The 48th edition of the venerable New York Film Festival kicked off September 24, loosely inspiring this week’s theme for indieWIRE‘s curation of Hulu’s Documentaries page — no, not a selection of lyrical foreign language docs, but instead a series of films about or featuring New York City and its famous (or infamous) residents.
Editor’s note: “indieWIRE @ Hulu Docs” is a regular column spotlighting the iW-curated selections on Hulu’s Documentaries page, a unique collaboration between the two sites. Be sure to check out these great non-fiction projects each week.
Though the anniversary was last month, the events of September 11, 2001, left an indelible mark on NYC. Less than a year after the events, Steve Rosenbaum assembled the footage of twenty-seven filmmakers, recorded on 9/11 and the days that follow, and released the feature documentary 7 Days in September. This powerful and moving film speaks to the need to bear witness, recording the chaos and confusion in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, as well as those moments when New Yorkers banded together in whatever way they could to support relief efforts and one another in the wake of tragedy.
Glenn Holsten’s The Saint of 9/11, which premiered at the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival, similarly takes stock of the tragedy, and also finds hope. A photo of the lifeless body of Father Mychal Judge, a Chaplain of the Fire Department of New York, being carried out of the World Trade Center became a symbol for many of the losses suffered that day, and of the sacrifices of those who tried to help. Holsten’s inspiring film tells the story of Irish-American iconoclastic priest, who battled his own inner struggles as he tried to minister to the needs of others.
Another documentary portrait shaped by these events is Matthew Carnahan and Jon Philp’s Rudyland, a look at the city’s controversial former Mayor. Though not focused exclusively on 9/11, Giuliani’s leadership in the wake of the tragedy, at the end of his term, did a great deal to restore much of his tarnished reputation — detailed in the earlier parts of this film — and elevated his national profile. The film, dedicated to NYC, unmistakably changed during the course of Rudy’s tenure.
Another controversial figure, radio talkshow host Joe Pace, is the subject of Jed Weintrob’s narrative/doc hybrid The F Word. Faced with the end of his irreverent show due to FCC fines for indecency, he chose to spend this last broadcast reporting at the 2004 Republican National Convention in Manhattan. Blending fiction and reality, this political film addresses free speech and the efforts of those who would suppress it, as well as the impact of the contentious decision to welcome the RNC to a city that traditionally votes for the other side.
Robert Liano and Thomas Coppola’s A Broad Way, like 7 Days in September, combines the efforts of nearly 400 filmmakers to create a comprehensive portrait. In this case, the subject is not a specific incident, but one city in one hour, from hundreds of simultaneous perspectives. The result is a unique collaborative documentary, exposing and appreciating every block of Broadway from top to bottom, showcasing a series of New York minutes that can be appreciated by everyone who loves this city.
Finally, in Pluck (Courage, Determination, Spirit), directors Richard Atkinson and Dore Hammond take a look back to mid-century NYC and the influential changes to the cultural and political life of the city. Tastemakers and creative forces representing a wide range of disciplines reflect on their roles in shaping the city in revealing interviews and through archival materials.
About the writer: Basil Tsiokos is a Programming Associate, Documentary Features for Sundance, consults with documentary filmmakers and festivals, and recently co-produced Cameron Yates’ feature documentary The Canal Street Madam. Follow him on Twitter @1basil1 and @CanalStMadamDoc and visit his blog.