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American teens struggle against limited horizons in two different, but equally unconventional, competition films. Kati With an I is Robert Greene’s intimate, impressionistic portrait of his half-sister, Kati, a young woman who yearns for a life beyond small-town Alabama even as she’s invisibly shackled to it at every turn. To Be Heard doesn’t have Kati’s free-flowing visual lyricism, but it does feature subjects whose freestyle spoken-word poetry performances are something to behold. An unusual collaboration between a four-person producer-director team, two of whom figure prominently onscreen, To Be Heard inspires without packaging or softening its hard truths, showing how vital it is for children thrust into impossible situations—in this case, Bronx students caught between broken homes and the streets—to empower themselves through language.

Even the first-person docs in the festival trade self-indulgence for a more inclusive soul-searching. Norwegian director Bjarte Mørner Tveit’s Discoveries of a Marionette is a family movie that opens into an archival thriller, utilizing a massive collection of 8mm travelogues to answer and preserve the mysteries of Tveit’s grandfather’s life. Meanwhile, Josef Birdman Astor turns his own imminent eviction from an artist’s loft atop Carnegie Hall into a lovely and tragic portrait of a dying community in Lost Bohemia. The aging eccentrics of that film fit nicely alongside two other New York characters in the Metropolis competition: Mother of Rock’s pioneering female music journalist Lillian Roxon, and MindFlux’s downtown theater icon Richard Foreman; their unconventional lives redeem otherwise disappointingly conventional films. By privileging process over “great man” hagiography, David Soll’s elegant Puppet, about the complicated history of American puppetry and one New York puppeteer’s artistic struggle, is a far more rewarding exploration of creation.

Armadillo
Lars Skree
Armadillo
Lost Bohemia
Joseph Birdman Astor
Lost Bohemia

As far as Powers is concerned, the theatrical setting—be it for a weekly screening or a concentrated festival such as DOC NYC—is vital for watching these films, and for fostering an atmosphere of communication and discovery. “The movie theater is one of the rare places in our lives where we’ll sit and concentrate for 90 minutes,” he says. “We’ve turned off the BlackBerry, we’ve got no remote control in our hands.” Let’s hope New Yorkers can power off and make the time for this strong slate.

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