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DOC NYC 2020 Preview: 6 Must-See Films at America’s Largest Documentary Festival

For fans of non-fiction filmmaking, one of the major stops on the fall festival circuit is the annual DOC NYC Festival, with its 11th edition taking place online from November 11-19. Solidifying its reign as America’s largest documentary festival, the 2020 lineup includes over 200 films across several themed sections, including their famously Oscar-predictive Short List. With so many titles to choose from, Awards Radar has got you covered with a starter pack of standout films to get you going. Below is a selection of our early picks you won’t want to miss:

One of the most easily relatable films in the lineup is undoubtedly Chasing Childhood, an in-depth look at the pervasive phenomenon of “helicopter parenting” and its dangerous side effects. Directed by Margaret Munzer Loeb and Eden Wurmfeld, this informative documentary examines American society’s transition from a culture that encouraged children’s freedom to explore and play, to one that virtually criminalizes childhood independence. Told from the varied perspectives of parents, children, educators and free-range advocates, Chasing Childhood is anchored by the cautionary example of Savannah Eason, a young woman who struggled with suicidal thoughts, depression and substance abuse due to the overwhelming pressures to succeed.

A Crime on the Bayou

Though stories of racial injustice throughout the history of America are unfortunately a dime a dozen, cinematic accounts of these painful experiences still have the power to astonish. Evocative images of swampland and plaintive jazz music set the scene for one such case of civil rights abuses in Nancy Buirski’s A Crime on the Bayou. This somber film lays bare systematic bigotry at its most persistent extreme, as a political official named Leander Perez oversees a relentless series of unfounded criminal charges against a black teen in 1960s Louisiana for touching a white boy on the arm.

We’ve all experienced the feeling of COVID-related isolation to various degrees, but could you endure it for a full year? Lauren DeFilippo and Katherine Gorringe’s Red Heaven documents this unusual scenario with a NASA experiment to simulate life on Mars by enclosing six strangers in a habitat with limited connection to the outside world. Like a cool, elevated reality show, Red Heaven explores human psychology and socialization under duress, challenging our notions of the basic necessities required for a happy life.

Self Portrait

In an act of tremendous bravery, Norwegian artist/photographer Lene Marie Fossen exposes her body and soul in the apty titled Self Portrait. Directed by Katja Høgset, Margreth Olin and Espen Wallin, this challenging documentary profiles Fossen’s life and work as she turned the camera on herself to display both her debilitating anorexia and impressive talent. In the process, she enlightens us to the harsh reality of a misunderstood disease, while her stunning exhibitions find the “beauty in the pain.”

The future of activism is in good hands, if Ashley O’Shay’s Unapologetic is anything to go by. This invigorating documentary takes a look at the Black Youth Project 100 movement and its coalition of intersectional social justice groups through the eyes of two of its most prominent members. As these young black women fight to amplify their voices and tell it like it is, O’Shay’s intimate direction illuminates the love underpinning the anger – a love of black people, their communities and the ideal of a fair and just America for all.

The Viewing Booth

Non-fiction filmmaking is often praised for its perceived objectivity and ability to foster empathy among audiences. With The Viewing Booth, however, Ra’anan Alexandrowicz upends these notions through a unique experiment focused on a pro-Israel woman’s interpretation of anti-occupation civilian footage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The result is an utterly fascinating and thought-provoking examination of how objectivity is corrupted by personal beliefs, thereby raising essential “who, why, what” questions of viewers and filmmakers alike.

Be sure to check back for more coverage of DOC NYC 2020, running November 11-19.


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Written by Shane Slater

Shane Slater is a passionate cinephile whose love for cinema led him to creating his blog Film Actually in 2009. Since then, he has written for, and The Spool. Based in Kingston, Jamaica, he relishes the film festival experience, having covered TIFF, NYFF and Sundance among others. He is a proud member of the African-American Film Critics Association.

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