Search View Archive

Williams Cole

Williams Cole is a founding contributing editor of the Rail and a documentary filmmaker. His most recent film is Rebel Rossa.

Symbols and the City

Odd things happen in the “new” New York City, especially when the politics of the Big Apple’s image is at hand. On August 26th, Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean held a rally in Bryant Park.

Learning from Miami: NYC Activists Beware!

If last month’s protest in Miami against the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) meeting is any indication, the strategy developing among law enforcement agencies regarding how to handle large protests is similar to a Powell Doctrine for domestic dissent: overwhelming force, preemptive arrests, and intense multi-agency reconnaissance.

How the Other 1% Lives

The smell of fine colognes, smoked salmon and Bellinis is powerful stuff. Luckily, it quickly rises up to the 100-foot-high, gilded and chandeliered ceiling of the restaurant near Grand Central Terminal. That I’m at an event of money-transferring magnitude is belied by the black ties and gowns, as well as by the video crew that shadows an infamous media mogul who stands near the entrance like an Executive centurion.

City to Immigrants: English Only!

You just decided to read this article. If you’ve gotten this far without too much trouble, then you probably have a proficiency in the English language.

The Brooklyn Mayor

Williams Cole reflects on the importance of Bill de Blasio's victory in Brooklyn.

Inequality in Brooklyn

Until recently, a “Brooklyn booster” was more than likely a con artist trying to sell you a proverbial piece of the Brooklyn Bridge. These days, however, the Bridge itself is actually up for sale, and large swaths of the borough are awash in developer dollars.

Who Shares the Pain? NYC and the Future of Globalization

In our last Rail entry, “New York City, LLC” (March/ April), we outlined the inequalities, as well as contrasting priorities, that shape the debate regarding the city’s current fiscal problems.

Against the Giuliani Legacy

In a recent New York Times Magazine article James Traub sums up the “death of liberalism” in New York City by quoting the Manhattan Institute’s Myron Magnet, author of The Dream and the Nightmare, a book that George W. Bush says influenced him second only to the Bible.

New York City, LLC

It is by now commonplace to say that the city has a “new C.E.O.” Hardly a day has passed during Michael Bloomberg’s fist two months in office without the introduction of some sort of new “efficiency” or “downsizing” initiative, cloaked in management-speak, and presented by one or another nicely-suited new city officials. 

Against the Giuliani Legacy

Obscenity is a moral concept in the verbal arsenal of the Establishment, which abuses the term by applying it not to expressions of its own morality, but to those of another.

Against the Giuliani Legacy

The three previous installments of this series critically explored the “new” New York of the Giuliani administration via redefinition of “quality of life” and the war on crime, “decency” and the free market, and, most recently, welfare-to-work and the war on the city’s poor.

In Conversation

Is Williamsburg’s Boom a Bust? Ward Dennis with Williams Cole

Over the last decade—and certainly in the last four years—Williamsburg-Greenpoint has experienced some of the most dramatic growth in the city, from the plethora of steel and glass condos—as well as empty lots—where industrial buildings used to stand to the legions of new residents that pile into the L and even the G trains.


It was in the spring of 2001 when Williamsburg-bred basketball legend Red Auerbach first asked “What the hell is the Brooklyn Rail?” Not long afterward, that very same question was posed to the two of us by a current Brooklyn figurehead, who followed it by saying, “You’re the guys who want to live here; we’re the ones who couldn’t leave.”

Ruminations on Duane Reade

The new Duane Reade on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg is hardly the plain, sometimes dingy New York City drugstore chain that many of us have come to know when buying toothpaste, aspirin, or pretzels.

In Conversation


The Brooklyn-based filmmaking duo of Suki Hawley and Michael Galinsky (whose previous films include Horns & Halos) began documenting the Atlantic Yards controversy right when the project was first announced nearly eight years ago.

In Conversation

Bucking Brooklyn’s Machine
LINCOLN RESTLER with Williams Cole

Lincoln Restler, a district leader in North Brooklyn, strikes one as a go-getting and earnest young man with an objective. I encountered him in person in July as he was going door to door on my block in Williamsburg asking people, “What issues are important to you?”

A Home for Elephants?

The New York State Republican Party has opened an office in Washington Heights. And, of course, the Republican National Convention is taking place in New York City, something that might have sounded quite ludicrous just five years ago.

Housing vs. the RNC: A Question of Priorities

What’s in a number? These days, plenty.

NYC vs. First Amendment

In the “new” New York City, the fight against commercialization of public space can sometimes seem as effective as inserting a needle into the belly of a whale.

Notes on the War

Along with millions of people around the globe, I have marched repeatedly against the war. Along with many of my loved ones, I have walked through the streets of Washington, DC, San Francisco, and most recently, those of New York City. Individually, each of us is but one of the mass at such events.

Showdown over the North Brooklyn Waterfront

Standing at the ruinous Williamsburg-Greenpoint waterfront it’s hard to imagine that the area is at the brink of one of the biggest redevelopment plans in New York City history. Yet the details of this plan are far from the early stages. In fact, the ultimate decisions are approaching quickly.

A Progressive Grows on Staten Island?

While the majority of voters in the five boroughs will cast a vote against Dubya and what he stands for, some will actually go to the polls and vote for Republicans to represent them in Washington.

A Mini-Guide to the RNC

The tens of thousands of visitors to our fair world city during the RNC will have an array of protests to choose from.

