The Audience Feature Award winner
(The festival officially ends on Sunday but each year the award winners and festival favorites are shown the following day.)
"The Waiting Roon" (*** 1/2-82 minutes)
Who hasn't visited a hospital ER and spent an interminable amount of time until you can go to your next destination? Director Peter Nicks turns his camera on such folks holed up in the waiting room at Highland Hospital in Oakland, Ca and, without commentary, focuses on a number of patients and the, at times, overworked staff that service them. A microcosm of our health care system, the documentary shows the tireless and thankless dedication of the hospital personnel who desperately work within the system to alleviate the pain, anguish, and frustration of their patients. Simply presented, the doc is powerful and unyielding, and truly unforgettable. A complete review will be posted after the festival.)
"Fame High" (****-97 minutes)
One of the more entertaining films about the arts is this gem from director Scott Hamilton Kennedy. The institution is the Los Angeles Country High School for the Arts (LACHSA) whose alumni include Josh Grobin and Katy Perry. Kennedy mainly focuses on four students throughout the school year: 2 seniors (a dancer and a musician/singer) and 2 freshman (a pianist and an actress)-each struggling to make a mark at the prodigious school where passing the curriculum could go a long way on jump starting their careers. As the film progresses, we witness first-hand their trials, tribulations, failures, and triumphs that lead to a surprising moving climax. (A complete review will be posted after the festival).
"Only The Young" (***-68 minutes)
Directors Jason Tippet and Elizabeth follows three teens slacking in depressed Santa Clarita, California in this U.S. Sterling Award winner doc. With little parental guidance, amidst their skateboarding, video-game playing, and romantic relationships we wonder what future these young souls will ultimately encounter. (A complete review will be posted after the festival.)
"Trash Dance" (***1/2-67 minutes)
Winner of the Feature Audience Award is director Andrew Garrison's film about choreographer Allison Orr's unusual idea of producing a show involving Austin Texas sanitation workers and their trash equipment. Spirited, entertaining and inspirational, it is not surprising that the crowd-pleasing "Trash Dance" won the Audience Award here as well as at the Hotdocs Film Festival. (A complete review will be posted after the festival)
The marque announcing the appearance of Olympic weight-lifting
champion Cheryl Haworth from "Strong!"
"Radio Unnameable" (*** 1/2-87 minutes)
Radio talk show host Bob Fass is in now in his 80's and still travels to his New York FM station WBAI studio once a week. Considered to be one of the first of his kind, this fascinating profile of Fass chronicles his early days beginning in 1963 as the late night host who also provided live in-studio music performances (a young Bob Dylan played in the studio in 1966) as well as serving as a focal point for the happenings in and outside New York City. Directors Paul Lovelace and Jessica Wolfson had access to his extensive archives (Bob recorded all of his shows) to paint a vivid portrait of this media pioneer who is as fascinating as his audience. (A complete review will be posted after the festival.)
"Strong!" (***1/2-76 minutes)
Just in time for the summer Olympics is the World Premier of "Strong!", director Julie Wyman's inspirational take on a 5'8" 300+ lb weightlifter who just happens to be woman. When we meet Cheryl Hayworth we learn that she hold the North American record in the clean and jerk (319 lbs.) and the snatch lift (275 lbs.) and that she earned the bronze in the 2000 Olympics. However, there is much more to this lady than lifting dead weights and Wyman's examination of her character, intelligence, and determination are highlighted as she attempt to compete in yet another Olympics in 2008 in Beijing. The film will premier on PBA' "Independent Lens" on July 26. (A complete review will be posted after the festival)
AWARD WINNERS ANNOUNCED:
The films ESCAPE FIRE: THE FIGHT TO RESCUE AMERICAN HEALTHCARE directed byMatthew Heineman and Susan Froemke and THE HOUSE I LIVE IN directed by Eugene Jareckiwon the inaugural React to Film Social Issue Awards at this year’s Silverdocs, which is given to two well-crafted and compelling documentaries on a critical social issue that has the greatest potential, through the medium of film, to have an impact on that issue through reaching the broadest audience, particularly young people. In ESCAPE FIRE, the filmmakers examine the nuts and bolts of the current battle raging over a healthcare system that is desperately broken. Drawing from harrowing personal stories and the ongoing efforts of those trying to make a positive difference, this hard-hitting film focuses on finding workable solutions. In THE HOUSE I LIVE IN, filmmaker Eugene Jarecki (WHY WE FIGHT) offers a sobering comprehensive view of contemporary drug culture and examines the troubling realities of a broken system whose very existence, he argues, is making the problem worse rather than better.
Director Neil Berkely creates a lively profile of artist Wayne White who received his big break creating
visual work on the set of 1980's "Peewee's Playhouse" and is currently successful with word paintings where he humorously places words across existing paintings. The success of the documentary for audiences will depend on one's connection with the artist's off-the-wall, oftentimes, blue humor. (A complete review will be posted after the festival).
