DOC NYC’s 2021 edition will take place in theaters and online this November as the film festival restructures its lineup, adds three new competitions and expands roles for its programming team.
Samah Ali (pictured) has been named the festival’s lead shorts programmer, succeeding Opal H. Bennett, recently named co-producer at American Documentary/POV.
A veteran DOC NYC associate shorts programmer and screening committee member, Ali is also the founder of Sisterhood Media and programmer for Hot Docs and other festivals.
In her new role, Ali will head up a team that includes returning associate shorts programmer DeWitt Davis and newly hired associate shorts programmer Elyse Wang.
She will also oversee DOC NYC U, the festival’s showcase for student films, and will take part in curating the Short List: Shorts section.
DOC NYC organizers expect the festival to present a slate of more than 120 feature documentaries and more than 100 shorts in 2021 — the same as it did in 2020.
The 2021 festival will introduce separate U.S. and International Feature Competitions to replace its Viewfinders competition, which will more than double the number of films screening in juried competitions, organizers stated.
The new competitions will highlight work from mid-career and emerging filmmakers, representing a spectrum of non-fiction styles, including observational, investigative and first-person, to name a few.
For work that is more essayistic and poetic, the festival will launch the Kaleidoscope Competition, to be overseen by veteran DOC NYC programmer Ruth Somalo, who also serves as president of The Flaherty Board of Trustees.
The Metropolis Competition, now in its 12th year, will continue focusing on New York stories. The section will now be led by longtime DOC NYC programmer Karen McMullen, who also works as the director of programming at TIDE and a features programmer for the Tribeca Festival.
In addition to the four feature competition sections, the festival will continue to curate other feature docs in thematic and stylistic sections, including the longstanding Sonic Cinema (on musicians), Portraits (for character studies), and Fight the Power (covering stories of activism), along with the new Luminaries section that will feature new work from established non-fiction auteurs.
Other sections that will return are Winner’s Circle (showcasing award winners from international festivals) and Short List: Features, which spotlights 15 of the year’s top award contenders.
“We take inspiration from documentary filmmakers who persevere at telling stories under the most difficult circumstances,” said DOC NYC artistic director Thom Powers in a release. “They’ve emboldened us to keep growing despite all the challenges of the pandemic. We look forward to welcoming documentary makers back to New York, while continuing to reach online audiences with films and panels across the United States and around the world.”
The festival’s programming team also includes the newly promoted Brandon Harrison; along with new associate features programmers Kim Garcia and Bedatri Choudhury; and program manager Anita Raswant.
Programmers will work in collaboration with Powers to curate the feature documentary lineup.
For this year’s event, individual programmers will take lead responsibilities for various sections of the festival lineup.
The changes follow the departure of three longtime members of DOC NYC’s programming team, including Bennett.
Jessie Fairbanks, a veteran DOC NYC features programmer, became the new director of programming for SFFILM in San Francisco this past winter. Meanwhile, Basil Tsiokos, DOC NYC’s director of programming for seven years, is moving on to a new job that will be announced soon.