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Documentary Focus At NYFF

 

With documentaries showing considerable muscle at the box office, the New York Film Festival is highlighting some documentary films that will be the subject of discussion for months to come. Opening in theaters later this week but featured first at the Festival is INSIDE JOB, a blistering look at the worldwide economic crisis and the secrets and lies that have brought free market capitalism to the brink of disaster.

Tackling a very New York subject, the tension between development and tradition, FOREIGN PARTS focuses on the ramshackle collection of auto-body repair shops and other small businesses, mainly owned and staffed by multicultural immigrants, which has now been targeted for development of apartments, malls and parks. The tension between the communities in residence and the dreams of developers brings the issue into focus as New York, a place that is always undergoing some sort of transition or another, becomes the template for changing values and deteriorating traditions.  

One of the films featured is from a true documentary master, Frederick Wiseman. Over the course of an astonishing 40 year career, Wiseman has trained his camera eye on various American institutions, finding the conflicts, resolutions and discrepancies that have long weighed down the  American political and economic system. In BOXING GYM, the master's 38th feature film, he takes as his subject Lord's Boxing Gym in Austin, Texas, Wiseman observes men, women, and children as they train and interact in a lively and diverse environment that speaks to American machismo and the grit of the underclass for whom boxing is their ticket out of grinding poverty.

On a much lighter note is CAMERAMAN: THE LIFE AND WORK OF JACK CARDIFF, an intimate portrait of the master cinematographer and director, whose eight-decade career has produced some of the most astonishing visuals on film. Extensive clips from his most famous collaborations with director Michael Powell, including the iconic A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH, THE RED SHOES, and BLACK NARCISSUS are featured in the film, along with a treasure lode of anecdotes about Marlene Dietrich, Orson Welles, Marilyn Monroe and a host of other cinema legends. The documentary is paired with A MATTER OF LIFE, a classic film of spirituality and mortality of the 1940s.

 

Another film-related film that played earlier in the Festival was A LETTER TO ELIA, director Martin Scorsese's valentine to controversial director Elia Kazan. The film, co-directed with Kent Jones, gives one master filmmaker the opportunity to cite the influences of the other, while also acknowledging Kazan's checkered reputation of someone who buckled under pressure to "name names" during the McCarthy terror of the 1950s. This one act, which was regretted by Kazan himself in later years, has threatened to capsize his enormous influence as the pioneering director of such serious dramas as A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, ON THE WATERFRONT, A FACE IN THE CROWD and SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS. However his ambivalence about the moral compromises, Scorsese is clearly a fan and a defender of Kazan the artist.

Three other documentaries in the program reflect on the long shadow of history. NUREMBURG is a restoration by filmmakers Sandra Schulberg and Josh Waltezky of the great courtroom drama in history...the Nuremburg Trials that revealed the depth of the Nazi atrocities during World War II. THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF NICOLAE CEAUSESCU by Andrei Ujica is an astonishing essay film on the rise and fall of the controversial Romanian dictator. The short and colorful life of John Lennon, particularly his latter years in New York City (where he was gunned down in a moment of utter madness), is the subject of LENNONNYC, a revealing and intimate portrait of  the music legend by Michael Epstein. At the New York Film Festival, documentaries rule......

Sandy Mandelberger, Festival Dailies Edito

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(International Media Resources)

The Ultimate Guide to the New York Film, Video and New Media Scene.

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