CLOSING NIGHT FILM: "Big Easy Express" (*** 1/2-67 minutes)
A unusual kind of concert film reminiscent of the phenomenal 2003 documentary "Festival Express" which documented a 1970 train excursion through Canada featuring the top musicians of the day including Janice Joplin, The Greatful Dead, The Band. This time around, three talented folk bands (Mumford and Sons, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, and Old Crow Medicine Show) travel from California to New Orleans entertaining inside the train cars and outside at 6 separate stops along the way. Director Emmett Malley wonderfully photographs the scenery along the way (which is almost worth the price of admission), and has expertly recorded the music which will assuredly leave you smiling by the end of its too swift 67 minutes.(A complete review will be posted after the festival.)
"The Source" (****-105 minutes)
Ever wonder what it would be like to be a part of one of the spiritual psychedelic cults that took form in the late 60's and early 70's without actually joining? Directors Jodi Wille and Maria Demopolos incredible documentary will give you that chance as they chronicle the "family" founded by jujitsu expert and stuntman Jim Baker, aka Father Yod, aka YaHoWha. To help bring in the funds, the group (which ultimately grew to over 140 followers) worked in Baker's vegetarian restaurant "The Source", which was frequented by L.A. celebrities and even served as a setting for a scene in "Annie Hall". The directors obtained extensive and amazing archival footage, meticulously maintained for years by cult member Isis, and recent interviews with many key cult members to produce, as Eric Hatch, the chief programmer for the Maryland Film Festival, accurately stated its program guide "one of the major documentary events of the year". The filmmakers used the previously recorded music of The Source family that hauntingly accompanies the amazing visuals. Not to be missed, the film repeats Saturday 6/23 at 9:15pm.
"Meet the Fokkens" (***-76 minutes)
The Fokkens, Martine and Louise, are now two elderly twin sisters living in Amsterdam. Both have been working in the prostitution industry for over 50 years. Louis retired 2 years ago while Martine is still turning tricks as her only means of income. A sweet unflinching look into their lives both past and present. (A complete review will be posted after the festival).
"The Ambassador" (*** 1/2-94 minutes)
Director Mads Brugger goes undercover to reveal how easy it is to become a Third World diplomat-as long as you have enough cash and are willing to risk your life in the process. Often humorous in its execution, the filmmaker takes us into this seedy milieu that involves the risks these folks take while attempting to smuggle "blood diamonds" out of Africa. (A complete review will be posted after the festival
"The Queen of Versailles" (*** 1/2-100 minutes)
Winner of the Sundance U.S. Directing Award, director Lauren Greenfield shows the extreme ups and downs in the lives of the Siegels. David is a 74-year-old timeshare mogul and his wife Jacqueline, 30 years younger, is a former beauty queen and graduate of RPI. We meet them and their 8 children in the late 2000's as they are in the midst of constructing their 90,000 square foot "castle" modeled after the French Palace of the title. Then comes the 2008 economic meltdown-which has the family rethinking their exorbitant lifestyle in a big way. A curious fascinating inside look into the lives of the rich and famous. The film replays Sunday July 24 at 5:30pm and opens nationwide July 20. (A complete review will be posted after the festival.)
"Special Flight" (****-103 minutes)
In the cinema verite style reminiscent of the techniques utilized by great documentarians such as the Maysles Brothers and D.A. Pennebaker, Fernand Melgar has carefully documented a group of some 25 illegal Swiss immigrants from Africa and Easter Europe holed up in the Frambois detention center near Geneva as they await their fate. Many of these individuals have been living in Switzerland for over 10 years-paying taxes and raising families. After being found out oftentimes in the most mundane manner (getting stopped for a traffic violation, for example), they must await the decision of the slow moving administration-which could take up to two years. Being away from their family is only part of their ordeal as many of them know that returning to their "homes" could be certain death in the existing politically volatile climate from which they escaped. Like a reality show from hell, Melgar follows these poor souls for months and allows us to personally connect with their plight. Quietly powerful in its simplistic presentation (there is virtually no musical soundtrack), we get to feel their horror and helplessness-all the while questioning how this could happen in a supposedly democratic country. "Special Flight" won the Full Frame Grand Jury Award and the Center for Documentary Studies Filmmaker Award. Truly unforgettable.
