DOC NYC Announces Shortlist Films, Includes Several Canadian Docs

Now Is the Time

By Pat Mullen

One of the most reliable barometers for awards season reveals its forecast with this year’s DOC NYC Short List titles. The New York-based documentary festival dropped its annual Short List titles for shorts and feature docs, revealing a curated selection of films with the best prospects to go the distance this awards season. The Short List section has arguably become DOC NYC’s most high-profile section, but it’s also a consistently accurate predictor of the increasingly competitive Oscar race for Best Documentary Feature. 24 of the most recent 25 Oscar nominees for Best Documentary Feature have appeared in the program.

This year’s DOC NYC Short List is especially helpful in a fragmented festival circuit. The disruption of traditional campaigning also means that any spotlight is invaluable if frontrunners want to hold their leads. The features section of DOC NYC 2020, like the Academy shortlist, includes 15 docs. Most of the expected Oscar frontrunners are on the list, including Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner Boys State and Audience Award winner_Crip Camp_, along with the festival circuit crowd-pleaser The Truffle Hunters, which notably is the only official selection for Sundance, Cannes, Telluride, TIFF, and DOC NYC this year. Other titles on the list include Hao Wu, Weixi Chen, and Anonymous’s coronavirus doc 76 Days, along with Sam Pollard’s acclaimed MLK/FBI. Pollard will receive this year’s Visionaries Tribute at DOC NYC. His MLK/FBI leads the list of notably diverse representation on the Short List, with the fight for LGBTQ rights highlighted in Welcome to Chechnya, women’s rights in On the Records, and virtually all civil rights in the ACLU doc The Fight.

While any Canadian features would have been longshots to make Short List in this very competitive year, several Canadian titles appear among the shorts selections for Short List. Christopher Auchter’s NFB doc Now Is the Time, which appeared as a New York Times Op-Doc brings its restoration of Haida history to DOC NYC. Carol Nguyen makes the list with her SXSW winner No Crying at the Dinner Table and proves that her rising profile simply isn’t limited to the Toronto scene, while Tiffany Hsiung’s equally personal Sing Me a Lullaby makes its US premiere on the Short List after scoring the Directors’ Guild of Canada Award for Best Short Film in October and the Share Her Journey prize at TIFF. Sing Me a Lullaby is among the films in DOC NYC’s Spotlight on Canada section, which picks the land of the maple leaf for its national spotlight this year. Also representing Canada in Short List is two-time Oscar winner Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy as producer of director Safyah Usmani’s A Life too Short.

The selections for DOC NYC’s Short List are as follows:

Short List – Features

76 Days
Dir: Hao Wu, Weixi Chen, Anonymous
Prod: Hao Wu, Jean Tsien
A suspenseful, immersive look at life under COVID-19 lockdown in Wuhan, China, focused on front-line hospital workers and their patients. (Courtesy of MTV Documentary Films)

Boys State
Dir/Prod: Jesse Moss, Amanda McBaine
An annual civics program reveals modern-day democracy in a microcosm as high school boys create a mock government in Austin, Texas. (Courtesy of Apple Original Films/A24)

Dir/Prod: Alexander Nanau
Prod: Bianca Oana, Bernard Michaux, Hanka Kastelicová
This riveting investigative film follows a team of Romanian reporters as they doggedly uncover a deadly scandal that reaches the highest levels of government. (Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures/Participant)

Crip Camp
Dir/Prod: Nicole Newnham, Jim LeBrecht
Prod: Sara Bolder
A chronicle of America’s disability rights movement and its origins in a liberating summer camp for disabled teens. (Courtesy of Netflix)

Dick Johnson Is Dead
Dir/Prod: Kirsten Johnson
Prod: Katy Chevigny, Marilyn Ness
When the filmmaker’s 86-year-old father begins to lose his memory, she enlists him in a playful project to confront his mortality with a sense of humor. (Courtesy of Netflix)

The Fight
Dir/Prod: Elyse Steinberg, Josh Kriegman, Eli Despres
Prod: Maya Seidler, Peggy Drexler, Kerry Washington
This inspiring and vital film follows lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union as they battle the Trump administration over cases of immigration, abortion, LGBTQ+ equality, and voting rights. (Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures/Topic)

Dir: Victor Kossakovsky
Prod: Anita Rehoff Larsen
A cinema vérité immersion into the experiences of several animals on a farm, focused on a sow and her new litter of piglets. (Courtesy of NEON)

I Am Greta
Dir: Nathan Grossman
Prod: Cecilia Nessen, Fredrik Heinig
A portrait of Greta Thunberg’s meteoric one-year rise from high-school climate strike organizer to inspiration for a global movement. (Courtesy of Hulu)