AFTER SANDY, the People’s Relief Grows in Coney

Sandy’s aftermath brought with it many stories of how individuals organized spontaneous yet highly efficient relief efforts. I spoke to one person, Eric Moed, who has been helping organize the People’s Relief project in Coney Island since shortly after the storm hit at the end of October.

We Made It Ma! Williamsburg Named One of State’s “Seven to Save”

A brisk but clear morning high atop the roof of the former Esquire Shoe Polish Building in Williamsburg brought out the latest effort in putting public focus on massive and often uncontrolled development in this part of Brooklyn.

In Conversation

Wayne Barrett with Williams Cole

Williams Cole sits down with Wayne Barrett, Senior Editor at the Village Voice and an icon of New York City journalism. Barrett’s new book is Grand Illusion: The Untold Story of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11.

Williamsburg Rises Up

The funky, warm mix of low-rise residential, manufacturing, commerce and arts spaces that has made Williamsburg a unique spot for many long-time residents is on the verge of changing into a landscape dominated by the kind of high-rise luxury condos that are developers’ wet dreams.

As the Neighborhood Grows, Will Schools Adapt?

At one point a few years back many local wags (as well as annoyed hipsters) proclaimed Williamsburg to be “Babyburg!” Thankfully, that Times Style Section-type story seems like a goner, but the gentrification of the Williamsburg/Greenpoint area—and many other parts of Brooklyn—has only accelerated.

Against the Giuliani Legacy

The first two installments of “Against the Giuliani Legacy” challenged deep-seated definitions like “quality of life” and “decency” as defined the Giuliani cabal.

Construction/Destruction of Williamsburg Continues at Frantic Pace

The sheer pace and breadth of new construction has led to public safety issues galore as developers with little or no oversight rip down smaller structures and build McCondos at a furious pace. Sometimes it seems like the ghost of Robert Moses donned some hipster sunglasses and started tearing up the neighborhood, leaving any Jane Jacobsian ideal of preserving the unique traits of a community in the rearview mirror of a Hummer.

Madman or Reformer? Some Q’s for CXB

Mayoral candidate Christopher X. Brodeur’s relentlessly outspoken commentaries and performances have made him a thorn in the side of both the Giuliani and Bloomberg administrations. Given the empty rhetoric that often passes for political debate in the city, the Rail thought it worthwhile to explore a few of CXB’s many iconoclastic ideas.

Dawn of a New “Neighborhood”?

The long-anticipated rezoning of the Williamsburg-Greenpoint area is reaching its final stages.

Beauty in Unexpected Places

For some, there may not be much beauty in post-industrial North Brooklyn. But above the rumbling trucks, the rising rents, the tragic hipsters, and the fashions gone awry, there is something truly captivating.

In Conversation

Bucking Brooklyn’s Machine
LINCOLN RESTLER with Williams Cole

Lincoln Restler, a district leader in North Brooklyn, strikes one as a go-getting and earnest young man with an objective. I encountered him in person in July as he was going door to door on my block in Williamsburg asking people, “What issues are important to you?”

Against the Giuliani Legacy

Upon the premiere of the documentary Giuliani Time, directed by Kevin Keating and produced by Keating and the Rail’s Williams Cole, we are pleased to the run the following excerpts from Cole’s series “Against the Giuliani Legacy.”

Jack Newfield’s Memorial

At veteran New York journalist (and Bed-Stuy native) Jack Newfield’s memorial at Riverside Chapel in late December, there was certainly some political posturing.

Anomaly TV: Inside Bed-Stuy

The only reason people can now see Inside Bed-Stuy, New York City’s first African American community television program and one of the only remaining visual resources documenting Bedford Stuyvesant in the late 1960s, is because of a manager who worked for 25 years at the WNEW/ Channel 5 warehouse. The show, broadcast in the NYC area in 52 half-hour episodes between 1968 and 1970, included interviews with Harry Belafonte, Julius Lester (author of Watch Out Whitey, Black Power’s Gonna Get Yo Mamma), a Black Power children’s performance led by Amiri Baraka and, most importantly, the diverse voices of community members who spoke about everything from welfare rights to Anti-Semitism.

Antonio Reynoso's Fight for Williamsburg

Reynoso is a young up-and-comer who is the antidote to someone like Lopez. Even so, the landscape of the neighborhood has been irrevocably altered over the last decade.

Builders Beware: In Williamsburg, A Community At Work

Ever since the rezoning of the Williamsburg-Greenpoint area last spring, the building of luxury McCondos and the real and rumored plans of a neighborhood Supersized run rampant. Lots are being sold, buildings demolished, and immense cranes loom on the Northside and Southside, while familiar views such as the Orthodox Church near McCarren Park will now be paired with the towering presence of new residents.

Docs in Sight: Blood and Silence on La Frontera
Bernardo Ruiz with Williams Cole

The epic violence that has plagued Mexico in the last decade or so can seem incomprehensible in its brutality and scope—especially as it manifests in cities near the U.S.-Mexico border. And given our many ties with Mexico, it’s nothing less than an outrage that its issues are not more prominent on our national radar.

Viewing Tibet

The Dalai Lama’s visit to the White House in mid-February has brought the plight of Tibet back into the news. Yet even when that story does resurface, there is rarely much insightful explanation.

