Documentaries in the spotlight at DOC NYC Film Festival

President Barack Obama is pictured in New York with (from left) Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power, and Secretary of State John Kerry. The new documentary "The Final Year" follows Mr. Obama's national security team during the last 12 months of his presidency. 

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Non-fiction -- as in the joy, drama and wonder of the real -- is in the spotlight beginning Thursday at the DOC NYC Film Festival, America's largest documentary festival.  

Held in New York City from November 9 to 16, the festival includes more than 250 feature and short films -- many of them local, U.S. or world premieres -- as well as special events, including panel discussions and networking sessions for aspiring filmmakers.

The festival's lineup of films is curated into several sections, or themes, including science, performance art, design, domestic and international politics, family, activism, true crime, and New York City itself

Among the highlights of this year's festival, now in its eighth year, is the Opening Night feature (a New York City premiere) of "The Final Year." Directed by Greg Barker, the film is a fly-on-the-wall portrait of key Obama Administration foreign policy officials (including U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power, Secretary of State John Kerry, National Security Advisor Susan Rice, and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes) as they are hurled head-first into the last year of Mr. Obama's term, preparing to wrap up as much of his agenda as they can before passing off the baton to … wait, who?!?!? 

Despite knowing how it ends, or rather because of it, the film is riveting as it explores the day-to-day efforts of civil servants struggling to affect policy while constantly challenged by the exigencies of politics, and the prospect of watching all their accomplishments (such as the Paris Climate Agreement) go down the drain. ["The Final Year," which debuts Thursday, will be released by Magnolia Pictures in theatres, On Demand, and via Amazon and iTunes on January 19, 2018.]

The Closing Night feature is one of several music-themed films in the festival. "Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars," directed by Lili Fini Zanuck, traces in great detail the events that have shaped the life and music of the blues-rock guitarist. [The film will be released theatrically by Abramorama and Showtime Networks on Nov. 24, in advance of a February Showtime broadcast.]

To watch a trailer for "Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars," click on the video player below. 

Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars (2017) | Official Trailer | SHOWTIME Documentary by SHOWTIME on YouTube

The centerpiece screenings include Errol Morris' latest, "Wormword," a four-and-a-half-hour investigation into the mysterious 1953 death of a CIA agent (was it an LSD trip that made him fall out of a Manhattan hotel window, or was he pushed?); and Rachel Dretzin's "Far From the Tree," inspired by Andrew Solomon's bestseller, which looks at parents whose children's lives and characteristics are distinctly different from their own.

Just some of the other intriguing titles at DOC NYC (only a few of which have been previewed at press time) include:

"The Beatles, Hippies and Hells Angels: Inside the Crazy World of Apple" recounts the history of the counterculture company formed by the Fab Four, Apple Corps.

In "A Better Man" a woman and her former partner retrace their relationship by revisiting the spaces where verbal and physical abuse occurred.

"Blue Velvet Revisited" incorporates Super 8mm footage and photographs taken by German filmmaker Peter Braatz on the set of David Lynch's 1986 mystery.

"Cradle of Champions" looks at the Golden Gloves boxing tournament, where hundreds of amateur pugilists battle it out.

cradle-of-champions-titus-williams-davie-bowie-the-final-five-years-620.jpg

Left: Boxer Titus Williams in "Cradle of Champions." Right: Rock star David Bowie is profiled in "David Bowie: The Last Five Years."

DOC NYC

"David Bowie: The Last Five Years" (BBC/HBO) juxtaposes scenes of the rock star's shape-shifting performances from the 1960s through his final 2003-04 tour with never-before-seen footage of the years between 2011 and his death in 2016, during which he created two albums ("The Next Day" and "Blackstar") and an Off-Broadway musical ("Lazarus"), all of which touch on memory, legacy and mortality. A beautifully-rendered remembrance.

"The Iconoclast," about a Dutch art expert who was purportedly a descendant of Rembrandt, but was in reality a con man.

"Fail State" exposes the rise of predatory for-profit colleges, which prey upon lower-income and minority students.

"Itzhak" is an intimate portrait of violinist Itzhak Perlman.

How and why did Jim Carrey stay in character as comedian-performance artist Andy Kaufman even while cameras were off during the filming of "The Man on the Moon"? "Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond…" uses footage taken during production and new interviews with Carrey to try to explain.

In "Mole Man," a 66-year-old autistic man constructs a supremely elaborate maze structure in his parents' backyard.

The nail-biting competition at Art Prize, the annual Grand Rapids, Michigan's festival that offers the largest prize for artists in the world, is the subject of "More Art Upstairs."


Watch CBSN's own documentary series, CBSN Originals, online here




"A Murder in Mansfield" is Barbara Kopple's crime story in which a man was imprisoned based on the testimony of his son.

"Naila and the Uprising" infuses animation into the story of Palestinian women who participated in the First Intifada in the West Bank in the 1980s.

They grow 'em big down in Louisiana -- nutria, that is. "Rodents of Unusual Size" shows the unceasing efforts to rid the region of giant swamp rats.

"Sammy Davis, Jr.: I've Gotta Be Me" is Sam Pollard's portrait of the entertainer.

"Saving Brinton" examines an Iowa collector who has preserved the belongings of showman Frank Brinton, who introduced moving pictures to Iowans in the late 1890s and early 1900s, and uncovers a magical, lost film by Georges Méliès.

"Sky & Ground" follows a Syrian-Kurdish family as they flee Aleppo and journey through Eastern Europe, with their destination Berlin.

"Soufra," in which a Palestinian refugee in Lebanon with limited legal opportunities for advancement overcomes tremendous hurdles to build a catering service and food truck operation, supported in large part by a Kickstarter campaign and staffed by fellow refugees.

In "32 Pills: My Sister's Suicide," artist Hope Litoff confronts loss and grief through investigating the personal effects left behind by her sister.

Through DNA tests and ancestry databases, filmmaker Sara Lamm, conceived by a sperm donor, connects with a woman who might be her half-sister as she tracks down her biological father in "Thank You for Coming."

Daniel McCabe's "This Is Congo" steeps itself in the conflicts behind the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"Vigilante: The Incredible True Story of Curtis Sliwa and the Guardian Angels" recounts how, nearly 40 years ago, the night manager of a Bronx McDonald's created a neighborhood policing force to combat crime.

"What Haunts Us" examines the suicides of a cohort of students at a Charleston, S.C., private school, as a former classmate discovers a cover-up involving a predatory teacher.

The festival also has a sidebar called Short List, comprised of 15 films chosen from among the best documentary features of 2017, including "Abacus: Small Enough to Jail," "Chasing Coral," "City of Ghosts," Agnes Varda's "Faces Places," "Jane" (featuring early footage of chimpanzee behaviorist Jane Goodall), and "Risk" (Laura Poitras' study of Julian Assange).

In a series of panel discussions called DOC NYC Pro, established and emerging filmmakers discuss practical and technical aspects of documentary production, from pitching, funding and storytelling, to editing, sound design and distribution.

Films will be screened at the IFC Center in Greenwich Village, and the SVA Theatre and Cinepolis in Chelsea. Check out the DOC NYC Fest website at docnyc.net for film descriptions and dates, and information on tickets and discount passes.

Tickets to DOC NYC may be purchased online or in advance at the IFC Center box office in Greenwich Village, or at any screening during the festival.

To watch a trailer for the DOC NYC 2017 festival click on the video player below:

DOC NYC 2017 Trailer by DOCNYCfest on YouTube
  • David Morgan

    David Morgan is a senior editor at CBSNews.com and cbssundaymorning.com.