Lack of funding has forced Docfest organizers to cancel their fourth annual New York festival, originally scheduled for spring 2001. Docfest founder Gary Pollard is planning smaller monthly doc screenings in Manhattan to make up for the loss. He hopes to revive Docfest in spring 2002.
The festival has operated on a modest budget of ‘a couple hundred thousand dollars’ raised from corporations and foundations, says Pollard. ‘Every year we’re on the verge of not having the festival. It’s an uphill climb.’
After three years Docfest had become a cherished event for New York’s large doc community. Last year Docfest screened 17 films over four days. Each film was followed by a reception. The event attracted 5,000 attendees. Pollard estimates that the audience was split between filmmakers and the general public.
Now Pollard’s organization, the New York Documentary Center, is launching a new monthly screening series called Docshop. Starting in July, each screening will highlight a veteran doc-maker showing and discussing their work at the Pioneer Theater in New York’s East Village. Among the filmmakers scheduled to participate are David Van Taylor (with Local News) and Stephanie Black (with Life and Debt).
The center has also partnered with the New York Times to present a Classic Documentary Series at the Directors Guild of America Theater. The series recently presented For all Mankind, Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse and The Specialist with discussions afterwards led by New York Times writers. Roughly 90% of the audience is the general public, as opposed to filmmakers, Pollard notes. He plans to continue the series in either fall or winter. ‘It fits our mission to expand the audience for documentaries.’
Reflecting on the difficulties of operating a documentary festival in Manhattan, Pollard recalled that three other festivals have come and gone in the city over the past 25 years: Global Village at the Public Theater, Documentary Week at the Carnegie Theater, and Documentary Center at Columbia. ‘We’re kind of the fourth reincarnation,’ he said. ‘Before we made [the cancellation] public, word leaked out and I got supportive calls from all over. I realized there’s a silver lining in that we’re going to get talked about more than ever.’