The program of the 51st edition of the celebrated New York Film Festival, taking place from September 27 to October 17, 2013, has an uncharacteristic focus on nonfiction films that definitely enrich the overall program. Make it a priority to see these highly recommended films:
At Berkeley – Directed by Fredrick Wiseman – This observational 244 minute tour of the campus, classrooms and behind-the-scenes administrative confabs at the University of California Berkeley is fascinating. Read my full review.
Tim’s Vermeer – Directed by Teller – With extraordinary wit and charm, this exceptional art documentary follows inventor Tim Jenison on an intellectual odyssey as he delves into the work of Johannes Vermeer, the 17th century Dutch master whose unparalleled realism on canvas has baffled art experts for centuries. After careful consideration of the master’s work, Jenison comes to the conclusion that Vermeer had help — in the form of an optical instrument that enabled the artist to capture images with photographic exactitude. Jenison looks for solutions and eventually comes up with a sort of mirror device with which he — a non-painter — can transfer two and three-dimensional images on to a canvas. Jenison’s thought process and invention are fascinating, as is the film. Tim’s Vermeer is an eye-opening must see! Read my full review.
The Last of the Unjust – Directed by Claude Lanzmann – This extraordinarily compelling Holocaust documentary is Lanzmann’s 240-minute long interview with Benjamin Murmelstein, who, as the last president of the Theresienstadt Jewish Council, was forced to negotiate with Adolph Eichmann on a daily basis from 1938 until the end of World War II for life essentials and the actual lives of Jews who were interred in the Nazis’ model concentration camp. The film presents a harrowing view of a rarely discussed and little known dimension of the Holocaust. Some archival footage is used to support Murmelstein’s comments, but his descriptions of what occurred in the camp are galvanizing. Painful as the experience might be, it is important to see and study this remarkable documentary.
The Square – Directed by Jahane Noujaim – Using footage from 20 months of shooting in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, Noujaim chronicles the ongoing demonstrations and popular uprising that lead to the fall of Hosni Mubarak and the beginning of the Arab Spring. Important incidents and the evolution of events is seen from the perspectives of participants in the uprising, four of whom are liberal and are hoping for the greater liberties offered by a secular democracy, and one of whom is a staunch Islamist and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. This courageous documentary gives you a front row seat to watch history in the making. A rare opportunity, indeed.
Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq – Directed by Nancy Buirski – This beautiful and lyrical dance documentary chronicles the career of ballerina Tanaquil Le Clercq whose brilliant career was suddenly and dramatically brought to an end when she got polio. The film uses archival footage and photographs that show the dancer from her youthful training to her solo performances as prima ballerina with the New York City Ballet, and chronicles her relationships with choreographers George Balanchine, to whom she was married, and Jerome Robbins. Considerable consideration is given to her life after she could no longer dance. Balanchine, Robbins, Jacques D’Damboise and others recount tales of Tanaquil, a fascinating muse. The documentary is quite affecting. Read my full review.
American Promise – Directed by Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson – Over the course of 14 years, the filmmakers chronicle the education of two African-American children living in New York. One of them is their son Idris. The other is his friend Seun. As young children, both boys begin their schooling at the Dalton School, an exclusive private school. But by the time get to high school, they’ve chosen separate paths, with one staying in private school and the other attending public school. The film shows how their attitudes and prospects vary because of the differences in their education, pointing out and underscoring that the land of equal opportunity isn’t so equal after all.
For more information about the New York Film Festival program, schedule and tickets, visit the official Website.