We are less than a month away from Silverdocs (or more properly AFI-Discovery Channel Silverdocs Documentary Festival) when the documentary world converges on downtown Silver Spring. It€™s still one of our favorite documentary festivals and it€™s not just because it is only a stone€™s throw away from Docs In Progress. / Israel/Palestinian Territories/USA, 2009, 81 minutes (Director: Julia Bacha)-This rousing film about one Palestinian village and its unlikely hero-humble family man turned activist Ayed Morrar-reveals the power of ordinary people to peaceably fight for extraordinary change.
Every year the festival seems to top itself in the quality of its festival and conference programs. What am I most looking forward to this year when the festival takes place from June 21-27? Where to begin?
* A tribute to seminal observational documentarian Frederick Wiseman (including a retrospective of his films and a special presentation to him of the annual Guggenheim honor).
* A chance to see works in progress pitched to potential funders and outreach partners through The Good Pitch.
* Amazing shorts programs which Silverdocs always manages to deliver (and we are very excited that this year our local heroes and Docs In Progress alums Ian Cook and Andre Dahlman will have their film Corner Plot included among the shorts in competition).
* Joy at seeing films I€™ve seen at other festivals (Doug Block€™s The Kids Grow Up and Robin Hessman€™s My Perestroika reach an appreciate DC audience).
* The chance to see some of the best documentary filmmakers out there take a crack at Freakonomics (which is the Opening Night Film).
* And the promise of some interesting world premieres on such topical themes as religious extremism (Holy Wars), the impact of the coal industry on the health of West Virginia region (On Coal River), and a new generation of refugees (The Arrivals).
And, of course, Docs In Progress will be busy that week too. On Monday, just before the festival kicks off, we will be partnering with The D-Word and Silverdocs to host Peer Pitch at the Documentary House. This is an opportunity for up to 10 documentary filmmakers to present their works-in-progress to each other whether to find potential partners or simply get comfortable with an elevator pitch before trying it out at the festival with industry. While that program requires advance registration, we will also be opening up our doors on Friday, June 25 between 6:00-10:00 pm to all documentary filmmakers and film fans to celebrate the documentary filmmaking community. If you plan to come, please RSVP.
But in the meantime, you can salivate at some of the films which will be at the festival. Silverdocs just announced the competition films today and the full slate should be out soon.
STERLING US FEATURE COMPETITION
BEYOND THIS PLACE / USA/Switzerland, 2010, 92 minutes (Director: Kaleo La Belle)-Cloud Rock La Belle is the quintessential hippie, still living a perpetually stoned and carefree lifestyle 40 years after the €™60s ended. His son attempts to re-connect with his absentee father by taking a 500-mile bike trip together around the Pacific Northwest.
CAMERA, CAMERA / USA/Laos, 2009, 60 minutes (Director: Malcolm Murray)-In Laos, the digital camera is the universal sign of the tourist, but when westerners take photos in seemingly exotic locals, what are they really capturing? A snapshot of reality, or a highly-distorted caricature that reveals more about the photographer than the landscape? This poetic film invites you to reconsider what it means to be a stranger in a strange land. East Coast Premiere.
CIRCO / Mexico/USA, 2010, 75 minutes (Director: Aaron Schock)-CIRCO is an intimate look at a family€™s struggle to preserve the institution of their small traveling circus in rural Mexico. At once producers, performers, and roadies, the Ponce family-the driven owner-father, his questioning wife, and their dedicated children-forms the heart of CIRCO, which explores the inner workings of the circus business as well as family sacrifice, loss of childhood, and the preservation of a fading art form. East Coast Premiere.
THE DISAPPEARANCE OF MCKINLEY NOLAN / USA/Cambodia/Vietnam, 2010, 85 minutes (Director: Henry Corra)-Forty years after Pvt. McKinley Nolan vanished in Vietnam, his family learns there is hope the beloved brother, husband and father is alive and the decades-long mystery of his disappearance may be solved. World Premiere.
