Movies tend to be many people’s first introduction to New York. Through Hollywood movie magic, the city seems loud, kooky, and larger than life. It’s true that NYC is all of these things, but it’s also a lot more, and luckily, there is an abundance of NYC documentaries to fill in the gaps that Hollywood leaves out. Check out the NYC documentaries below to see the city that tends to be missing from the blockbuster movies.
New York: A Documentary
If you want a crash course in New York history, this Ric Burns documentary is the place to start. But prepare to set aside at least a day to watch this. This eight part documentary covers over 400 years of NYC history and has a run time of 17.5 hours!
The World Before Your Feet
William Helmreich (RIP) wasn’t the only iron-soled New Yorker who dared to thread every walkable inch of New York City: Matt Green has taken on this feat as well. Follow him on his six year journey as he walks over 8,000 miles throughout all five boroughs. This is perfect for those who are going stir crazy from wanderlust (trust me, I can empathize).
In Jackson Heights
Want to experience NYC’s diversity and current conflicts all condensed in one neighborhood? Then spend a few hours watching “In Jackson Heights”. This simple documentary has received high praise for its ability to capture this complex Queens community.
Park Avenue: Money, Power, and the American Dream
Filmmaker Alex Gibney highlights the gap between rich and poor Americans, using NYC’s Park Avenue as a case study. Prepare your brain to handle mind-boggling figures as the film contrasts the crazy concentration of wealth on the Manhattan side of Park Avenue and the poverty across the river in the South Bronx.
The Bronx, USA
See the Bronx from the eyes of old-timers and young folk. They’ll show you that there’s way more to the Bronx than its reputation of poverty and blight. If you want even more enjoyment from this documentary, create a drinking game from all the Bronx-born celebrity cameos this film has.
Welcome to IS 318 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where the students in the chess club are the coolest kids in school. To these middle school students from low-income and immigrant backgrounds, chess is more than a game; it’s a pathway to advancement. This documentary is as heartwarming and as nail-biting as watching your favorite sports team strive for a championship.
New York City: a place where you can witness immense wealth and crippling poverty all within one block. In this case, see how it plays out when a nearly $50,000/year private school opens up across the street from the projects in Chelsea. What is different about this film is that it tells the story through the eyes of the children affected, both at the school and in the projects.
The Cat Rescuers
Stray cats aren’t as prevalent here as they are in other cat-centric cities around the world, like Rome or Istanbul. Nonetheless, New York City is home to more than half a million stray cats struggling to fend for themselves on the cold, mean streets. If this breaks your heart, you’re not alone. Several New Yorkers have taken it upon themselves to do what they can to make life more comfortable for their feral furry friends. This NYC documentary shares their stories.
Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s
To fashionistas in New York and beyond, Bergdorf Goodman is more than a department store; it’s style heaven. Spend some time with fashion’s elite as the documentary takes you behind the scenes of this iconic store.
Want to see even more of New York on the big screen? Check out this list of the greatest NYC movies from every genre.