New York City has a new festival! DOC NYC – New York’s own Documentary Festival. According to the festival’s website, the first edition this year was first planned as a five-day festival, but just a few weeks before the opening got extended to a seven-day run!
Conceived, curated and produced by executive director Raphaela Neihausen and artistic director Thom Powers (also the documentary programmer of the Toronto International Film Festival and curator of the famed IFC Center documentary screening series STRANGER THAN FICTION), the festival is co-presented by IFC Center and NYU’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies, where Powers also teaches.
DOC NYC aims to celebrate non-fiction storytelling, presenting a program filled with screenings, panel discussions, a 2-day conference on all things documentary plus one-on-one conversations with veteran filmmakers such as Werner Herzog and Errol Morris, who are also the focus of two Gala screenings and work-shows.
The program is packed with recently completed documentaries, some of which just premiered in Toronto, allowing the NY audience a chance to catch them before they go into further distribution or move on to the next festival.
And fitting to the festival’s mission “to guide audiences toward inspiring work”, German veteran filmmaker Werner Herzog’s latest documentary CAVES OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS opened the festival.
Herzog is a storyteller fascinated by people that dare the impossible and looks at the world with a sense of wonder, curiosity and poetry.
Amongst his many works – fiction and documentary – he repeatedly worked with volatile actor Klaus Kinsky, and amongst others made AGUIRRE: THE WRATH OF GOD (1972) , FITZCARRALDO (1982) and then later in 1999 made MY BEST FIEND, a documentary about his love-hate-relationship with this unique actor. He also followed the trails of bear expert Timothy Treadwell in GRIZZLY MEN (2005) and went to Antarctica, to film ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD (2007), which was nominated for an Academy Award in 2009.
For his latest documentary, CAVES OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS, he worked in stereoscopic 3D for the first time, capturing the oldest known paintings in the world – in the Chauvet caves in Southern France, musing about the world as it once was – and wondering what these magnificent paintings may tell us about a time long gone.
The caves were only discovered in 1994, but are currently the oldest known cave paintings dating back 30,000 to 32,000 years. To preserve them for the following generations and to allow scientific research, they are closed to the public and access is only granted to a very select group of scientists for short periods of time.
Herzog was fortunate enough to receive exclusive and unprecedented access to the caves, and offers us to see these breathtaking paintings that otherwise we would otherwise never get a chance to experience. .
Unlike many 3D stereoscopic animation productions which often use the space in front of the screen to surprise and delight the audience – Herzog’s stereoscopic film draws you in and pulls you deep inside the caves, back into the past.
Painted upon the uneven rocks in the cave, the paintings themselves already have a three dimensional feel to them – in addition to the stereoscopic effect, the limited lighting available in the caves plus the projection onto a big screen, all add to the feeling of being there, on site.
As usual, Herzog himself narrates the film with his trademark voice and just like in previous documentaries, he includes encounters with scientists, philosophers and self-proclaimed experts giving the film a poetic and mystical quality.
However, after all these beautiful images and musing about human’s artistic and cultural accomplishments, Herzog closes the film by throwing us back into reality. Leaving the caves and their most beautiful natural surrounding, Herzog takes us to a nearby nuclear power plant. He suggests that the plant has caused water and air temperatures to rise and therefore alligators living in a nearby hot house have mutated into albinos.
Further research by journalists after the premiere of the film indicates that this is not the case and that the albino alligators arrived in France from the US. However, Herzog’s point is well taken – even if he may have taken a little too much poetic license for a documentary film: the rise in temperature and the impact of today’s pollutants will have an impact and effect on the caves and their paintings and so Herzog leaves us with a resonating reminder: to take good care of our cultural heritage.
IFC Films will theatrically release CAVES OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS next spring.
DOC NYC got off to a great start – the opening night was sold out, and all screenings and special events were very well attended. And so this new festival is another proof that there is an appetite and audience for the genre!