New York’s Docfest aims to treat doc-makers like royalty, says exec director Gary Pollard. Having pulled off his third annual festival this year (May 31-June 5), Pollard and the New York Documentary Center are now looking to expand their mission to other venues.
Pollard is currently searching for a New York venue to hold monthly doc screenings, and is also planning a retreat for professionals and aficionados, tentatively scheduled for September 2001 in Rhode Island. Future developments will be reported on the Docfest website.
This year, Docfest featured 16 new films and videos over the course of six days. The jury and audience prizes went to Well-Founded Fear (Shari Robertson and Michael Camerini) and Scottsboro: An American Tragedy (Barak Goodman and Daniel Anker) respectively.
Unlike larger festivals, like Sundance and Berlin, Docfest isn’t designed to play a market role. Instead, Pollard’s staff seeks a more intimate film-going experience by having the director and sometimes the subjects on hand for every screening. This year’s special guests included a polygamous Mormon from One Man, Six Wives and Twenty-Nine Children; two piano-playing prodigies from Russia’s Wonder Children; and a virtuoso squeeze-box player from Saluzzi: Composition for Bandone—n and Three Brothers.
The feature presentation was Peter Wintonick’s Cinema Verite: Defining the Moment, but the chief attraction of the night occurred when the lights came up and several of the ‘verite’ pioneers took the stage. Among the speakers were Robert Drew, Albert Maysles, D.A. Pennebaker and Richard Leacock, who collaborated on the breakthrough documentary Primary in 1960.
Drew praised the makers of Cinema Verite for bringing ‘all these talents to light before any of us kicked off.’ Leacock, who began his career working for Robert Flaherty, lauded the potential of the new digital technologies and lamented the narrow thinking of current broadcasters. ‘Television is a massive disaster,’ he said. ‘Channel 4 used to be intellectual and is no longer. ARTE is a bunch of snobs. I can’t deal with any of them.’