2023 has been yet another excellent and eye-opening year for documentary filmmaking, but you probably wouldn’t know it from the rather muted role that non-fiction cinema has played in the discourse over the last 11 months. Sundance was typically replete with major work like “Milisuthando,” “Kokomo City” and “The Disappearance of Shere Hite,” but many of these unconventional highlights struggled for distribution (or were gobbled up by streamers, which is often the same thing), while the usual array of music biodocs (e.g. “Little Richard: I Am Everything”) and environmental panic attacks (“Deep Rising”) failed to make the same impression that similar festival premieres have made in the past.

The rest of the calendar has largely continued that trend, with critical favorites like Claire Simon’s “Our Body” and “De Humani Corporis Fabrica” relegated to the margins while “After Death” — a faith-based, fact-free work of pseudoscience from the distributor behind “Sound of Freedom” — became the highest-grossing documentary of the year. 

The good news, of course, is that feature-length documentary cinema is still thriving if you know where to find it, and the even better news is that DOC NYC — America’s largest documentary film festival — is back to collect an absolute ton of it in one place.

Continuing a practice that began with the pandemic, most of the 100+ movies screening at DOC NYC will be available to watch online during the festival, which means that people across the United States will have a ridiculously wide array of exciting new documentaries at their fingertips, including can’t-miss world premieres and well-curated breakouts from earlier fests; hotly-tipped Oscar contenders like “American Symphony” (about the musician Jon Batiste, and his life partner’s experience with cancer), and new discoveries still in search of distribution, such as Hasan Oswald’s heart-wrenching “Mediha,” about a Yazidi teenager who survived being sold to ISIS, and remains desperate to reunite with other members of her family who were abducted by the terror group. 

With an emphasis on world premieres, we’ve combed through this year’s DOC NYC slate to highlight 10 films that define what makes this festival so essential to audiences in the city and far beyond. Visit DOC NYC’s website for ticket information and a look at the full schedule, which runs from November 8 — November 26.

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