HOLYWARS / USA/UK/Spain, 2009, 72 minutes (Director: Stephen Marshall)-The film follows two deeply committed men of faith-a Muslim and a Christian-as they travel the world spreading messages they both feel represent €œthe truth. What happens when the men are put in the same room? This thought-provoking film is sure to push buttons and instigate discussions about the nature of religion, extremism and tolerance. World Premiere.
THE KIDS GROW UP / USA, 2009, 91 minutes (Director Doug Block)-In his previous film, 51 BIRCH STREET, director Doug Block examined the marriage between his parents and, in particular, his relationship with his father. In this film, Block turns the camera on his daughter Lucy, meticulously documenting her life from birth, with the hopes that this will be a gift she one day enjoys, and that it might somehow help stave off the looming separation he hopes to avoid as she grows older and more independent.
MONICA AND DAVID / USA, 2009, 67 minutes (Director: Alexandra Codina)-Like many couples blissfully in love, Monica and David are getting married. Yet unlike most married couples, Monica and David have Down syndrome.The film offers an intimate glimpse into the first year of marriage for this charismatic young couple and reveals the joys and struggles that are much the same as that of any newlyweds.
MY PERESTROIKA / USA/UK/Russia, 2010, 87 minutes (Director: Robin Hessman)-The film€™s intimate and heartfelt portrait of the last generation of Soviet children brought up behind the Iron Curtain presents a complex picture of the challenges, dreams and disillusionments of this cross-over generation.
ON COAL RIVER / USA, 2010, 81 minutes (Directors: Francine Cavanaugh and Adams Wood)-When residents of the Coal River Valley begin noticing that a host of medical problems are linked to a Massey-owned coal-waste dumping ground that sits above the local elementary school, they demand action. World Premiere.
SONS OF PERDITION / USA, 2010, 85 minutes (Directors: Tyler Measom and Jennilyn Merten)-The film offers an eye-opening look into the world of The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), a branch of Mormonism that has continued the practice of polygamy since its emergence in the early 20th century. Far too often they exile young men, who are forced to find their way in a world previously unknown.
WO AI NI MOMMY (I LOVE YOU MOMMY) / China/USA, 2009, 76 minutes (Director: Stephanie Wang-Breal)-Eight-year-old Chinese Fang Sui Yong is adopted by a Jewish couple from Long Island who name her Faith. The filmfollows Faith and her parents€™ twist-and-turn journey over a year and a half. East Coast Premiere.
STERLING WORLD FEATURE COMPETITON
THE ARRIVALS / France/French Embassy, (2009), 111 minutes (Directors: Claudine Bories and Patrice Chagnard)-Arriving on the shores of France is merely the beginning of a labyrinthian journey for more than 50,000 refugees seeking asylum through the municipal reception center in Paris each year. North American Premiere.
AS LILITH / Israel, 2009, 78 minutes (Director: Eytan Harris)-After a 14-year-old Israeli girl commits suicide, her mother, Lilith, wants the body cremated. Before she can proceed, she must fight ZAKA, one of Israel€™s most powerful religious organizations, which is fundamentally against cremation. East Coast Premiere.
FAMILIA / Sweden/Peru/Spain, 2010, 82 minutes (Directors: Mikael WistrÃ¶m and Alberto Herskovits)-Swedish filmmaker Mikael WistrÃ¶m captures the emotional ups and downs of an impoverished Peruvian family struggling to create a better life and stay together in the midst of great difficulty. US Premiere.
A FILM UNFINISHED / Germany/Israel, 2009, 87 minutes (Director: Yael Hersonski)-In never before seen footage from a lost reel of an incomplete Nazi-produced propaganda film about Warsaw€™s Jewish ghetto in 1942, the film captures images of manipulated and staged ghetto life mixed with stunning photographic evidence and testimony-all making for a riveting experience.
INTO ETERNITY / Finland, (2010), 73 minutes (Director: Michael Madsen)-This film ponders how to caution explorers from future civilizations who may be driven by curiosity, or a desire to understand their distant past, to stay clear of buried nuclear waste.