Dir: Sam Pollard
Prod: Benjamin Hedin
Using recently declassified files, MLK/FBI examines J. Edgar Hoover’s relentless campaign of surveillance and harassment against Martin Luther King, Jr. (Courtesy of IFC Films)

On the Record
Dir/Prod: Kirby Dick, Amy Ziering
Prod: Jamie Rogers, Amy Herdy
This groundbreaking investigation of sexual assault in the music industry explores the complex factors that make it difficult for Black women to speak out and be heard. (Courtesy of HBO Max)

The Social Dilemma
Dir: Jeff Orlowski
Prod: Larissa Rhodes
An exposé of the insidious hidden systems of control behind our increasingly networked world, as revealed by former tech world insiders. (Courtesy of Netflix)

A Thousand Cuts
Dir/Prod: Ramona S. Diaz
Prod: Leah Marino, Julie Goldman, Christopher Clements, Carolyn Hepburn
A chilling look at the assault on fundamental democratic freedoms in the Philippines through the persecution of courageous journalist Maria Ressa. (Courtesy of PBS Distribution/FRONTLINE)

Dir/Prod: Garrett Bradley
Prod: Lauren Domino, Kellen Quinn
A moving chronicle of a marriage and a family separated by incarceration, focused on Fox Rich, who has spent 21 years fighting for the release of her husband from a 60-year prison sentence. (Courtesy of Amazon Studios)

The Truffle Hunters
Dir/Prod: Michael Dweck, Gregory Kershaw
Enter the secretive world of the only people–and dogs–who are able to find the elusive white Alba truffle, the most expensive ingredient in the world. (Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)

Welcome to Chechnya
Dir/Prod: David France
Prod: Alice Henty, Joy A. Tomchin, Askold Kurov
A courageous team of Russian activists operate an underground railroad to help LGBTQ+ Chechens escape state-sanctioned persecution (Courtesy of HBO Documentary Films/Music Box Films)

Short List – Shorts

Abortion Helpline, This Is Lisa
Dir/Prod: Barbara Attie, Janet Goldwater, Mike Attie
At a Philadelphia abortion helpline, counselors answer nonstop calls from women who are seeking to end a pregnancy, but can’t afford to do so. A revealing look at how economic stigma and cruel legislation determines who in America has access to abortion. (Courtesy of Topic/Women Make Movies)

Ashes to Ashes
Dir: Taylor Rees
Prod: Shirley Whitaker
Winfred Rembert, a survivor of an attempted lynching in 1967, a Star Wars fanatic, and leather artist, develops a friendship with Doctor Shirley Jackson Whitaker, who is on a mission to memorialize the forgotten 4,000 African Americans lynched during the Jim Crow era. (Courtesy of XTR)

Call Center Blues
Dir: Geeta Gandbhir
Prod: Jessica Devaney
A tale of migration and deportation, this film follows four characters as they struggle to make sense of their lives in Tijuana. Each with a different story, they’re linked by displacement and call center work in a country that’s unfamiliar and frightening, yet sometimes a ray of hope. (Courtesy of Topic)

Do Not Split
Dir/Prod: Anders Hammer
Prod: Charlotte Cook
In the fall of 2019, a proposed bill allowing the Chinese government to extradite criminal suspects to mainland China escalates protests throughout Hong Kong. Unfolding across a year, this film captures the determination and sacrifices of the protesters, the government’s backlash, and the passage of the new Beijing-backed national security law. (Courtesy of Field of Vision)

Flower Punk
Dir/Prod: Alison Klayman
Japanese artist Azuma Makoto has sent his floral sculptures into space and sunk them to the bottom of the ocean, but, most of the time, he thinks about the life and death of flowers. (Courtesy of New Yorker)

Hunger Ward
Dir/Prod: Skye Fitzgerald
Prod: Michael Scheuerman
This unflinching look at the human-caused famine in Yemen follows health care workers Dr. Aida Alsadeeq and Nurse Mekkia Mahdi as they work to save the lives of hunger-stricken children in two therapeutic feeding centers, against the backdrop of a forgotten war. (Courtesy of RYOT/Vulcan)

A Life Too Short
Dir: Safyah Usmani
Prod: Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy
Social media superstar Qandeel Baloch pushed boundaries in conservative Pakistan like no other. In 2016, high on her newfound celebrity, Qandeel exposes a well-known Muslim cleric–with tragic results. (Courtesy of MTV Documentary Films)

A Love Song for Latasha
Dir/Prod: Sophia Nahli Allison
Prod: Fam Udeorji
The injustice surrounding the shooting death of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins at a South Central Los Angeles store became a flashpoint for the city’s 1992 civil uprising. Nearly three decades later, director Sophia Nahli Allison removes Latasha from the context of her death to craft a dreamlike portrait of a promising life lost. (Courtesy of Netflix)

