A few months ago, the NYPL Milstein Division of United States History, Local History & Genealogy put our collective local history obsessive minds together to bring you a list of our favorite NYC non-fiction books. Now we reveal our favorite New York documentaries. These documentary films best depict New York, either in moments or over lengths of time, providing a capsule of a New York experience.
The story of a reluctant activist Daniel Goldstein as he struggles to save his home and community from being demolished to make way for a professional basketball arena and densest real estate development in U.S. history.
Milstein says: “Although fairly one-sided, it’s a prime example of big projects versus residents that is so common in NYC.”
Documentary on New York times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham. For decades, Cunningham "has been chronicling fashion trends and high society charity soirées for the Times Style section in his columns 'On the Street' and 'Evening Hours."
Milstein says: “Bill succeeds in his classic paradox New York lifestyle only after riding a bike around town for 60 years and spending every Sunday in church. He is paid to follow the nightlife of tastemakers but is mortified by elite treatment and wears a blue janitor’s smock from the hardware store. He lives in a rent control studio in Carnegie Hall two blocks from the highest retail rents in the world. “I don’t touch money, ” says Bill. New York has a habit of using small parts of itself as a stunt double for the universe, and the city needs Bill Cunningham to take pictures of it.”
In the late 1970s to the middle 1980s, Manhattan was in ruins. But true art has never come from comfort, and it was precisely those dire circumstances that inspired artists like Jim Jarmusch, Lizzy Borden, and Amos Poe to produce some of their best works. Taking their cues from punk rock and new wave music, these young maverick filmmakers confronted viewers with a stark reality that stood in powerful contrast to the escapist product being churned out by Hollywood. Documents the history of "No wave cinema" and "cinema of transgression" movements.
Milstein says: “A vivid portrait and love letter to a time when artists could afford to work and play in Manhattan. Makes you nostalgic for a grittier version of the Lower East Side.”