisces about a lifetime of smirking at the human condition.

The Capote Tapes
Nov. 14 at SVA Theatre; tickets $25.
What happened to the scathing roman a clef skewering Manhattan high society that another New Yorker contributor, Truman Capote, may or may not have finished before his untimely death in 1984? Ebs Burnough tackles one of the great literary mysteries, telling the story of Truman Capote and his incendiary final novel, Answered Prayers. The director speaks to Capote contemporaries and unearths recordings that the late George Plimpton made when he interviewed Capote’s friends and foes for his 1997 oral history. The real treat here, however, is the insight provided by Kate Harrington, who as a teenager was essentially adopted by Capote as a daughter. She reveals the sweeter and more sentimental side of the “shit-stirrer,” as Capote’s frienemy Slim Keith called him. Read our full review here.

CULT FILMS

Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator
Nov. 8 at SVA Theatre; tickets $25.
Eva Orner’s previous documentaries– Out of Iraq and The Network— deal with international conflict zones. But this one is set in sunny California, where the director took hot yoga classes in order to seek out survivors of Bikram Choudhury’s infamously abusive teacher trainings. The documentary kicks off with high-energy Jane Fonda workout vibes and plenty of laughs– according to one former student, Bikram sees himself as “a cross between Mother Theresa and Howard Stern”– but things soon turn dark as we hear from women who claim Choudhury forced himself on them and, when they spoke out, tried to ruin their lives. As Orner said when the film had its US premiere at the Hamptons Film Festival, “It’s a pretty chilling story in this current climate where we’re all waiting to see what happens with Harvey Weinstein.” Read our full review here.

Blessed Child
Nov. 9 (rush only) and Nov. 13 at Cinepolis Chelsea; tickets $12.
Cults have been in the news lately, thanks to the recent sentencing of Keith Raniere. But before there was NXIVM, there was the Unification movement, a controversial sect of Christianity led by charismatic Korean preacher Sun Myung Moon. One of his millions of “Moonies” was Cara Jones, who wrote a Washington Post article about her unhappy arranged marriage at one of Moon’s famous 10,000-couple mass weddings. Here, she interviews her siblings, one of whom left the church after coming out as gay, to find out why they lost faith in Moon as the messiah. And she speaks to her parents, who abandoned her for two years as a newborn in order to pursue missionary work, to find out why they’re still loyal to a church whose leaders have opposed homosexuality and been accused of living lavishly while preaching austerity.

MOVIES ABOUT MOVIES

He Dreams of Giants
Nov. 10 at Cinepolis Chelsea and Nov. 11 at IFC Center; tickets $12.
Terry Gilliam’s decades-long quest to adapt Don Quixote was the stuff of cinema legend until 2018, when he finally premiered The Man Who Killed Don Quixote after some three decades of snafus. Some of those snafus– or what Gilliam would probably call fuckups– were captured in Lost in La Mancha, and now the directors of that 2002 film, Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe, are following it up with another behind-the-scenes doc. As Gilliam finally starts shooting his passion project, he says he’s “here to suffer like Don Quixote,” and that he does, with the cameras rolling the whole time. The result is a film that joins Hearts of Darkness and Burden of Dreams in the cannon of docs about famously tortured film shoots.

Narrowsburg
Nov. 10 at SVA Theatre; tickets $10-$19.
Like a real-life Music Man, Richard Castellano rolled into the sleepy upstate town of Narrowsburg offering its unsuspecting residents acting classes and a shot at the big time in a gangster movie he intended to make. But when checks start bouncing and the film fails to materialize, working-class townspeople who’ve invested as much as six figures in the project begin to wonder whether they’ve been conned by the fast-talking city slicker with mob-movie credits and a criminal record. Or was the real con artist his wife Jocelyne, a bubbly Frenchwoman who promises to put Narrowsburg on the map with a world-class film festival? Or is it possible the Castellanos are only as crooked as the Hollywood system? Martha Shane tries to separate fact from fiction in this absorbing meta doc.

INTERESTING SHIT

Mr. Toilet: The World’s #2 Man
Nov. 14 at Cinepolis Chelsea; tickets $12
Jack Sim has a shitty job. After quitting his successful career as a businessman, he started the World Toilet Organization and traded power suits for a toilet-bowl costume. In it, he travels the world trying to convince developing countries like India and China to more widely adopt modern plumbing and stop pooing in public. Lily Zepeda’s documentary starts off zany; its subject, after all, got himself appointed chief of a Samoan village named Toilet, got the UN to declare Nov. 19 “World Toilet Day,” and wants to use humor to make toilets “sexy” again. But behind all the cosplay and poo puns is a serious issue: aside from the hygiene risks associated with leaving “night soil” on river banks, Indian women are vulnerable to sexual violence when they defecate in the open, and sometimes have to walk 30 minutes to do so safely. While Mr. Toilet tries to fight the massive problem with limited resources, he struggles to find his place within a family that misses him and a board of directors that isn’t always receptive to his unorthodox methods. You’ll have to watch the doc to know whether his life ends up going down the tubes.



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