Silverdocs 2012 Preview

by Erica Ginsberg, Docs In Progress Executive Director

Can you believe this is the 10th anniversary of Silverdocs?   We may think of this as our neighborhood film festival, since the main venues are only a few blocks away from Docs In Progress.  But, in reality, Silverdocs is one of the top all-documentary film festivals in the world.  And that's what we love about it - the global and the local come together.


've attended the festival every single of those 10 years and have witnessed a festival which started out strong only get better with age.  While the parties may not be as big as they once were, the festival has gone through some significant personnel changes, and has faced the ups and downs of venue locations for its accompanying conference, Silverdocs has never stopped doing two things amazingly well: programming the best documentaries out there and bringing industry and filmmakers together to debate and discuss current issues in documentary as art, craft, business, and social change-agent.  And really what more do you need in a documentary film festival?

2012 plans to be no exception to the rule of showcasing a mix of provocative and entertaining documentaries from June 18-24.  Some of the films I caught at SXSW and liked will be here (Beware of Mr. Baker about infamous Cream drummer Ginger Baker; Seeking Asian Female about an Internet-age love story; and the feel-good film Trash Dance about a dance piece inspired and performed by sanitation workers).  Some films which have been getting a lot of buzz on the festival circuit are ones on my list of must-sees, including Call Me KuchuBrooklyn Castle, and The Impostor.  I also look forward to seeing new works from Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (Detropia - see image at left), Ross McElwee (Photographic Memory), and Helena Trestikova (Private Universe).  I'll probably aim to catch a few shorts programs which are always strong.  But what I most look forward to are those unexpected gems which I decide on at the last minute, either because the description in the catalogue looked intriguing or some film colleague I pass on the street is headed that way and I just decide to follow him or her on a whim.

I also hope this year to spend more time this year at the Conference which takes place simultaneously with the festival.  There look to be some of the panels to be expected every year (navigating the festival circuit, community engagement campaigns, meet the broadcasters, theatrical distribution, etc.), but also some intriguing ones about crowdsourced documentaries, reaching underserved audiences in untraditional ways, the joys and challenges of co-directing, and hot topics in the documentary film community.  Plus networking breakfasts and happy hours, Silver Session one-on-ones with industry leaders, and Doc Talks with some of the attending festival filmmakers.  I am particularly happy to see that Silverdocs this year has incorporated some feedback-style programming into the conference, including Speed Pitching sessions with PBS, NEH the Tribeca Film Institute, and a former ITVS Program Manager, as well as a trailer-feedback program.  The Living Docs Hackathon program looks pretty amazing and one should not forget the third sidebar event SchoolDocs; while it is aimed at K-12 educators, some of these sessions can be quite valuable for filmmakers who are making works which could have a life in the classroom.  Plus Women in Film and Video will be doing their annual Silverdocs breakfast which this year will focus on how filmmakers immerse themselves in the environment of their subjects.

Silverdocs can be an invigorating and exhausting experience.  Unlike festivals like Sundance or SXSW, the venues are all quite close to each other and easily walkable.  The bad news is that weather in the DC area in June is unpredictable.  More than likely, it will be hot and humid.  Afternoon storms are not unheard of.  And even if you are sweltering outside, you should bring a sweater or jacket since all the indoor venues are likely to be over-air-conditioned.

While some visiting filmmakers have commented to me in the past that Silver Spring feels a bit too cookie-cutter corporate suburban, I would invite them to venture for their coffees, power lunches, and evening networking away from Ellsworth to experience more of what Silver Spring has to offer.  You'll find great ethnic eateries with everything from Burmese to Ethiopian to  Jamaican, as well as the to-be-expected Thai, Vietnamese, Mexican, and Indian.  For a complete list, check out this website.  If you need something sweet, nothing beats the gelato (not to mention the awesome Ethiopian Coffee) at Kefa Cafe or the ice cream at Moorenko's.  If you want to drink at someplace with local flavor,try the Quarry House Tavern (Silver Spring's favorite dive bar for more than 70 years) or even the quirky Piratz Tavern (which recently eschewed a reality-show makeover to return to its pirate theme).  And you cannot fully experience Silverdocs until you've had a 2 am breakfast or milkshake at the Tastee Diner.  None of these places paid me to plug them.  As a Silver Spring native, I just love to show support for our local businesses.

And speaking of plugs, I must put in a plug for two Docs In Progress events happening that week.  We are organizing Peer Pitch, a pre-festival pitching practice workshop which is co-sponsored by Silverdocs and The D-Word.  While that event is already full, we will be opening up the doors to Docs In Progress for our Summer Open House on Friday, June 22.  We'll be open from 6-10 pm so you can come before or after a film or just come for the whole night.  We've heard it's a great place to meet up with other documentary filmmakers and enjoy some refreshments in a nice homey environment.  Plus we've got a few other surprises this year which should make for a fun night.

What are you most looking forward to at this year's festival?

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