Celebrity’s Two-Way Street: Leon Gast’s Smash His Camera

For many in media and intellectual circles, the paparazzi—those camera-wielding misfits who know no boundaries—are seen not only as money-grubbing parasites of culture but as potentially one reason why in-depth reporting has been sidelined by celebrity news.

In Conversation

Of Skin and Snoods

Zoe Lister-Jones is a star of the new film Arranged, the story of the friendship of two women, one an Orthodox Jew and the other a Muslim. Directed by Diane Crespo and Stefan Schaefer, the film is set in contemporary Brooklyn. Opening at the Quad Cinemas on December 14th, the film premiered at South by Southwest and went on to win the Best Narrative Feature prize at the Brooklyn Film Festival.

For the Dismissal of Objectivity in News

Over the past decade or so, “objectivity,” that elusive yet useful ideal in modern professional journalism, has been under attack. The right has now turned the left’s critique of power on its head, and accused the news establishment of somehow having a “liberal” bias. In less of a response than a lament, Eric Alterman in his well-documented book What Liberal Media?

Hope Rises for Progressive 3rd Parties

The two-party system has given this country the war of Lyndon Johnson, the Watergate of Nixon and the incompetence of Carter. Saying we should keep the two-party system simply because it is working is like saying the Titanic voyage was a success because a few people survived in life rafts. —Senator Eugene McCarthy, 1978

Docs in Sight: A Spring Round-Up

Here is a spring roundup of some documentaries that are premiering theatrically, available on DVD or included in festivals like the ever-important Human Rights Watch International Film Festival (running from June 12th-26th). For additional reviews, please go to

A Lease In New York City

For fifty years my father sat in the same worn-out chair in a very lived-in apartment on the northern edge of Times Square. The place is warm, redolent of some masala of unknown spices. The iron radiators gargle and hiss.

Lux Interior (RIP)

Why did the death of the Cramps’ lead singer Lux Interior seem like the unanticipated punch to the gut? Maybe it’s because the Cramps were the band from the early days of punk that had the feeling of a staple, like the exotic jelly in your fridge—or that old stash—that you dip into once in a while: surprisingly, it never goes bad and you actually enjoy it whenever you bring it out.

Hope for Justice at the World’s Court? Pamela Yates with Williams Cole

For 20 years now, the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival (June 11th-25th at the Walter Reade Theater) has programmed documentary, narrative and animation from all over the world—including the U.S.—that engage issues and present stories that are often only blips in the American mainstream news.

How Most of the World Lives: The End of Poverty?

One result of the latest downfall of the American financial system is that there’s been more critical discussion and news coverage of unemployment, lack of economic development, homelessness, and hunger in the U.S.

Docs In Sight

Filming Occupy Wall Street

While most politicians wait it out and much of the media flutters about, the Occupy Wall Street movement keeps generating heat even as the weather gets colder.

In Conversation

THE NEW ERA OF PUBLISHING? Williams Cole Checks in Again with John B. Thompson

Thompson is a Cambridge University sociology professor, and his 2010 book Merchants of Culture: The Publishing Business in the 21st Century was the result of more than five years of talking to editors, publishers, writers, and agents in the U.S. and the U.K. about the rapid changes in the traditional structures of book publishing.

DOC NYC: Gotham’s Documentary Film Festival

“In my mind, New York City is the world’s documentary capital,” says Thom Powers, Artistic Director of DOC NYC, an all-nonfiction film festival that runs from November 8 – 15. “More documentary makers live here than anywhere else. And New York is full of great stories.”

In Conversation

Tomi Ungerer, Enfant Terrible
BRAD BERNSTEIN with Williams Cole

Brad Bernstein is the director of Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story, a documentary opening at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas on June 14.

An Ode to “Famous” Seamus Heaney

I’d met him when I was young, but the first encounter with Seamus Heaney that I vividly recall came when I was a teenager in the 1980s.

The Writin’ Irish

“We don’t say Irish writers are more important than writers from any other place,” says Mac Barrett, one of the producers of CUNY-TV’s 13-part series Irish Writers in America, which debuts November 22 and runs into next year. “Instead,” he says, “we pose the question, ‘What is it about this rock on the edge of Europe that has caused such a preponderance of enduring literary works, by not only those who have been raised there but by those connected through their genes?’”

In Conversation

The Narco Cultura War Next Door: Shaul Schwarz with Williams Cole

Williams Cole sits down with photojournalist and filmmaker Shaul Schwarz to discuss Schwarz's upcoming film, Narco Cultura.

In Conversation

Hearts and Minds of Darkness: Garrett Scott In Conversation with Williams Cole

Occupation: Dreamland, a chilling documentary directed by Garrett Scott and Ian Olds about the Fallujah in January 2004, just prior to the U.S. siege, opens on September 23 at Cinema Village. The Rail’s Williams Cole recently sat down with Scott.

In Conversation

The Beast with No Name: Mark Achbar and Joel Bakan with Williams Cole

The Corporation, a film directed by Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott, and written by Joel Bakan, recently premiered in New York City after breaking box office records for a documentary in Canada. The Rail’s Williams Cole sat down with Mr. Achbar and Mr. Bakan (who also wrote the book The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Power and Profit, published earlier this year by the Free Press).