PRESUMED GUILTY / Mexico, 2009, 92 minutes (Directors: Roberto HernÃ¡ndez and Geoffrey Smith)-In its stunning indictment of Mexican jurisprudence, the film invites unsettling suspicion that legions of hapless prisoners face groundless decades behind bars. East Coast Premiere.
REGRETTERS / Sweden, 2010, 59 minutes (Director: Marcus Lindeen)-Mikael and Orlando are two aging Swedes with something unusual in common: They are both biological males who have undergone sex reassignment surgery but now wish to €˜change back.€™ The pair€™s startling testimony forms a complex philosophical interrogation of gender performance and selfhood.
SPACE TOURISTS / Switzerland, 2009, 98 minutes (Director: Christian Frei)-Amid the crumbling infrastructure of the former Soviet military space program, Russians allow civilians to travel into space for the low, low price of $20 million. Meanwhile, poor herders in Central Asia wait expectantly for the discarded remains of the rocket to sell on the black market. East Coast Premiere.
STEAM OF LIFE / Finland, 2010, 82 minutes (Director: Joonas BerghÄ�ll and Mika Hotakainen)-It€™s neither a therapist€™s office nor a lover€™s bed where Finnish men€™s deepest feelings about life, love and family are brought to the surface: It€™s the sauna. The film allows the viewer to become a fly on the wall as it listens in on men-naked men-talking to other men (or occasionally a grizzly bear) in the sanctuary of the country€™s ubiquitous saunas. US Premiere.
THE WOMAN WITH THE FIVE ELEPHANTS / Germany/Switzerland/Ukraine, 2009, 92 minutes (Director: Vadim Jeydrenko)-Witness to unspeakable horrors, eighty-five-year-oldSvetlana Geier has dedicated her life to language. Considered the greatest translator of Russian literature into German, Svetlana has just concluded her magnum opus, completing new translations of Dostoyevsky€™s five great novels-known as the five elephants. US Premiere.
STERLING SHORT COMPETITION
ALBERT€™S WINTER / Denmark, 2009, 30 minutes (Director: Andreas Koefad)-A young boy in Germany struggles to deal with his mother€™s devastating terminal cancer. As the illness lingers unspoken in the background, Albert goes through the motions of his day-to-day life but knows that something is terribly wrong.
ARIRANG - LETTER TO BARACK / Germany/North Korea, 2010, 8 minutes (Director: Gerd Konrad)-The world appears very different from inside the hermit kingdom of North Korea. Huge mosaics created by one hundred thousand schoolchildren holding aloft colored cards in unison are a source of national pride, but so is the nation€™s stockpile of nuclear weapons. Pageantry and atomic blasts are juxtaposed in this chilling thought piece.
ARSY-VERSY / Slovakia, 2009, 24 minutes (Director Miro Remo)-Lubos is a happy-go-lucky 50-something who lives with his aging mother in what some would call a codependent relationship. The film takes a unique look at a mother-son relationship and the way in which Lubos lives his free-spirited life, like the title says, upside down.
BETWEEN DREAMS / Finland/France/Russian Federation, 2009, 11 minutes (Director: Iris Olsson)-A hundred souls lost in dreams in the dead of night cross a Siberian moonscape aboard a battered Russian train. A fortunate few dream happily and carefree, but most toss uneasily,gripped by fears for the future or guilt about the past.
BIG BIRDING DAY / USA, 2010, 13 minutes (Director: David Wilson)-Competitive bird watching comes alive in this delightful short. As three friends attempt to catch a glimpse of as many species as possible within the course of 24 hours, the special camaraderie that emerges between friends who enjoy the rituals of a unique hobby together is highlighted.
BORN SWEET / USA/Cambodia, 2010, 28 minutes (Director: Cynthia Wade)-Vinh, a rural Cambodian teen, dreams of falling in love, moving to the city and becoming a karaoke star. Alas, for Vinh and the millions of other children worldwide suffering from chronic arsenic poisoning, even reaching adulthood is a dream in doubt.