"Seeking Asian Female" (***-84 minutes)
American born Asian filmmaker Debbie Lum always wondered about "Yellow Fever"-the term applied to particular attraction white men have for Asian women. She set out to explore this social phenomenon-but found her film going in a different director after she met twice divorced 60ish Steven. Steven allowed Debbie full access to his life and when she realized he was a character straight out of a fiction novel (Lum admitted he kind of creeped her out at first meeting), she began filming his attempt to meet foreign women over the Internet. He strikes gold with 30-year-old Sandy, a Chinese national-and after a trip to China to meet her, she agrees to move to San Francisco and marry him. The main problem: language. That put the filmmaker in a awkward situation as their principle translator-including being their mediator and counselor during their arguments. The initial humor is eventually replaced with pathos as we wonder where this unconventional relationship was heading. Although many purists will balk at the idea of the documentary filmmaker putting oneself smack in the middle of the story (did she ultimately affect the relationship after being thrust into the action?), the story does become a fascinating sociological statement on the quest for humans to connect-no matter the odds. "Seeking Asian Female" will air on PBS' Independent Lens series sometime in 2013.
"We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists" (*** 1/2-94 minutes)
Straight out of today's headlines, director Brian Knappenberger delves in the history of the "hactivists"-better known as "Anonymous"-the Internet savvy activists around the world who are trying to fight social, economic and political injustices by working mainly through their keyboards. Starting as geeky Internet pranksters, they have evolved into a force to be reckoned with. (They were instrumental in the 2011 Egyptian revolution when they connected with the Egyptian masses after their government shut down the Internet.) Not to be confused with hackers stealing passwords and such from corporate computer files, Anonymous is the Boston Tea Party of the computer age. Fabulous interviews with Anonymous members (some hidden behind their signature Guy Fawkes masks), frantic editing, and an effective non-stop soundtrack will keep you fascinated in this important story of our times. The documentary re-screens Saturday July 23 at 10:45pm.
"Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself" (****-88 minutes)
Most people remember George Plimpton as the participatory Sports Illustrated journalist who often put himself in incredibly perilous situations and writing about them from the point of view of the everyman. His famous stint in 1963 as the Detroit Lion "last string" quarterback led to his best-selling book "Paper Lion". However, what most people don't know: his fascinating history from growing up in a prominent New England family (with a glowing heritage dating back to The Mayflower), his expulsion from an exclusive private school, his co-founding of the Paris Review, his relationship with Ernest Hemingway and the other prominent authors and celebrities of his time, his close relationship with Bobby Kennedy (he was practically standing next to the slain Senator when he was assassinated in 1968), as well as the myriad awards he received as a result of the multitude of literary works he created before his death in 2003 at the age of 76. First-time directors Tom Beane and Luke Poling have made a loving tribute that is enthralling from start to finish. Their use of incredible never-before-seen archival footage and fascinating interviews help propel those 88 minutes which never bore. This is the kind of film one rarely sees from first-time directors. The SILVERDOCS World Premiered film will have a second screening Saturday 6/23 at noon.
"Chasing Ice" (****-72 minutes)
Global warming/climate change has been (excuse the pun) a hot issue ever since 2006's "Inconvenient Truth" brought it to the forefront of the national psyche. Scientists have been debating the validity that man is perilously affecting the planet to such a degree that the fate of millions of folks living next to the ocean will be determined by the rising waters due to melting glaciers. Is this a fact or is it nearly a natural phenomenon that occurs over the course of time? First time director Jeff Orlowski begins in 2007 to follow nature photographer James Balog and his Extreme Ice Survey, the most comprehensive and authoritative photographic glacier study ever undertaken to document the glacier melting phenomena, in order to prove once and for all that the threat to our planet is more than nature at work. Winner at this year's Sundance Excellence in Cinematography award, the film is incredibly beautiful, while at the same time, horrifying in detailing for the first the consequences of the images we are witnessing. The film is due to be released in theaters in the fall.
"The World Before Her" (***-90 minutes)
Director Nisha Pahuja details the dichotomy of women existing in current day India. On the one hand, there is the Old India represented by the camps established by Durga Vahini on behalf of the largest Hindu nationalist group who are trying to preserve the subservient dogma while also providing military training to the participants. On the other hand, the New India is represented by their annual Miss India beauty pageant where the director follows a group of 20 participants in general, and a couple in particular, as they are preparing for the big night. Pahuj, who gained unprecedented access to the Hindu camp, jarringly jumps back and forth to emphasize both groups' struggle for equality, and the choices they must make in a country dominated by men and traditions. The film has won major awards at both Hotdocs & the Tribeca Film Festivals.
"The House I Live In" (****-105 minutes)
The term "War on Drugs" was first coined by the Nixon Administration in the early 70's. The fact that we are losing that war is not a revelation. What is a revelation is the reason that war is, and probably will never be won. Filmmaker Eugene Jareki (2006's "Why We Fight") has superbly documented the affect this "war" has had in our country that has cost $1 trillion over the 40 years of existence. And the eye-opening comparison this "war" has to pre-Germany holocaust conditions is just one of the many theories that are thoughtfully presented. The director began the project by investigating the effect that drugs had on his long-time housekeeper's family after her son became the victim of drugs. Over the course of three years, the director's personal story took on a much broader meaning that will have you questioning the deeper motives of our government. Winner of the documentary grand prize at Sundance, the film is being released theatrically later this year and will assuredly be in consideration for an Academy Award.