In Conversation

The Mea Culpa of Gentrification: Danny Hoch with Williams Cole

Danny Hoch’s new one-man show, Taking Over, starts its run at the Public Theater on November 7th. Taking Over is comprised of diverse characters of different race and class, including Hoch as himself, who embody the dilemmas and problems of gentrification in Brooklyn.

My Years With Guns

The gun “issue” is woven with the strands of American history. It is also made from politics, culture, identity, passion, power, and, of course, fear.

Putting NYC Writers into Stone

Unlike Dublin, St. Petersburg, or many other places, New York City pays little attention to its rich literary heritage. There are precious few plaques on historic buildings where writers worked or slept. And in terms of statues, “There’s only one I can think of now,” says Harvey Shapiro, poet and former Editor of the Times Book Review: “William Cullen Bryant in Bryant Park, placed there by his cohorts of The Century Association, of which he was once the president.”

Inside the American Ruling Class: John Kirby And Libby Handros in conversation with Williams Cole

The American Ruling Class is a self-proclaimed “dramatic-documentary-musical” featuring ex-Harper’s editor Lewis Lapham as guide on a voyage of discovery into what is America’s “ruling class.” Part of the conceit involves following two Yale grads, one coming from a wealthy family and the other coming from more modest means, as they consider their career choices or “inevitabilities.” The film not only dives into a daunting and complex subject but its style is also highly experimental. For example, one memorable segment has Lapham bring the guys into a diner where, lo and behold, the immersion journalist Barbara Ehrenreich is waiting the tables, thus starting a musical number called “Nickel and Dimed that various low-wage workers sing in their real places of employment.” The Rail’s Williams Cole sat down with the film’s director, John Kirby, and its producer, Libby Handros, to discuss power, wealth, and happiness, and how Obama might not actually offer that much change.

Diary of a Mad New Day

Look, the weather’s nice, a beautiful, hard, gray sky. You’d almost like to pound a nail in up there and hang yourself on it. Georg Buchner, Woyzeck

Docs In Sight

Partition Woes: SARAH SINGH with Williams Cole

In the so-called “post-9/11 world,” the stability of India and especially Pakistan have become of paramount geopolitical importance. Yet the vast history of this region—and especially the creation of the Pakistan-India border—is a subject woefully underexamined in American media.

Hardcore Memories

Williams Cole muses on the hardcore scene in light of the new documentary, American Hardcore by Paul Rachman.

In Conversation

Iraq in Fragments: James Longley with Williams Cole

James Longley talks to Williams Cole about his new documentary, the experience of working as a filmmaker in a war–zone, and the disastrous impact of the American invasion on ordinary Iraqis.

In Conversation

André Schiffrin with Williams Cole and Theodore Hamm

In The Business of Books (2000), André Schiffrin memorably recalled the heyday of intellectual publishing in the U.S. Schiffrin had directed Pantheon from the early 1960s through 1990, when it was closed by Random House. Pantheon had helped a wide range of authors, including Chomsky and Foucault, reach a large commercial audience. In 1990, Schiffrin launched the New Press. In his new memoir, A Political Education: Coming of Age in Paris and New York (Melville House Publishing), Schiffrin discusses his life before Pantheon, paying particular attention to the political climate of the 1940s and 50s. The Rail’s Williams Cole and Theodore Hamm recently sat down with Schiffrin at his Upper West Side apartment, which contains one wall of books Schiffrin’s father had published in France and then when he directed Pantheon in the 1940s, and another wall of those of that Schiffrin published when he took over Pantheon in the 1960s.

Docs In Sight

Rising Above the Flood: Kimberly Roberts, Scott Roberts, and Carl Deal

While the 3rd anniversary of Hurricane Katrina recycles the same distant aerial images of families waving for help from houses submerged in a fetid swamp, Carl Deal and Tia Leeson’s Trouble the Water presents a direct, on-the-ground story of people who were literally at the center of the storm. The film effectively uses home video shot throughout the chaos, footage that illustrates with grueling clarity what it was like for so many people who couldn’t afford to leave yet, through innovation and fortitude, endured nonetheless.

Docs In Sight

The Perils of a Young Fixer in Afghanistan: Ian Olds in conversation with Williams Cole

Fixer: The Taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi is a new documentary by Ian Olds which tells the tragic story of Ajmal Naqshbandi, a young fixer for foreign journalists in Kabul who ends up apprehended by the Taliban along with an Italian journalist.

Cutting Off the Cable

In the 1992 independent film Laws of Gravity (set and shot in the gritty Williamsburg of that era), there’s a scene where Jimmy lets his childhood pal Frankie, who’s up from Florida, crash with him in his shabby apartment.

But What If the Truth Ain't Funny?

Sometime last July, when the cracks were beginning to show around Karl Rove’s role in the Valerie Plame case, I wanted an orientation and update from TV news. My first instinct, though, wasn’t to turn to CNN or NewsHour with Jim Lehrer; instead, I had a strong hunch that the issue would be covered on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. And sure enough, it was. By the end of the show I’d gotten not only the video clips I’d wanted to see but enough information and editorial commentary to be on my way. Sure, some articles in the newspaper or on the internet would have provided more detailed information, but in the realm of TV, a satirical news show had more than quenched my thirst for coverage.

Docs in Sight: Children of Corn, Aaron Woolf with Williams Cole

King Corn, a new documentary that premieres at Cinema Village on October 12th, cleverly and entertainingly engages the topic of corn, the dominant crop in U.S. agribusiness and also an ingredient central to the processed foods that plague American society.

