KOCH (Neil Barsky, 2012)
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Walter Reade Theater
70 Lincoln Center Plaza, 65th St. at Amsterdam Ave.
Thursday, January 10, $13, 6:00; Sunday, January 13, $13, 3:30
Festival runs January 9-24
A bunch of people have a whole lot to say about Ed Koch in a new documentary about the charming yet irascible former three-term mayor of New York City, but none of them goes on quite so eloquently as Hizzoner himself. Longtime journalist and first-time filmmaker Neil Barsky delves into the man behind the legend, the upstart politician who helped save New York from the debt- and crime-ridden 1970s through, among other things, the sheer force of his immense will. Barsky combines new interviews with such political journalists as Michael Goodwin, Sam Roberts, and Wayne Barrett, along with former comptroller Carl McCall and the Rev. Calvin O. Butts, to paint a portrait of Koch as both mensch and meanie, a bully who always speaks his mind and never backs down from a challenge. Barsky and editor Juliet Weber include archival photographs and old film footage of Koch in the 1960s and early 1970s as he first takes on Democratic Party boss Carmine DeSapio, then runs for city council and Congress before getting into a heated seven-person race for mayor in 1977. The present-day Koch is filmed tinkering around in his small kitchen, breaking the Yom Kippur fast with his family, and relaxing in his office, sharing his views on his legacy, his battles with the black community over Sydenham Hospital, and even questions of his sexuality — but only up to a point — that have followed him throughout his career. Although Barsky claims in his director’s statement that “with the exception of one former governor and one former mayor, virtually everyone we reached out to agreed to be interviewed,” the film suffers in that it does not exactly boast an all-star lineup of pundits talking about Koch-- but it of course has Koch himself, and that is more than enough. Koch, which opens theatrically February 1, is screening January 10 and 13 at the twenty-second annual New York Jewish Film Festival, presented by the Jewish Museum and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, with Barsky on hand for the January 10 show and the now-eighty-nine-year-old Koch in attendance January 13.