You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

New York Film Festival Docus Spotlight Brian De Palma, Nora Ephron

Everywhere you look, filmmakers are talking about how they make films — from behind-the-scenes featurettes for each episode of a cable series to now-ubiquitous YouTube interviews with directors of even the most artless action movies. So perhaps it’s no wonder that the most august of fests, the 53rd New York Film Festival, is presenting documentaries on filmmakers Brian De Palma, Nora Ephron, Haskell Wexler, Robert Frank, Jia Zhang-ke and even one-time producer Ingrid Bergman. It’s a bigger reflexive lineup than at any NYFF in recent memory.

No film embodies this trend better than “Hitchcock/Truffaut,” which examines the two legendary auteurs through interviews with Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Richard Linklater and other filmmakers. Yet in a strange twist, despite garnering acclaim in Cannes, Telluride and Toronto, it was overtly snubbed by NYFF’s director, Kent Jones — who also happens to be the director of “Hitchcock/Truffaut.”

As Jones wryly notes, “if a filmmaker submitted a documentary or even a fiction film to me, and I were to go back to them and say, ‘Unfortunately we will not be showing your film at the festival, but, lucky me, I’ve made a film that everyone seems to like, so we’ll be showing mine,’ I wouldn’t be able to look anybody in the eye.”

Kent Jones’ “Hitchcock/Truffaut”

Perhaps his own magnificent obsession with helmers led him to subconsciously program an impressive array of filmmaking-themed docs into the fest.

“There just happened to be a lot of them this year,” says Jones, under whose watch the Spotlight on Documentary section expanded from a panel to a 12-film sidebar. “People remarked on that in Cannes — and the quality was higher than usual, I suppose.”

Walter Salles, who helmed the Spotlight on Documentaries entry “Jia Zhang-ke: A Guy From Fenyang” about the Chinese director, says what attracted him to cinema “was that films could show you how the world can be much more fascinating and complex than you thought at first. Documentaries about filmmakers only reinforced this understanding. I was profoundly impacted by Chris Marker’s film on Akira Kurosawa, ‘A.K.,’ Wim Wenders’ film on Yasujiro Ozu, ‘Tokyo-Ga’ and (Jean-Pierre) Limosin’s film on Abbas Kiarostami.”

While relatively low-brow DVD extras and “Breaking Bad” featurettes are turning us all into amateur film students, some filmmakers want to focus on the art involved in the process. “There’s an explosion of kids going to film school, and it’s so easy to make images today,” says Laura Israel, who profiled her longtime collaborator in the Main Slate world premiere “Don’t Blink: Robert Frank.” “I feel people should go back to spending more time thinking about what goes into an image than just taking so many and editing them later.”

(Israel is coy about whether her own film will feature images from Frank’s most infamous film, the 1972 concert tour doc “Cocksucker Blues,” which the Rolling Stones refused to let him release. “Representing the obstacles Robert went through with it was the most important thing to me,” she says, “not necessarily the film or the incident itself.”)

Walter Salles’ “Jia Zhangke: A Guy From Fenyang”

Some docs are simply a filmmaker’s equivalent of “write what you know” — from “Don’t Blink” to first-time filmmaker Jacob Bernstein’s portrait of his mother, Nora Ephron, “Everything Is Copy.” Even a doc that plays like an artfully made, feature-length master class, such as Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow’s Special Events selection, “De Palma,” began after they’d become friends with the 75-year-old director of such stylized thrillers as “Carrie” and “Dressed to Kill.”

“When filmmakers talk to filmmakers, there’s a kind of candidness that tends not to be analytical or even intellectual — it’s much more about process,” Baumbach says.

Baumbach and Paltrow filmed a week of interviews with De Palma five years ago to “document our relationship with him in terms of his work and career,” Baumbach adds. “We had the idea we might turn it into a movie, but we also wanted to have it on record just for us.”

Though Baumbach claims the film is more a “personal document of our friendship,” it delves into the reasons for De Palma’s trademark split-screens and suspense techniques far more than his psychology. But an anecdote about how the director followed his cheating father on a tryst before stalking the mistress in an office building is revelatory.

It’s one of several NYFF docs offering the undiluted voices of their subjects, another way some docmakers are paralleling print works like Tom Roston’s new book “I Lost It at the Video Store: A Filmmakers’ Oral History of a Vanished Era.” “We didn’t want expert talking heads, because often you end up with superlatives,” “De Palma” co-helmer Paltrow says. “We didn’t want to affect the way Brian experienced it.”

“De Palma” also recalls Baumbach’s recent “While We’re Young,” in which Ben Stiller plays a doc filmmaker spouting lines like “I steal from everyone: Wiseman, Maysles, Pennebaker.” But Baumbach scoffs at any unconscious influence one film may have had on the other. “I’m now aware of the irony,” he quips.

More Film

  • Lisa Borders Time's Up

    Time's Up President Lisa Borders Resigns

    Lisa Borders has resigned as president of Time’s Up, she and the organization announced on Monday. Borders is resigning due to family issues, she said in a statement. Time’s Up COO Rebecca Goldman will now serve as interim CEO. “As Time’s Up continues to grow, I am proud of the work I have done to [...]

  • Keira Knightly as "Rachael Morgan" in

    Film Review: Keira Knightley in 'The Aftermath'

    Less widely seen (and acclaimed) than it deserved to be, James Kent’s debut feature “Testament of Youth” was one of the great recent love-in-wartime dramas, translating the intimate romance and sprawling human tragedy of Vera Brittain’s WWI memoir with a grace and heft worthy of its David Lean allusions. Four years on, it’s not hard [...]

  • Inside Amazon's New Feature Film Strategy

    Amazon's New Film Strategy: Straight-to-Service Titles and Starry Sundance Buys

    It was close to midnight when Amazon Studios chief Jennifer Salke got the text. The company had failed in its quest to acquire “Brittany Runs a Marathon,” a body image dramedy that captivated Salke when she saw it at Sundance. A sales agent on the project messaged her to say that a competitor offered a [...]

  • Alfonso Cuaron71st Annual Writers Guild Awards,

    Alfonso Cuarón on Academy's 'Inevitable' Reversal on Televised Oscar Categories

    Alfonso Cuarón isn’t exactly surprised that the Academy reversed its decision and will now air all the Oscar categories during the live show on Sunday. Feb. 24. Calling the decision “inevitable,”Cuarón tells Variety that he thinks the Academy should take things even further. “Let’s stop calling them technical categories!” he told Variety on Sunday night [...]

  • TorinoFilmLab Announces Selections for 2019 ScriptLab

    TorinoFilmLab Announces Selections for 2019 ScriptLab (EXCLUSIVE)

    The TorinoFilmLab has announced the 20 feature projects and five story editor trainees who have been selected to take part in the 2019 edition of ScriptLab, an initiative focused on the development of fiction feature film scripts in early development stage. Beginning in March, this year’s participants will team up with filmmakers from around the [...]

  • Alita Battle Angel

    North American Box Office Declines From Last Year With Weak Presidents Day Weekend

    “Alita: Battle Angel” easily won a tepid Presidents Day weekend with a $34.2 million at 3,790 North American locations, estimates showed Monday. Overall domestic moviegoing for 2019 has plunged 22.1% to $1.24 billion as of Monday, according to Comscore. That’s $350 million below the same date a year ago and the lowest figure at this [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content