Message from My Uncle Peter

I have a relic of sorts that I hold dear. It’s a green foam beer cozy, worn thin from carrying hundreds of bottles of Michelob. Across it, in faded red letters, is the phrase “No Excuses!” The cozy belongs to my Uncle Peter, my mom’s brother. I swiped it the last time I saw him.

Docs In Sight

The Church and Its Sins: Constantine’s Sword

Directed by Oren Jacoby, the film is based on a nearly 800-page book by James Carroll titled Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews—and that subtitle is the main focus of the film.

Filmmaker As Socialist Anthologist

Chris Marker’s Grin Without A Cat (Le Fond de L’Air Est Rouge) My father was an anthologist who published dozens of volumes on themes as diverse as eroticism, plants and cats.

Capitalism and its Discontents: American Casino & Capitalism: A Love Story

Capitalism has Big Problems these days. Even the most loyal Milton Friedman fanatic must feel the sting from having been bitch-slapped by the “invisible hand” of the Market. Looking back, it’s shameful that the many critiques of those who spoke of a flawed system and cataclysm before the economy collapsed were hardly noticed. But it’s certainly not surprising.

Docs In Sight

Truth and the Documentary Form

Over the last decade or so it’s been repeated by film critic and documentarian alike that we’re now in a “Golden Age” of documentary film.

Docs In Sight

IF A TREE FALLS’S SAM CULLMAN In Conversation with Williams Cole

If A Tree Falls explores complex questions about social change through means that target private property rather than human life and how government prosecution in the post-9/11 era aggressively uses wide definitions of terrorism—a strategy with potentially more destructive consequences than the dark eras of Red-baiting that stain American history.

In Conversation

Lessons for the War on Terrorism: Pam Yates In Conversation with Williams Cole

State of Fear, the powerful story of Peru and how its war on terror devolved into incredible governmental abuse, will premiere at the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival on June 10th (with additional screenings on the 12th and the 14th).

Learning from Right-Wing Media?

It’s not a breaking story that conservatives and their media dominate the changing landscape of news in America. Whether it’s the Fox-like shift of cable news, or the blogging that seems to have forced high-level resignations at PBS, CNN, and CBS, or the saturation of blustery talk radio, the right has helped create the essential crisis of traditional news.

Rudy Giuliani in Drag Smooching Donald Trump: Perspective on a Clip Gone Wild

How weird is Rudy Giuliani? Perhaps you have now seen a clip called “Rudy Giuliani in Drag Smooching Donald Trump” that, as of this writing, has garnered over a quarter- million hits on Youtube, been embedded as a video on countless other sites, and made TV’s “major leagues” by being broadcast by Jon Stewart, Keith Olberman, Chris Matthews and many others.

In Conversation

How We Torture: Alex Gibney with Williams Cole

By probing the homicide of an innocent taxi driver named Diliwar at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, Taxi is a powerful film that exposes the Bush administration’s torture practices in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay.

War Made Easy Deferring to Media Criticism

Can media criticism again form the basis of a “movement”? I remember meetings of the now-defunct “New York City Free Media Alliance,” or feeling the fleeting buzz at big media conferences like the “Media and Democracy Congress” that were held at places like the Great Hall at Cooper Union in the 1990s.

Docs In Sight

From Laos to Brooklyn: Ellen Kuras and Thavisouk Phrasavath in conversation with Williams Cole

Ellen Kuras is highly regarded as the innovative cinematographer responsible for films from Spike Lee’s Summer of Sam and Bamboozled to Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Be Kind: Rewind. The Betrayal (Nerakhoon) is her directorial debut, a documentary she filmed over 23 years in an amazing collaboration with Thavisouk Phrasavath (Thavi), the film’s subject and its co-director.

Docs In Sight

Radio: Live Transmission?

Beneath the hullabaloo that surrounds our “wired” contemporary life, replete with internet-ready communication devices and esoteric online communities, local and community media outlets have diminished, largely due to the bottom-line imposed by media conglomeration.

Tibet’s Continuing David and Goliath Story: Tenzing Sonam and Ritu Sarin with Williams Cole

Tibetan directing partners Tenzing Sonam and Ritu Sarin have produced a catalogue of films spanning more than two decades that have cemented them as not only award-winning filmmakers but as prominent voices in the Tibetan exile community and beyond.

In Conversation

Is Publishing Doomed? JOHN B. THOMPSON with Williams Cole

Over the last decade there has been much talk about the fracturing, transformation, implosion, and even the annihilation of the dominant paradigms in music, journalism, movie-making, and, most recently, publishing. What might have been a slow burn in a once-stable media landscape is on the verge of ashing out, as book publishing is now seen by many as the last victim of such a “crisis.

In Conversation

A Life in Underground Letters | BARNEY ROSSET with Williams Cole

Publishing legend Barney Rosset passed away on February 21, at the age of 89. Rosset’s Grove Press brought Tropic of Cancer, Naked Lunch, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and many other seminal works to American audiences.

In Conversation

The Nature of the System/It’s the System Not the Man: Eugene Jarecki with Williams Cole

Eugene Jarecki’s new film Why We Fight won the 2005 Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. It premieres on January 20 in New York and LA and rolls out nationally soon after.