BYE BYE NOW / Ireland, 2009, 15 minutes (Director: Aideen O€™Sullivan)-The film offers a charming look at the gradual disappearance of phone booths in Ireland. With the advent of modern technology, the phone booth has all but vanished all over the world. In a loving tribute to this soon-to-be relic of the past, the film is a nostalgic reminder of yesteryear.
CORNER PLOT / USA, 2010, 11 minutes (Director: Ian Cook)-In this heart-warming short, 89-year-old Charlie Koiner cares for a one-acre piece of farmland that rests just inside urban Washington, D.C. With help from his daughter, Charlie works the land and shares his crops at the local farmer€™s market. In a rapidly changing modern world, this unique farmer remains dedicated to the life he has always known.
THE DARKNESS OF DAY / USA, 2009, 25 minutes (Director:Jay Rosenblatt)-This moving and thought-provoking meditation on depression and suicide stretches the boundaries of €œdocumentary. Built from found footage, and using both biographical details from Rosenblatt€™s life and readings from a journal of someone who committed suicide, the film gently spurs you to ask exactly what it aims to document.
THE FAUX REAL / USA, 2010, 21 minutes (Director: Suzanne Hillinger)-This engaging short documentary introduces three biologically born females who identify as drag queens. Challenging traditional ideas of gender and drag, these unconventional women don wigs, false eyelashes, heavy makeup and chokers to perform burlesque as women trying to pass as men in drag.
FLAWED / Canada, 2010, 12 minutes Director: (Andrea Dorfman)-Unfolding like a graphic novel, director and artist Andrea Dorfman illustrates her way through her unlikely pairing with a cosmetic surgeon. This animated short is a lovely meditation on falling in love, when the most trying battle is the one fought between the heart€™s desires and the mind€™s insecurities.
FOUND / Canada, 2009, 6 minutes (Director: Paramita Nath)-For Laotian-Canadian poet Souvankham Thammavongsa, a discarded scrapbook sheds light on a harsh infancy in Southeast Asia emphasizing how family memory is often an aggregation of disparate pieces.
THE HERD / Ireland, 2008, 4 minutes (Director: Ken Wardrop)-One of these things is not like the other. But don€™t tell that to the newest addition to the cow herd on the filmmaker€™s family farm. When a little fawn finds herself out of place amid the sole company of cows, she attempts to fit in unnoticed. Can she succeed?
HOLDING STILL / Germany/USA, 2010, 26 minutes (Director:Florian Riegel)-Imagine if the last 20 years of your life were lived entirely in one room, yet you have the ability to see and photograph the world outside. This is the story of Janis, a woman whose artistic voice is remarkably unconstrained by physical obstacles or tragedies in her past.
THE HOUSEKEEPER / Scotland, 2009, 13 minutes (Director: Tali Yankelevich)-The care bestowed on a venerable priest by his elderly Greek housekeeper may at first blush appear to be all in a day€™s work, but beneath the surface flow strong currents of platonic love and mutual need.
IF THESE WALLS COULD TALK / Ireland, 2009, 12 minutes (Director: Anna Rodgers)-This haunting and visually stunning short film explores several desolate and abandoned psychiatric hospitals throughout Ireland. The voices of former long-term patients permeate the corridors, still struggling to understand the circumstances that brought them there.
I€™M JUST ANNEKE / USA, 2010, 11 minutes (Director: Jonathan Skurnik)-Anneke is a 12-year-old girl who has begun taking a hormone blocker so that she can delay puberty to ultimately decide for herself whether or not she wants to grow up as a woman or a man. This thought-provoking film brings to light the choices of a new generation facing gender identity issues with remarkable sensitivity and respect.
KEEP DANCING / USA, 2010, 21 minutes (Director: Greg Vander Veer)-Well into their ninth decade of life, dance icon Marge Champion and Tony-winning choreographer Donald Saddler became fast friends while performing in the 2001 Broadway revival of Follies. Now 90, the two continue to rehearse and choreograph original work, revealing a passion for dance undimmed by the passage of time.
