By Johan Abdu
This year, America’s documentary film festival, DOC NYC, was the venue of Brooklyn College’s Television, Radio, and Emerging Media (TREM) and Film Departments, with students and alumni displaying nine unique films. Each project ranged in subject matter, from introspective self-portraiture to being a Black creator in America.
Founded by Thom Powers and Raphaela Neihausen in 2010, DOC NYC has been one of, if not, the largest and most respected film festivals in the country, showcasing some of the best documentaries in the world. The festival takes place over nine days in November at the School of Visual Arts Theater at 333 West 23rd Street, Cinépolis Theater in Chelsea, and the West Village’s IFC Center. Many DOC NYC winning films and shorts go on to garner countless international accolades and regularly feature at the Academy Awards.
Alexa Whyte, a sophomore majoring in both Television & Radio and Business, produced “Woman of Color,” a 5-minute self-portrait on how her professional photography style has changed over the years along with her self-image during the pandemic.
“I was at first very nervous to submit my film. That was my first film I ever created,” said Whyte. “I’ve grown so much since then as a cinematographer and an editor and looking back is bittersweet but everyone starts somewhere!”
Whyte told The Vanguard that she welcomes the opportunity to do it again and make more, as it was an awakening experience for the filmmaker.
“I definitely felt proud and it just made me want to create more films and submit to more festivals because I never know where my work could end up or who it could inspire,” she said.
BC alum Anslem Joseph started his self-portrait, “Glitch,” as an assignment last semester while stuck at home, but he was one of many encouraged to submit his work to DOC NYC by TREM Professor Irina Patkanian.
“I felt insecure because I didn’t know what other people would think about my film. But, eventually, when I just focused on what I thought and the amount of work I put into it, I felt proud of myself,” said Joseph. “I had to look within my identity to find out what makes me who I am, such as being a Black man in America, talking about my hobbies, goals, interests, and surviving the pandemic.”
Joseph is currently a graduate student at the CUNY Newmark School for Journalism, hoping to use his love for filmmaking to aid his budding journalism career.
At DOC NYC, Milton Fernandez, a Journalism and Media Studies undergrad at BC, also debuted “Silencio – A Self-Portrait.”
His submission displays how he “finds solace” in isolation from his home in Connecticut mixed with moments in his social life, sharing who he is and who he isn’t with viewers.
“In many ways, not having a lot of equipment and working ‘from less’ actually made the film feel more personal for me and hopefully is something that was transmitted to the audience, as well,” Fernandez said.
The festival, however, wasn’t all about self-portraits. Compelled by the many city-wide protests against the police brutality of Black men and women like himself, BC alumnus Joshua Deveaux wanted to tell a particular story. His documentary, “We Should Talk,” tells the life of Brooklyn native Jordan Jones-Brewster, a Black man dealing with the loss of a friend to police brutality, who aspires to make a video game that resonates with those like him.
Having his documentary shown in a theater gave the alumnus gratitude after a “very mentally and emotionally exhausting” post-production process, feeling the weight of the message behind the piece.
“I put everything into that film… Not only did I revisit a very specific pain, I feel for my people every time I sat at my editing desk,” said Deveaux. “To me, the significance of this film’s message made it difficult for me to decide when my cut was good enough to put out into the world.”
The COVID-19 pandemic became something of a co-star with all the projects featured this year. There were multiple films shown where the creators had to improvise with what they had at their disposal, whether they were in lockdown at home or not. Many of the creators at the festival give credit to the limitations imposed by COVID-19 for the creativity shown in this year’s works.
“The production of ‘We Should Talk’ challenged me creatively in a way that made me a much better filmmaker,” said Deveaux. “I elected to go into production without a crew to ensure the safety of myself and my subject… it gave me the opportunity to utilize everything I learned through my time at Brooklyn College.”
After finishing “Glitch,” Joseph told the Vanguard he felt stronger creatively during the lockdown as he “couldn’t rely on fancy backgrounds” to tell his own story, bringing all of his features and flaws front and center by himself.
For the students of Brooklyn College’s TREM and Film Departments old, current, and new, they each had advice to offer to others after premiering their films for DOC NYC.
“Your film doesn’t need your biggest high-concept idea or the most state-of-the-art equipment to be great,” Deveaux said. “It just needs your love.”
Tickets are available to view the screenings online on DOC NYC’s website until Nov. 18.