Docs In Sight

Starving the Christmas Beast: Rob VanAlkemade with Williams Cole

Rob VanAlkemade is the director of What Would Jesus Buy?, a film about performance artist/activist Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping that is produced by Morgan Spurlock of Super Size Me! fame. The message of What Would Jesus Buy is clear as the blond shock of hair on the top of the Reverend’s head—time to take a step back from consumption at a time of year when buying is the primary activity.

In Conversation

JOHNNY TEMPLE with Williams Cole and Theodore Hamm

Johnny Temple is the bassist for Girls Against Boys, New Wet Kojak, and publisher of Akashic Books. The following conversation took place in late February at Akashic’s home in Fort Greene.

Docs in Sight: This Is What Democracy Looks Like

Many Americans know—or at least have a hunch—that the corridors of power on Capitol Hill are rife with shenanigans that would make even a Wall Street broker blush.

A Life in Underground Letters

Barney Rosset is the publishing legend responsible for the seminal Grove Press and the highly influential cultural journal Evergreen Review. Tropic of Cancer, Naked Lunch, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, the Autobiography of Malcolm X, Ginsberg, Kerouac, Beckett, Che Guevara, Genet—these are just some of the books and authors that Rosset published in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, many for the first time in the country.

In Conversation

Abortion Battle’s Hidden Front: Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady In Conversation with Williams Cole

Directing team Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing made the Academy Award-nominated Jesus Camp, a film about an evangelical boot camp for children that many lauded for its skillful cinema vérité technique in exploring a controversial topic.

Docs In Sight

The Specter of Nader

In just six years, the administration of George W. Bush has managed to create a quagmire in Iraq rife with lies and corruption, civilian death and hopelessness, helping America to become reviled around the globe.

Debtor’s Nation

If you’re like most Americans, when you hand that piece of plastic to the cashier and they say “credit or debit” you’re likely to answer with the “c” word, burying the consequences of that purchase in a special part of your brain to be dealt with at a later time.

Docs in Sight: A Spring Festival Doc Roundup

Given the onslaught of new films in recent years, festivals have become more important as a siphoning tool for the public and the media.

Docs In Sight

Ever since the “documentary revolution” was declared in the early 2000s, there has been much hullabaloo about the different forms of doc film.

Child of Tet: What Can 1968 Mean Now?

February 18th, 1968, everyone has his day. For me it was birth, my dad waiting outside the maternity room, my name scrawled on a piece of paper held up to the glass for my mother to see.

ARCHIVES: Best of a Decade

This October marks 10 years in print for The Brooklyn Rail.

The Bonds of War—Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington’s Restrepo

Unfortunately for the human species, war is one of the most dramatic things that life can offer, so there’s no surprise that documentary films about combat hold a much-vaunted place in the non-fiction canon.

Docs in Sight: Coming to a Theater Near You—but Only for One Night

While the millions of dollars spent by big Hollywood studios to dish up films like 2012 and Avatar guarantees them at least a fighting chance to make profits in the multiplexes, independent films—especially documentaries—often have an impossible time making money in the theatrical venue.

Message from My Uncle Peter

I have a relic of sorts that I hold dear. It’s a green foam beer cozy, worn thin from carrying hundreds of bottles of Michelob.

In Conversation

The Mea Culpa of Gentrification: Danny Hoch with Williams Cole

Danny Hoch’s new one-man show, Taking Over, starts its run at the Public Theater on November 7th. Taking Over is comprised of diverse characters of different race and class, including Hoch as himself, who embody the dilemmas and problems of gentrification in Brooklyn.

BEHIND THE IRON CURTAIN: ROBIN HESSMAN in Conversation with Williams Cole

As a rebellious and idealistic teenager in the mid-1980s I was obsessed with figuring out why the USSR was called the “Evil Empire” since it was also a place that—I was told through other channels—guaranteed food, health care and education for everyone.

In Conversation

Sherman Alexie in conversation with Williams Cole

Sherman Alexie grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington and is the author of eight books of poetry (published by Brooklyn’s Hanging Loose Press) and several novels and collections of short fiction. He also co-wrote the screenplay for the award-winning film Smoke Signals (Miramax) and recently directed a feature film, The Business of Fancydancing.

Docs in Sight

While there has been much hullabaloo about the current political influence of documentaries that criticize the Bushies and their foibles and supporters, we shouldn’t forget the critical documentaries made during the last Republican-dominated decade.

Hollywood Out of NYC! The 11th New York Underground Film Festival

Soon after the polished self-congratulatory Oscar silliness in Hollywood, in little old New York it’s the time to see unpolished underground cinema.

A Festival Pops Up in Brooklyn

Underground cinema, by its nature, is not produced to sell or jockey for minor Hollywood directorial roles. Rather, it is born straight from the bizarre, brilliant, and sometimes twisted minds that are able to get their hands on a camera and editing system.

The Art of Documentary

Documentaries can seem like the new fodder for television and film festivals. But while the category has come to encompass everything from the formulaic puffery that fills cable channels to the classics of Direct Cinema, it is more than wise to make the distinction that the majority of what is called "documentary" is not film.

Media That Matters Film Festival

Film students aspiring to make cookie-cutter Hollywood dung take note: film, especially documentary, has tangible uses that can affect social change.

