DocFest: Icons of cocktail culture, art cinema, country music and more

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10/16/2008 9:00 AM |

DocFest, the Paley Center’s annual nonfiction film series, kicks off tonight. Here’s the L’s Danielle DiGiacomo with a preview.

An Italian-American bookie, a musical icon, a gambling saloonkeeper and a famed Scandinavian movie starlet — all are the subjects of films showcased at the Paley Center’s DocFest, the esteemed cultural institution’s annual gift to nonfiction film lovers. With carefully curated screenings, interesting panels and workshops and other assorted events, the Fest is candy for the eyes, ears, and mind. This year’s incarnation kicks off tonight with TOOTS, a vibrant, irresistible documentary about Toots Shor, restaurateur to the stars, whose midtown saloon (which stood exactly where the Paley Center now does) attracted the likes of Joe DiMaggio and Frank Sinatra. Shor’s granddaughter Kristi Jacobson, who shares his welcoming eyes and warm spirit, directed the award-winning film. She will be in attendance at the post-screening panel, along with Gay Talese and other bold-faced names.

A darker American icon, Johnny Cash, is explored the following night in Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon’s Johnny Cash’s America,
which makes its New York premiere at the Center. Rare clips of Cash are
peppered with insightful interviews with the Man in Black’s loved ones,
pals and admirers, from the expected (Bob Dylan) to the surprising (Al
Gore). A portrait of a lesser-known yet equally compelling man comes
Saturday, at 2:00 pm with a work-in-progress screening of Whatever It Takes,
a riveting look at idealistic principal Edward Tom’s attempt to launch
a South Bronx high school that offers a top-notch, competitive
education. Immediately following this is the Youth Documentary Showcase,
a product of other motivated educators and DCTV (Downtown Community
TV). The best political issue films produced by youth around the nation
will be showcased and discussed.

Two more New York premieres follow next Thursday Friday evenings.
First, yet another towering New York icon, choreographer Jerome
Robbins, gets his due in the "American Masters" documentary about his
esteemed career and personal demons, Jerome Robbins: Something to Dance About. Practioners of an altogether different sort of physical exertion are profiled in James Moll’s Running the Sahara,
which follows three men as they brave extremes of heat, emotional
duress, and skin damage to, yep, run 4,300 miles across the Sahara

Next Saturday brings a sneak peak of one of the most buzzed-about docs on this year’s festival circuit, Sweet Dreams,
which takes viewers to the mean streets and boxing rings of Providence,
Rhode Island. Director Eric Scott Latek skillfully interweaves the
stories of two men, an emotionally torn rising boxer named Gary “Tiger”
Baletto, and Derek, a wayward bookie who likens himself a slick
mobster. Finally, on Monday the 27th, Ingmar Bergman’s muse Liv Ullman
appears on screen, as the subject of Richard Kaplan’s 1979 film A Look at Liv: Norway’s Liv Ullmann,
and in person, in conversation with the director, to close this
incredibly stimulating week of towering personalities, intellectual
discussion, and top-notch storytelling.