DOC NYC Hits Our Fifty Percent Target in 2021

FF2 Media is delighted to affirm that this year’s DOC NYC schedule includes 63 documentary films directed by women – including films co-directed by women – out of a total of 127 feature films. 63/127 = 49.6%… so let’s call it 50% and shout “Hooray!”

Considered the largest documentary film festival in the USA, DOC NYC will show films from all over the world from November 10th thru November 18th. These films cover broad-ranging subjects from an inside look at the USA’s largest retirement community (The Villages in Florida) to a daughter’s look at what happened to her father, Emperor Haile Selassie, after Ethiopia’s 1974 coup.

When I asked Ruth Somalo, features programmer for the festival, how they ended up with so many films directed/co-directed by women, Somalo explained that they had not specifically set out to include so many; they had discovered the total after they had chosen the films. “Female directors make films of great quality. That’s not an issue at all. That’s clear. But oftentimes, we don’t have access to as many resources in terms of funding or in terms of production structure, funding partners that accompany you, and distributors,” Somalo said, “So it makes it more difficult for all of those films that are great and are being made to reach film festivals or other gatekeepers.”

Somalo noted that in the nine years of programming for the festival, they have a more inclusive programming team. They’ve had more and more women on the board, noting “the sensibilities and what we are moved by also changes with the composition of the programmers.” She explained that all the films go through a rigorous submission process – most films come from an open call of submissions and each film is watched once or twice before a decision is made on whether or not to include in the festival. She said there are so many great films that cannot be included that it would make three full festivals if they could include them all.

When asked why it was important to have more representation of women directors than in past years, Somalo explained, “We are more than half of the population around the world, and the way we understand life, and the way we represent life, and the way that we engage artistically with life is not represented as much. And we all know why. So that’s why it’s so important to have visions of women directors, and transgender directors and LGBTQ directors, because life is composed of all of us having experiences and understanding situations in very own ways.”

Somalo wants people to know that many films directed by women are incredible. “They’re extraordinary artists, utilizing a wide range of forms within the nonfiction world from the more experimental to the more observational to the more journalistic, to the more artistic to the more poetic. The take[away] is that every female artist is a world on her own and they all deserve a platform to show their work because their work is good,” Somalo said. “We even have a lot in common because we don’t necessarily have to have a lot in common. That’s the beauty. We’re all different.”

Here are a few of the films that I watched at home in advance:

The Art of Making It — Directed by Kelcey Edwards

The Art of Making It explores the current state of the art market, focusing on the question of how an artist succeeds in this world. The outlook is not good. Edwards makes a case that there is a lot of money in the art world, but it is rarely seen by the artists themselves. The biggest galleries and the wealthy collectors hold the keys to the castle, while the creators struggle to survive. Like many institutions in the USA, the real winners are the ones on the top. They decide what is worthy of collecting, so that’s what ends up in museums and in private collections. Sadly, artists are largely an afterthought, dealing with the debt.

César García-Alvarez of the Mistake Room makes the killer statement: “There seems to be this gap between the institutions, the galleries, and the well-being of the maker. That in-between space of caring for the person who is making that work that is being bought, sold and exhibited is the pressing issue we have to address.”

The Art of Making It effectively interweaves interviews with up-and-coming artists, staff members from all levels of galleries, collectors, art critics and writers to provide an indictment of the contemporary art market. I wish it had gone into a discussion of what can be done to change the way this market is structured. The doc does explore some alternative models of galleries, but I think it could have offered up more examples of new visions of what the art world could be through community-oriented organizations throughout the USA.

Nevertheless, it is definitely a worthy watch for anyone in and/or interested in the art world. Plus, it makes a great case that we need to consider memes as their own art form. Writer/Curator Helen Molesworth aptly said, “I think of memes being a digital version of street art.” The film introduced me to Jerry Gogosian (an art critic and artist who satirizes the art world through memes on their Instagram), and the alias of Hilde Lynn Helphenstein. It’s worth checking out her incredible incisive work.

Omara — Directed by Hugo Perez

While this world premiering film is admittedly not directed by a woman, Omara’s tight focus on the incredible Cuban singer Omara Portuondo Peláez convinced me that it belonged in this post.

Although she is probably best known in the USA for being a part of the widely-known Buena Vista Social Club, Perez shows that Omara had an extensive career before BVSC (like all the other musicians in the band) as well as a career long-lasting collaboration. It’s a welcome addition to the self-titled documentary, which did not really spend much time on this incredible singer.

Omara flips back and forth between her early life (finding success with Cuarteto d’Aida, a quartet that included her sister) and the present day (where she has continued to tour into her 90s with no sign of stopping). There’s a great scene filmed recently in NYC in which Omara is being interviewed by several American journalists. Each one asks her “What’s it like to be on your last tour?” And she just keeps saying “No.”

Omara will be a welcome tribute for Omara’s fans and a generator of new ones.

Exposure — Directed by Holly Morris

(This is a repeat of the review in my Best of CIFF – Chicago International Film Festival  – posted last month.)

Exposure is a documentary about the all-women Euro-Arabian North Pole Expedition Team in 2018. This was my favorite of the three CIFF films I reviewed, but full disclosure, I am obsessed with all things Arctic and Antarctic.

Exposure follows the 11 women from all over Europe and the Middle East who have been chosen to ski to the North Pole. It follows their two years of training whether in the snow and cold or the deserts of Oman. It opens with one woman, walking around her British town with ski poles, dragging a tire behind her tied to her waist. The second half is the actual expedition as the women trek across the landscape, dealing with frostbite, deep crevices, and the mental challenge of it all. The film dives into their varied lives; one woman is a marine biologist while the other appears to be a Muslim chaplain at a hospital.

It’s also fascinating to hear the logistics of it all. It was incredible to learn about how they have to make a runway at the temporary Russian base of Barneo, every year. They parachute two tractors from a plane along with their other supplies. Incredible footage.

Exposure is a beautiful film as these women work through the physical and mental challenges of making it to the Arctic. It’s also a reminder of what is lost as we fail to make substantive changes to mitigate the effects of climate change. The film is very clear about what polar expeditions are facing as a result of climate change right now – whether it’s cracking ice or the increased threat of polar bears.

It’s a triumph of a film and a must-see to people interested in exploration, the Arctic, or women’s sports.

© Elisa Shoenberger (11/8/21) Special for FF2 Media



Jerry Gogosian:

Here’s the link to last month’s post about the 2021 Chicago International Film Festival.


PERMISSIONS and CREDITS (FF2 is grateful to DOC NYC for use of these key stills.)

Featured Photo: from The Art of Making It.

Bottom Photo :from Omara


The Art of Making It:



Tags: Buena Vista Social Club, César García-Alvarez, Cuarteto d'Aida, DOC NYC, Elisa Shoenberger, Exposure (2021), FF2 Media, Helen Molesworth, Hilde Lynn Helphenstein, Holly Morris, Hugo Perez, International SWANs, iswans, Jerry Gogosian, Kelcey Edwards, Omara, Omara (2021), Omara Portuondo Peláez, Ruth Somalo, Support Women Artists Now, The Art of Making It (2021)

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