Docs In Sight

Docs in Sight

Despite the increased bastardization of what is called "documentary" film in recent years—from "reality" shows to MTV profiles of club kids—the form has always been deeply rooted in the social-political. Of course, trying to tell you what is "truth" or "real" is an epistemological mess, but at a time when most television, purporting to deliver real news, real wars or real people, has huge credibility problems, social-political documentaries are the alternative that offers in-depth and illuminating perspectives.

Bukowski: Born into This

The cult of Charles Bukowski, based as it is on reverence for the drunken down-and-out poet who speaks the truth, is ready-made fodder for both celebrities as well as hipsters seeking literary street cred.

Sex, Lies and Black Socks: Alex Gibney’s Client 9

Alex Gibney’s new film Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer tells the story of one of the most dramatic falls from political power in the last decade.

Docs In Sight: Documentarians in the News Cycle

DOC NYC is now officially the biggest documentary festival in the United States and that gives a bit more credence to the feeling that documentary film is playing a larger and more prominent role in our collectively morphing and imploding media landscape.

Docs in Sight: Sundance 2014

As part of the Sundance Film Festival has grown into a ridiculous scene of celebrity watchers, Party People, and wealthy “producers”—at least during the first weekend—the non-profit Sundance Institute (which sponsors and runs the festival) still works hard to support the innovative and non-commercial in independent filmmaking. This seems most pronounced in the documentary feature categories where there is a consistent adherence to the role of documentary storytelling around social-political issues and where new works re-engage creatively with perennial themes of human rights, mediated culture, and international chaos.

A Parable on Authenticity: Art and Craft

“Art attracts us only by what it reveals of our most secret self,” Jean-Luc Godard once said. When watching Art and Craft, the deeply intriguing new documentary by Sam Cullman (If a Tree Falls), Jennifer Grausman, and Mark Becker, one wonders what the film’s odd but alluring protagonist Mark Landis would think of Godard’s weighty assertion. 

Seems Like Just Yesterday
Revisiting the 80s and 90s at The Tribeca Film Festival

The documentaries at Tribeca this year covered many of the world's current ills, from the perennial destruction of the environment (The Last Animals, A River Below) to the cataclysmic Syrian Civil War (Hell on Earth).

Specious Realities at DOC NYC

There has been much talk over the last year of the “post-truth era” and significant hand-wringing about how to reinstate a respect for “reality” (i.e. “the world or state of things as they actually exist as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them”).

Ready Player One? Sizing Up VR at Tribeca

Virtual Reality,” “Immersive,” “Augmented Reality”—these monikers have been buzzed about for decades, often promising to “revolutionize” the flat-screened media environment but perennially not living up to the hype or finding a commercial or artistic niche that works.

Change as Real as New York Schist: “This Used to Be New York” at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival

My father hailed from Staten Island and called himself a “True New Yorker.” The New York City of his time was everything to him.

Lost in the Laboratory

Todd Solondz has always given the viewer something akin to a routine dental checkup. There’s the nice comfortable seat and the pleasant massaging of your gums while you can’t really figure out what’s going on.

Docs In Sight

Fighting the Power at DOC NYC

2014 brings many more films and thematic slates to DOC NYC, the festival that has staked its claim as “New York’s documentary festival” and “America’s largest documentary film festival.”

Docs In Sight

A Thing to Celebrate: 10 Years of Soros/Sundance at Film Forum

Call me naive but sometimes I am still astounded at the amount of money spent to produce Hollywood films that don’t even amount to mindless entertainment.

Docs In Sight

Making a Piece of Political History Last

That Eyes on the Prize, the classic series on the civil rights struggle, has become a focal point for the politicization of copyright restriction issues and open access shows how documentaries are being increasingly valued as part of an essential historical record.

In Conversation

Guerrilla and the ’70s: Filmmaker Robert Stone

The Rail’s Williams Cole recently sat down with director Robert Stone, whose film Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst recently opened nationally.

Bukowski: Born Into This

The cult of Charles Bukowski, based as it is on reverence for the drunken down-and-out poet who speaks the truth, is ready-made fodder for both celebrities as well as hipsters seeking literary street cred.

Docs In Sight

Even with growing popularity of theatrical documentaries, nonfiction still doesn’t seem to warrant a fraction of the publicity money that goes to awful fiction films. This makes those important docs that you “really meant to see” in the theater even easier to miss. So, for all that are often awed by the variety, drama and original perspectives that the form offers (usually those who remember to take a multi-vitamin along with a Red Bull), here are some of the docs that are premiering in April at independent theaters that need your support.

Docs in Sight: A Plague of Money: Citizen Koch’s Concrete Tale of Cash and Politics

When thinking about the role of money on the United States political stage, I am reminded of a joke a Hungarian art dealer told me recently: The Pessimist says: “Nothing can get worse than this!” The Optimist says: “Yes it can! Yes it can!”

Docs In Sight

Academy Award Doc Blues

’s time for the Academy Awards again and, as usual, most media outlets list the Best Documentary category below Best Achievement in Visual Effects and Best Animated Short Film.

Docs in Sight

Ever since the documentary began to emerge as a more or less formal genre, the small cadre of nonfiction film academics have tried categorizing different styles of a medium that, in what no doubt amounts to a cliché, defies categories.

Docs In Sight

The End of PBS?

Over a decade ago Jesse Helms began the earnest evisceration of public television and radio by the right wing, beginning what has become a drawn-out, hackneyed story.