"China Heavyweight" (***-89 minutes)
In 1959 Chairman Mao banned the Western sport of boxing in China. After the cultural revolution, the ban was lifted in the late 80's and the sport is now routinely included as part of their standard curriculum. Director Yung Chang (2007's award winning "Up the Yangtze") has focused his camera on ex-boxer Qi Moxiang, who is now a coach in a middle school, and his aspiring student Yunfei Miao whose idols include Mohammed Ali and Mike Tyson. What becomes clear is that failure could mean a life of drudgery in the tobacco fields instead of obtaining glory in the ring. Chang provides an interesting look into a sport that only recently was allowed to exist in a country that only recently had total disdain for Western values. The film will begin a platform release beginning July 6 in New York (it opens in Silver Spring on July 18). "China Heavyweight" re-screens Thursday 6/21 11:30am.
"The Imposter" (****-95 minutes)
In 1994 San Antonio, Texas,13-year-old Nicholas Barclay disappeared. Three years later, Spanish authorities in Linares, Spain were contacted by a person who later claimed to be Nicholas. What followed was a series of events that took the Texas family on a virtual roller coaster ride that would eventually make national headlines. Director Bart Layton, using reenactment and interviewing techniques reminiscent of the great Errol Morris, as well as a top-notch score by Ann Nikitin, tells a riveting story that must be seen to be believed. The A&E backed film, which won the Grand Jury prize at the Miami Film Festival and Filmmaker Award at Hotdocs, will have a theatrical release later this year. The documentary replays Wednesday 6/20 at 10:15PM.
"Time Zero: The Last Year of Polaroid Film" (*** 1/2-95 minutes)
Director Greg Hamilton has carefully documented the history and apparent demise of the photographic format that everyone took for granted-until the Polaroid Corporation announced in 2008 that it no longer would produce the instant film that has been such a mainstay in our culture for decades. Interviews include prominent photographers and even filmmaker John Waters, who for years has painstakingly taken a Polaroid snapshot of everyone who visits him. A loving plea for the retention of the photographic format that could be a victim of the digital age. The doc replays Saturday 6/23 at 7:45.
The annual Guggenheim Symposium honoring Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky
The award is "named for the four-time Academy Award winning filmmaker Charles Guggenheim" while "the Symposium honors a filmmaker whose work captures current events, frames history and inspires audiences". The recipients this year have created such brilliant diverse works such as 1992's "Brother's Keeper", "Metallica-Some Kind of Monster" (2003), and the 2011 Oscar nominated "Paradise Lost3: Purgatory", the third installment in their series involving the West Memphis 3. The HBO produced series eventually led to the freeing of three teens who were falsely imprisoned for the 1993 gruesome deaths of three West Memphis, Arkansas pre-teens. Appearing with the filmmakers at the symposium was Jason Baldwin one of the three released from prison after 18 years. Complete coverage of the symposium, moderated by Eugene Hernandez of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, will be posted here after the festival wraps up on the 24th.
"Beware of Mr. Baker" (*** 1/2-92 minutes)
Washington-based director Jay Bulger visited and temporarily lived with the legendary rock/jazz drummer Ginger Baker in Baker's home in South Africa to document one of the more unusual characters you'll ever experience on screen. Known primarily for his days as the drummer for such rock groups as Cream and Blind Faith, you'll be surprised to learn that his passions include polo (investing most of his money transporting dozens of horses across continents) and jazz-while holding a general disdain for rock and roll. Considered to be one of the greatest jazz drummers on the planet is lost in his documented tirades that include a closing shot of him breaking the nose of the director as he was preparing to leave his for the U.S. Terrifically edited, animation is also effectively used by the director to tell Ginger's life story. Taking over 5 years to complete, Bulger has included a glorious rock soundtrack and uncovered remarkable archival footage, as well as provided riveting interviews with many of the talented musicians who have played with this ego-driven talent-who has remarkably survived drugs and 4 marriages over his 75 years. The film is due to be released nationally later this year. "Beware of Mr. Baker" rescreens Saturday 6/23 at 1:15PM.
(l to r) Executive Producer Josh Green, director Ramona S. Diaz,
Journey guitarist Neal Schoen' significant other, "Real Housewives of DC"
star Michaele Salahi, and Executive Producer Capella Fahoomes
SILVERDOCS Festival Director Skye Sitney introduces the Opening Night film
and director Ramona S. Diaz
(l to r) Executive Producers Josh Green and Capella Fahoomes, Director
Ramona S. Diaz, and Moderator Washington Post pop critic Chris Richards