LAST ADDRESS /USA, 2009, 9 minutes (Director: Ira Sachs)-A series of exterior shots of buildings that all have one thing in common: they were the last residential addresses of some of New York€™s most prominent artists who lost their lives to AIDS-related illnesses. This simple yet poignant short film is an elegant tribute to those remarkable people whose voices were silenced much too soon.
LIES / Sweden, 2009, 13 minutes (Director: Jonas Odell)-With playful animation and lively narration, three people share their individual stories of lying, and the surprising consequences of their deception.
LISTENING TO THE SILENCES / UK, 2009, 11 minutes (Director: Pedro Flores)-What does it feel like to hear voices inside your head? Roy Vincent attempts to explain. Living alone in the isolated countryside, Vincent€™s battle with mental illness is a daily struggle. This quiet, penetrating film presents a sympathetic portrait of a man accepting his inner demons.
MARIA€™S WAY / Scotland/Spain, 2009, 15 minutes (Director: Anne Milne)-A feisty elderly woman€™s sole purpose in life appears to be setting up an isolated roadside stand along the historic Camino de Santiago pilgrim route. A seemingly mundane daily task soon evolves into a humorous and charming observation on the importance of purpose, commitment and tradition.
MISSED CONNECTIONS / USA, 2010, 9 minutes (Director: Mary Robertson)-This delightful film is an amuse-bouche for anyone who has ever perused the €˜Missed Connections€™ section of the classifieds in the hope they will recognize themselves as the €˜missed connection€™ in question.
A MOTH IN SPRING / USA/Canada, 2010, 26 minutes (Director: Yu Gu)-While attempting to produce a film in China inspired by her parents€™ involvement with the Student Democracy Movement of the 1980s, a young filmmaker€™s life and work quickly begin to parallel her parents€™ trials and alienation when the film is shut down and she is ordered to leave the country.
MRS. BIRK€™S SUNDAY ROAST / UK, 2009, 6 minutes (Director: Kyoko Miyake)-This beautifully shot slice-of-life short introduces Mrs. Fukio Birks, a Japanese woman living in England with her British husband. Embracing the new life she has created, Mrs. Birks dedicates herself to embracing English culture-beginning with its cuisine. As she prepares a delectable English Sunday dinner, Mrs. Birks shares her thoughts on cooking, home, culture and family.
NOTES ON THE OTHER / Spain, 2009, 13 minutes (Director: Sergio Oksman)-Ostensibly about Ernest Hemingway, this intriguing short is more a meditation on reality and simulation-like a Baudrillard lecture, except more fun. Contrasting Hemingway with his impersonators in Key West, the film questions the writer€™s account of the running of the bulls, moving quickly to challenging the concept of the Real.
ON THE RUN WITH ABDUL / UK/France, 2009, 24 Minutes (Directors: James Newton, Kristian Hove Sorensen and David LalÃ©)-When sixteen year old Abdul€™s life is suddenly in jeopardy because of his involvement with a film on refugees, the filmmakers take it upon themselves to protect the boy. Exploring the delicate balance of how involved documentarians should become with their subjects, the film is a remarkable reassessment on the craft of non-fiction filmmaking.
OVERNIGHT STAY / USA, 2009, 9 minutes (Director: Daniela Sherer)-Using hand-drawn animation, the film illustrates an 83-year-old woman€™s vivid memory of an event during World War II that likely saved her life when she was a young girl. On a cold night in Nazi-occupied Poland in 1941, she was taken in by strangers and given a place to sleep.
PARA FUERA: PORTRAIT OF DR. RICHARD J. BING / USA, 2010, 9 minutes (Director: Nicholas Jasenovec)-How could a centenarian who is an accomplished doctor and musician sum up the totality of experiences in his life in one word? Dr. Richard Bing is able to do so-and along the way you will learn what motivated and assisted him in living his challenging yet charmed life.
