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A conversation with some of NYFF51’s documentary filmmakers, including: co-directors of The Dog, Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren; Nancy Buirski, director of Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil le Clercq; and Jehane Noujaim, director of The Square. Moderated by Laurens Grant. 

Screening as a part of the Motion Portraits series, Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren’s film, The Dog is a portrait of John Wojtowicz who on August 22, 1972 attempted to hold up a Chase Manhattan branch in Brooklyn. He went in with two accomplices, one of whom lost his nerve and walked away. Wojtowicz’s objective was to pay for a sex change for his wife, a transvestite named Ernie. The robbery devolved into a 14-hour standoff that magnetized the attention of the neighborhood and then of the entire city, ended tragically for Wojtowicz’s remaining cohort, and landed him in prison for six years. Sound familiar? It should if you’re a movie fan. But if you thought that the events depicted in Dog Day Afternoon were crazy, wait until you see Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren’s portrait of the real motor-mouthed, uncorked Wojtowicz. Every side of the story behind the real robbery is about four times crazier, and the larger story of Wojtowicz’s life is hilarious, hair-raising, and giddily profane, all at once.

Tanaquil Le Clercq, known to all as “Tanny”, was the inspiration and then the wife of one of the greatest geniuses in the history of dance, George Balanchine, and she also sparked the creative imagination of Jerome Robbins. In 1954, at the height of her fame, she was struck down by polio. Nancy Buirski’s radiant film finds a tone to match Tanny’s exquisite dancing and long, lovely physique, well represented in photos, home movies and kinescopes. In addition to being a rich and compelling story of a dancer who can no longer dance and a muse who can no longer inspire, Buirski’s movie is also a vivid portrayal of a world and a time gone by. In addition to the breathtaking photos and archival footage, Afternoon of a Faun also features interviews with those who knew Tanny, including Jacques D’Amboise and Arthur Mitchell. 

Filmmaker Jehane Noujaim (Control Room) and her crew spent 20 months shooting in Tahrir Square during the popular uprising against Hosni Mubarak, whose overthrow resulted in the inauguration of Arab Spring. For much of that time, Noujaim was in danger – she was regularly threatened, she was beaten, and at one point she was arrested and temporarily “disappeared”. From hundreds of hours of footage, she and her editors crafted this tense, vivid verité portrait of events as they unfolded through the eyes of several regular participants – one member of the Muslim Brotherhood and four liberals, one of whom, Khalid Abdalla, has acted in films like Green Zone and The Kite Runner. The Square was one of the triumphs of this year’s Sundance Film Festival. But, given the rapidly unfolding events in Egypt, Noujaim has returned to Egypt, shot much more footage, and prepared a revised version of The Square – cinema catching up with history-in-the-making.

Moderator, Laurens Grant won a Peabody award and a Primetime Emmy as the Producer of the PBS documentary Freedom Riders, which was directed by Stanley Nelson. Freedom Riders premiered at the Sundance film festival, was featured on Oprah, and some clips of the documentary can be seen in the latest film Lee Daniels’ The Butler. Laurens has also co-produced two four-hour specials for PBS: Slavery and the Making of America: Seeds of Destruction for which she won an Emmy; and Latin Music USA: The Chicano Wave, a series that includes Jennifer Lopez, Pitbull, & music legends Carlos Santana, Linda Ronstadt, and Ruben Blades.

Presented in collaboration with New York Women in Film & Television.