A year and a half ago, producers Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg were ready to screen their film In My Corner. They knew it was a rough cut. They just weren't quite sure how rough. So they steadied their nerves and took it to the DocuClub.
Part support group, part film salon, the club was started four years ago by documentarian Susan Kaplan and some friends to let "nonfiction" filmmakers show works-in-progress to a sympathetic but demanding audience: other filmmakers. By last fall it was so popular that the monthly screenings were moved to moma. Now the club has begun a "final cut" series that's open to the public. The finished version of In My Corner, a film about the relationships between young boxers and their trainers at a grubby South Bronx boxing club, debuted this month.
Participants describe the DocuClub as valuable but somewhat unnerving. "I've been at screenings where someone will say, 'Oh, it's too bad you didn't catch that winning moment,' and it's not like you can go back and catch it," says Stern. "But if you're really ready to hear it, it can be very helpful. For us it clarified things that we sort of already knew but didn't really know until we heard it from 50 other people."
Heavyweights and first-timers all get the same treatment: total candor. When Innocent Until Proven Guilty, about the Washington, D.C., criminal-justice system, screened, its producer, Julia Pimsleur, said, "For all of you whose films I've been critical of all year, this is your chance to get me back." Director Kirsten Johnson qualified that: "Wait, I didn't say anything about any of your films. Get her back. Not me."
"Because the audience are filmmakers themselves, part of every comment is, this is how they would do it," says Pimsleur. "People in their fifties, trained on cinéma-vérité, often have a different angle than people in their twenties. They want different stories exercised, they don't like the jump cuts, etcetera. So you have to sift through the comments very carefully."
Nevertheless, many say they come not only to make connections but to feel connected. "We were like this in the sixties," says the photographer Joel Meyerowitz, who screened his first film, Pop, about a road trip with his father, who has Alzheimer's. "We all knew each other -- Robert Frank, Diane Arbus, you name it -- and we would get together to look at photographs and talk. Now everyone's trying to get in a gallery and become rich. So to see in the world of film, where the potential riches are so great, that some people still care enough to get together was incredibly moving. I felt like I was a kid again."