PLASTIC AND GLASS / France, 2009, 9 minutes (Director: Tessa Joosse)-In a recycling factory in the north of France, workers settle into the daily grind of reprocessing plastic and glass. In an effort to transcend the routine, the workers playfully adapt the steady rhythm of the machines into a melody for a song and dance.
THE POODLE TRAINER / USA/Russia, 2009, 8 minutes (Director: Vance Malone)-Irina Markova is a Russian poodle trainer who has dedicated her life to training her 20 colorfully costumed poodles to perform clever acrobatic tricks. Fueled by a childhood tragedy that sparked a fierce desire to avoid people, Markova welcomes the solace of her animals and the isolation she finds behind the red velvet curtain of the circus.
PRAYERS FOR PEACE / USA, 2009, 8 minutes (Director: Dustin Grella)-Through the use of stop-motion animation, a man reflects on the memory of his younger brother, recently killed in Iraq. This deeply personal film offers an elegant introspection about a brother and soldier whose loss is deeply felt by those who loved him.
QUADRANGLE/ USA, 2010, 20 minutes (Director: Amy Grappell)-In the €™70s, two €œconventional couples embark on a most unconventional arrangement when they attempt to ward off marital ennui by swapping partners. Moving into the same home, merging families, sharing in a group marriage, can this four-way affair ever work?
SELTZER WORKS / USA, 2010, 7 minutes (Director: Jessica Edwards)-New York€™s last seltzer bottler makes for a refreshing subject in this effervescent look at a tradesman who refuses to compromise on taste while facing the inevitable decline of a dying commercial tradition.
THE SPACE YOU LEAVE / UK, 2009,10 minutes (Director: James Newton)-Thoughts of their long-vanished children are never far off for several British parents whose lives seem all but consumed by overarching loss. The daunting impact of an estimated 200,000 annual disappearances in the UK is brought to scale in three gripping portraits of lives now defined by the presence of absence.
THEY ARE GIANTS / Netherlands, 2009, 13 minutes (Director: Koert Davidse)-The Bibliotheca Thurkowiana Minor is a breathtakingly beautiful old world library filled with hand-crafted leather tomes nestled in exquisite mahogany bookcases. No human has ever walked its halls, climbed its stairs, or sat at its tables because this library is no more than eight feet long and four feet high; its books no taller than your little finger.
THIS CHAIR IS NOT ME /UK, 2010, 10 minutes (Director: Andy Taylor Smith)-While cerebral palsy confines Alan Martin to a wheelchair and inhibits his speech, he refuses to limit himself. When he gains access to technology that enables him to find a voice, his life is transformed. Utilizing stunning visual vocabulary and subtle re-enactment, the film presents a cinematic experience as unique as the subject himself.
TRASH-OUT / USA, 6 minutes (Director: Maria Fortiz-Morse)-This deeply affecting and simple short shows workers cleaning out a house that has been foreclosed. What do the things left behind say about a family? What does an empty house that was once a home say? In a mere six minutes, TRASH-OUT makes a poignant statement on a timely subject.
UNEARTHING THE PEN / UK/Uganda, 2009, 12 minutes (Director: Carol Salter)- Beautifully photographed, this film poignantly tells the story of a young Ugandan boy€™s desperate desire for an education in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds: most daunting is the possibility that the symbolic burying of a pen decades earlier by tribal elders has resulted in a curse on formal education.
THE VEIL / Italy, 2009, 18 minutes (Director: Mattia Colombo)-A young postulant prepares to enter the convent. Older nuns go about their quotidian routines. This intimate portrait of Franciscan sisters in a small Venetian convent reveals the vibrant lives played out beneath the subdued cloth of their vocation.
WORLD CHAMPION / Estonia, 2009, 35 minutes (Director: Moonika Siimets)-Eighty-two-year-old Herbert Sepp is a man€™s man. He works out, he speaks his mind, and he knows what he wants in life: a world masters title in pole vaulting.