Perched on his Schwinn bicycle, a camera hanging from his neck, photographer Bill Cunningham roams the streets of New York snapping stills of unassuming passerby, if the look is right. Despite decades of work for the New York Times' style sections 'On the Street' and 'Evening Hours' Cunningham remains ill-at-ease in social situations, especially the high society soirées populated by those who love him best. At the end of each day Cunningham retreats to his monastic studio in Carnegie Hall, hoping to return unseen to Manhattan's avenues and alleyways in search of an individual with flair.
Doubling as a cartography of the ever-changing city, Bill Cunningham New York portrays the secluded pioneer of street fashion with grace and heart. Richard Press' feature documentary debut premiered at Abu Dhabi, where it won Best First Documentary; Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney, where it won the Audience Awards; and Nantucket, where it won Best Storytelling in a Documentary.
"Manhattan, it is well-known, is an island nation governed by peacocks. Trolling up and down the city's concrete channels, gazing into restaurants, you see a spread of lavish fabrics boldly worn, garments exotically blended, women gorgeously done-up and men dressed studiously down, each eyeing the other for a moment before rushing headlong back into the throng. For those who can't spend hours wide-eyed on a street corner every day, there is Bill Cunningham… The hidden subject of Bill Cunningham New York is the space between the fashion industry and fashion as it's worn and loved by real people. Cunningham spans the gap between the two, and so, deftly, does Press. Shot with noninvasive consumer cameras and no crew over months, then winnowed, the director's approach is a direct echo of Cunningham's—and his product shares the subject's upbeat, nonconfrontational style"
"Cunningham's reticence meant that Press worked with no crew and used small, hand-held consumer cameras for the shoot, shadowing the photographer as he piloted his 29th Schwinn bicycle (the first 28 were all stolen) around Manhattan's mean streets in search of beauty… [a] charming documentary"
"Press gathers bits and pieces of information about the unusual path that led Cunningham to his singular position, gleaning tidbits from the fashion and society elite who adore him and from Cunningham himself. Ever on the fringes, he's still largely an unknown to many of the people he shoots; it's fascinating to watch the director draw out their speculations on Cunningham's origins, only to have the photographer contradict them when he finally reveals his own life story. That story is not just his, but the story of New York itself. The equal billing in the title is no accident: This is a film about the city, about the ways it has changed through the decades and how that history was captured on all those miles of film passing through Cunningham's camera"