Docs In Sight

Go Underground for the Good Stuff

Why would The New York Times Magazine recently bother to run a feature article about the muddled issues in documentary using the film Assisted Living as the example?

The Same Kind of Dick

Bolivian filmmaker Rodrigo Bellott throws us into a cross-cultural pantheon of a type of person most of us are familiar with: the Dick.

In Conversation

A Woman Fighting: Karyn Kusama

Karyn Kusama wrote and directed Girlfight (2000). She lives in Crown Heights, where, in early October, she spoke to Rail contributing editor, and documentary filmmaker, Williams Cole.

Docs In Sight

Docs in Sight

In memory of Garrett Scott R.I.P. (1968-2006) – The Rail community mourns the tragic loss of a great friend and filmmaker. Please take the time to read our tribute to him in the Express section of this issue.—WC

Docs In Sight


Round up of current goings on in the world of documentaries.

In Conversation

Uncontrolled Cinema: Albert Maysles

Along with his late brother David, Albert Maysles is one of the most important figures in American documentary credited with being one of the founders of what is variously called “Direct Cinema” or “Cinema Verite.”

Docs In Sight

Punk Rock Docs

For those of us who were teens in the 1980s and intently followed non-pop “alternative” music—bands like the Minutemen, X, Circle Jerks, Meat Puppets, Dead Kennedy’s, The Gun Club, Sonic Youth to name a few—the historical narrative of “punk” only went downhill after Geffen signed Nirvana in the early 1990s (and coincidently, CDs started to become the norm). Suddenly the music that was “ours” was “new” and all over MTV in what seemed increasingly like a sanitized and commercial form, a feeling likely (or not) shared by younger generations as commercial appropriation of any and all subcultures increases at warp-speed.


Shut Up and Sing, chronicles the Dixie Chicks’ much publicized battle with right–wing ideologues over their anti–war political stance. The Bridge, inspired by a New Yorker article, examines the Golden Gate’s morbid appeal as world–famous suicide site.

Docs In Sight

The Decline of Distributors

Any independent filmmaker who goes through the shameful dance of trying to find a traditional distributor these days tends to face an uphill battle, especially if they are trying to get any advance and real commitment. And if they do sign a contract, there are plenty of horror stories of distributors not spending the investment in publicity they promised and essentially letting a film disappear quickly.

Docs In Sight

The Next Way to Watch?

A recent TV ad expresses perfectly a new model of “content delivery.” Myriad hipsters lounge in airports, under outdoor sculptures, and on grassy knolls enraptured with the personal video experience on their cell phone.

Don’t See It Now

“Golden Age” seems like an incessant reference in criticism and the like, one that often indicates more the lack of iconoclastic risk in the present than an intrinsic brilliance in the past.

Docs In Sight

Documentary Is Not Fiction!

The 2005 documentary season kicked off with more of an outbreak than a bang.

Docs In Sight

Limits to the Means of Production

Most nonpractitioners of documentary film know little about the increasing obstacles to obtaining rights and clearances that independent filmmakers face.

Docs in Sight: The New Dawn of the Profitable Political Film

May 5 wasn’t only Cinco de Mayo but also marked a day of revolution for political documentaries in the arena of popular culture.

Docs in Sight: Systemic Ills, Dark Fetishes, Drugs, and Guns at the Tribeca Film Festival

The Tribeca Film Festival has grown exponentially since it was largely founded as part of the rebound from a destroyed lower Manhattan post-9/11. And, as New York City has gone into gentrification overdrive, TriBeCa (Triangle Below Canal for those unaware) is no longer a desolate area associated with artist lofts and underground clubs represented in the now unthinkable 1985 Scorsese film After Hours (though, to be fair, that was mostly SoHo).

Docs In Sight

Summer 2006

No one ever said that the New York Times was cutting edge regarding trends (in fact it’s practical wisdom that if a cultural trend is written about in the Times, it’s over).

Docs In Sight

Can Archival Footage Change the World?

Anyone who has seen the record-breaking political documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 knows that much of the rhetorical punch of the film comes from all the footage of W. & Co. that Michael Moore’s production team collected.

Docs In Sight

Borat’s Bummer?

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America to Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan obviously has succeeded recently in becoming The Talked About Film and earned the box office grosses to prove it.

Docs In Sight

Nature and Society

For many growing up in the ‘70s and ‘80s the nature documentary often meant soporific shows on birds and the African plain narrated by an upper-crust Englishman that you were forced to watch as “good for you” TV. In retrospect, it’s now easier to appreciate these meditative and sober films when compared to newer classics like Fox’s When Animals Attack! and the kinds of series that have crowded cable channels in a pointed attempt to energize the form. These new takes on the nature show often include lots of danger, slick graphics, and shocking video of bad weather and gross-out nature—but not much analysis of anything. Yet while Winged Migration and The March of the Penguins has certainly elevated the nature film to a narrative and aesthetic suitable for theatrical release, thankfully the last decade has also brought several epic TV nature series that build on classics such as David Attenborough’s The Shape of Life and The Blue Planet.

Docs In Sight

The Right-Wing Docs

The phenomenal success, both politically and financially, of Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 made it only a matter of time before the well-funded right would put forth a slew of responses.

Docs In Sight

Filial Documentaries

At a film market a few years ago, I once heard a prominent documentary sales agent say to a crowd of eager filmmakers that “nobody cares about films about your family. Please don’t make them.”


The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2023

All Issues