Daniel Zhao, Senior Photographer

The New Haven Documentary Film Festival — also known as NHDocs — returns for its ninth installment this week with 116 screenings of films produced around the world.

Topics this year ranged from the silent epidemic of misprescribed drugs to the experiences of a death-positive farmer who documented his life on film in rural England.  

NHDocs has been key to connecting creatives from around the city and the globe, helping them market and distribute their films. One of the short films screened at the festival in 2021, “The Queen Of Basketball,” went on to win an Oscar for Best Documentary Short in 2022.

“In terms of the art world, film is the one artform that combines all other artforms,” said Gorman Bechard, director and founder of NHDocs. “I think film is the most important art form. For there not to be a film festival in a town with so many people and so much culture would be a travesty.”

Originally created in 2014 by four New Haven filmmakers, the festival has grown rapidly, from showing four films in its first year to 116 this year, including 12 as a part of a student film competition. 

Programming included a variety of events, including a beer tasting by Westville brewer Alisa Bowens-Mercado, a DJ party by Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz and a performance by Air Guitar World Champion Andrew “Flying Finn” Finn.

NHDocs will be hosted at the New Haven Public Library, Cafe 9, The State House, and The Criterion. 

Tickets for individual screenings are on sale on the NHDocs website and range from no cost to $15. See the festival’s full schedule here.

“The Box Truck Film,” Oct. 16 at The State House

Alex Eaves, who directed “The Box Truck Film”, expressed appreciation for the festival’s focus on documentary.

“Especially in this day and age, when we’re getting so many posts and videos on social media, these festivals are important because this is real life, there’s important things to take away and learn from documentaries,” said Alex Eaves, who directed “The Box Truck Film.” “It’s not like you’re going to the movies and getting two hours of entertainment. You’re also going to learn and take away something from the experience.”

Eaves’s film discusses his journey to build a sustainable home from completely used material and covers his three years of traveling around the country and living in his new home. This is Eaves’ second film on sustainability.

“As Prescribed,” Oct. 15 at the Criterion

Some films are infused with personal history, and others with calls to action. “As Prescribed,” a film written and directed by Holly Hardman, engages with a community of people affected by benzodiazepines.

Hardman follows advocate Geraldine Burns’ experience raising awareness about the dangers of these commonly-prescribed medications.

After struggling with the effects of the drug Clonazepam herself and seeing the damage it caused in her life, Hardman used her experiences to create awareness about the issue. 

“Art has given a deeper meaning to my life,” Hardman said. “More than inspired to make this film, I felt it was a duty because I didn’t think that enough people knew about this. I didn’t want anyone else to go through what I went through. I felt called. I felt as though to live with myself, to be a decent person who tries to do the right thing, I had to make this film.”

“Deerwoods Deathtrap,” Oct. 14 and 16 at the Criterion

“Deerwoods Deathtrap,” a short film by James P. Gannon, was recently selected for Sundance Film Festival.

The film follows Gannon’s parents as they revisit the site of a car crash they were in 50 years prior. Being back at the site jogs his parents’ memories, with each recalling the vastly different version of the same event. The result is a comical two-perspective story. 

“It’s cool having a festival that’s just dedicated to documentaries,” said Gannon. “Especially with my documentary which is very unusual. I’m glad that they’re embracing something that’s different and quirky like that.”

“A Life On The Farm,” Oct. 14 and 22 at the Criterion 

With a similar perspective on the importance of documentary-specific film festivals, British and Irish filmmaker Oscar Harding voiced both his appreciation for documentary film festivals.

“There’s a very real chance that if this movie plays in theaters, it’s not gonna play anywhere in New England,” Harding said. “It may sell in the big markets like [Los Angeles] and New York, but then you’ve got tens of thousands of movie lovers that won’t get a chance to see it. Festivals like NHDocs are really important for that.”

Harding’s film, “A Life On The Farm,” centers around the home movies made by a farmer in rural England who happened to be Harding’s grandfather’s neighbor. 

When sifting through his grandfather’s possessions, Harding’s family found a tape made by this neighbor, Charles Carson. Harding was initially prohibited from seeing what was on the tape at the time it was found, his curiosity about the content never faded. After watching the tape twelve years later, Harding 

Harding ultimately follows Carson’s love for filmmaking and for his subject: death.

“New Haven is such a culturally diverse town but a lot of the time, culture is out of reach to the average New Havener,” Bechard said. “That’s what’s so special about NHDocs.”

Entries for film submissions for NHDocs will reopen in March 2023.

Mia Cortés Castro covers City Hall and State Politics, and previously covered Cops and Courts. Originally from Dorado, Puerto Rico, she is a sophomore in Branford College studying English.