No Crying at the Dinner Table
Dir/Prod: Carol Nguyen
Prod: Aziz Zoromba
Filmmaker Carol Nguyen interviews her family to craft a portrait of love, grief, and intergenerational trauma. (Courtesy of Travelling Distribution)

Now Is the Time
Dir: Christopher Auchter
Prod: Selwyn Jacob
On the 50th anniversary of the first new totem pole raising on British Columbia’s Haida Gwaii in almost a century, Haida filmmaker Christopher Auchter steps through history to revisit the day that would signal the rebirth of the Haida spirit. (Courtesy of New York Times Op-Docs / POV / National Film Board of Canada)

Sing Me a Lullaby
Dir/Prod: Tiffany Hsiung A daughter journeys to Taiwan seeking her mother’s long lost mother, uncovering family secrets and connecting the generations. (Courtesy of CBC/POV)

Then Comes the Evening
Dir/Prod: Maja Novaković
In the lush pastoral hills of Eastern Bosnia, two old women share solitude. The care they have for each other is not composed of words, but rather their daily conduct. They are in a conversation with the land, welcoming the voices of nature, and the songs of a memory that is dying out.

Winners Circle

The festival previously announced a Winner’s Circle lineup of 8 titles and has now added The Painter and the Thief and The Mole Agent for a total of 10 films in the showcase.

Acasa, My Home
Dir: Radu Ciorniciuc
Prod: Monica Lăzurean-Gorgan
Winner: Golden Horn for Best Documentary Film, Krakow Film Festival
A large Roma clan who have lived off the grid in the wilderness for 20 years are forced to resettle in the unfamiliar city. (Courtesy of Zeitgeist Films in association with Kino Lorber)

Beautiful Something Left Behind
Dir: Katrine Philp
Prod: Katrine A. Sahlstrøm
Winner: Documentary Feature Competition Grand Jury Award, SXSW Film Festival
An affectionate and intimate child’s eye view of New Jersey’s Good Grief counseling center, which offers a holistic approach to mourning the loss of loved ones. (Courtesy of ViacomCBS)

Dir: Richard Poplak, Diana Neille
Prod: Bob Moore, Neil Brandt
Winner: Best International Documentary Film, Durban International Film Festival
This portrait of the founder of the infamous public relations firm Bell Pottinger explores the disturbing way our perceptions—and politics—are shaped by outside forces.

Dir/Prod: David Osit
Winner: The Reva and David Logan Grand Jury Award, Full Frame Documentary Film Festival
Musa Hadid, the Christian mayor of Ramallah, Palestine, navigates day-to-day civic responsibilities, but the darker realities of life under occupation are never too far away. (Courtesy of Film Movement)

The Mole Agent
Dir: Maite Alberdi
Prod: Marcela Santibáñez
Winner: Audience Award for Best European Film, San Sebastian International Film Festival
An 83-year-old man goes undercover in a Chilean retirement home in this stylish observational documentary spy film. (Courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

The Painter and the Thief
Dir: Benjamin Ree
Prod: Ingvil Giske
Winner: Jury Award for Best International Documentary, Docville International Documentary Festival Belgium
A dual portrait of an artist and the thief who stole her art—but who becomes her unlikely friend and artistic collaborator. (Courtesy of NEON)

The Reason I Jump
Dir: Jerry Rothwell
Prod: Jeremy Dear, Stevie Lee, Al Morrow
Winner: World Cinema Documentary Competition Audience Award, Sundance Film Festival
Based on the groundbreaking book written by Naoki Higashida, this film explores the interior worlds and fascinating daily experiences of five nonverbal autistic young people. (Courtesy of Kino Lorber)

Songs of Repression
Dir: Estephan Wagner, Marianne Hougen-Moraga
Prod: Heidi Elise Christensen, Signe Byrge Sørensen
Winner: DOX:Award, CPH:DOX (Copenhagen International Documentary Festival)
Executive produced by Joshua Oppenheimer, this complex portrait reveals the dark truth behind Chile’s seemingly idyllic German colony, Colonia Dignidad, formerly led by a cruel cult leader.

Dir/Prod: Elizabeth Lo
Prod: Shane Boris
Winner: Best International Feature Documentary Award, Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival
A remarkable portrait of three dogs in Istanbul, where strays are an everyday part of the fabric of the community, belonging to no one and everyone at the same time. (Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

The Walrus and the Whistleblower
Dir/Prod: Nathalie Bibeau
Prod: Frederic Bohbot
Winner: Audience Award, Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival
An eccentric former marine animal park trainer wages a war via social media and the courts to save Smooshi, his beloved walrus, from deplorable conditions. (Courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)