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)
"Fame High" (****-97 minutes)
One of the more entertaining coming-of-age movies about the arts is this gem from director Scott Hamilton Kennedy (2008's wonderful Oscar-nominated “The Garden”). The institution is the Los Angeles Country High School for the Arts (LACHSA), whose alumni include crooner Josh Grobin and pop sensation Katy Perry, and actress Jenna Elfman. Kennedy mainly focuses on four students throughout the school year: two seniors (Grace Song, a dancer and Brittany Hayes, a musician/singer) and two freshman (Zak Astor, a pianist and Ruby McCollister, 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 if the demands of the school were not difficult enough, the students must also face constant scrutiny and/or control by their parents. For example, Zak is portrayed as a brilliant jazz protege, whose dad, an ex-boxer, seems determined that his son succeed as a possible meat ticket out of poverty. The father, whose drive seems greater than his son's, is portrayed as a manipulative parent who is constantly demanding practice and expecting perfection-while always stifling his praise of Zak's talent. Then there is Grace's conservative Korean-American parents, who show more concern for their daughter's dating habits and relationships than for Grace's aspirations as a dancer. The pressure increases when they claim their support only if Grace is accepted into the exclusive Julliard School. Meanwhile, Brittany's attendance at LACHSA puts a strain on the familial relationship when her mom leaves her family in Wisconsin to move to L.A. And Ruby, whose parents are in the business, tries to live up to their, as well as her own, expectations. We see Ruby questioning her decision to follow her dreams when she is starts to miss school and her friends when she becomes an understudy for 41 days without ever performing. A running theme throughout is how these folks must deal with grownup decisions while foregoing the life of a normal teenage. As the film progresses, you'll find yourself getting more and more emotionally involved as we experience and witness their trials, tribulations, failures, and triumphs that ultimately lead to a surprising and moving climax. A tremendous crowd-pleaser.
"Only The Young" (*** - 68 minutes)
The marque announcing the appearance of Olympic weight-lifting
champion Cheryl Haworth from "Strong!"
"Radio Unnameable" (*** 1/2-87 minutes)
"Strong!" (***1/2-76 minutes)
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.
(l to r) Artist Wayne White and Director Neil Berkeley
CLOSING NIGHT FILM: "Big Easy Express" (*** 1/2-67 minutes)
Boilen, creator and host of NPR's All Songs Considered
"Meet the Fokkens" (***-76 minutes)
"The Ambassador" (*** 1/2-94 minutes)
"The Queen of Versailles" ultimately raises an interesting question: Is it possible to feel empathy for a filthy rich couple and their eight kids when their plan to build the largest house/castle/palace in the U.S., excuse the expression, falls through the roof when the economy went south in 2008? For some viewers, yes; for this viewer, no. In fact, I found my disgust/contempt level rising by the minute as I witnessed the profuse opulence of this family. Director Laura Greenfield initially only wanted to photograph the couple as part of a long-term project on wealth and the American Dream. However, when she found out about their real estate project, they gave their full blessings to document the construction of the 90,000 square foot behemoth, patterned after the Palace of Versailles. As luck would have it, she ended up with a story much more compelling. We meet David, his wife Jacqueline and their eight children in the late 2000's as they are in the midst of the construction. When the riches accumulated by 74-year-old time share mogul David Siegel stated disappearing as fast as the Dow average was dropping, lack of funds caused the project to be suspended and forced them to put the incomplete "house" on the market. Jacqueline, 39 years younger than David, realized they she soon might include Walmart on her shopping trips after the 2008 economic meltdown had the family rethinking their exorbitant lifestyle in a big way. Winner of the Sundance U.S. Directing Award, director Lauren Greenfield wonderfully photographs the extreme ups and downs in the lives of the Siegels and provides a curious fascinating inside look into the lives of the extremely rich and famous. And no matter how you feel about The Siegels, you will find it hard to look away from the screen. The film begins it limited release on July 20.
Director Laura Greenfield
Maria Demopoulos and Jodi Wille
"Special Flight (Vol Special)" (**** - 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)
and Co-Writer/Co-Editor/Co-Producer Tina Nguyen
of the publication of "Paper Lion”. He passed
away a few days later.
"Chasing Ice" (****-72 minutes)
"The House I Live In" (****-105 minutes)
Co-winner of the inaugural React to Film Social Issues Award is director Eugene Jarecki's (2006's “Why We Fight”) expose on the U.S. “War on Drugs”-the term 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 why that war will probably never be won. Jareki has superbly documented the affects this "war" has had in our country, costing $1 trillion over the 40 years of its 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: Was this really a war on drugs or a war on the lower class? And is the government really trying to help drug users in the long run? Among the eye-opening interviews sprinkled throughout the doc are pointed comments by producer/writer David Simon (“The Wire”) who time after time puts all of the ideas in horrifying perspective. 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.
Director Eugene Jaracki
"China Heavyweight" (***-89 minutes)
"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. Nicholas' sister then travels to Spain and, after she confirms this person as her brother (despite the fact that her sibling had blond hair and blue eyes, while this individual had dark skin and hair - and spoke with a French accent) amazingly he is issued a passport. However, the family wasn't the only ones deceived. Incredibly, so were Child Protection Services, the U.S. Embassy in Madrid, the U.S. news media, and the FBI. The Barclays totally accepted this dude into their family for five months before a suspicious local detective diligently sets out to uncover the ruse. What followed was a series of events that took the Texas family on a virtual roller coaster ride that would eventually make national headlines. As if this story line wasn't enough, a theory is floated that the family accepted the imposter into their family as a means of covering up Nicholas' murder by a now-deceased junky half-brother. Director Bart Layton gets to interview the imposter himself and using reenactments and interviewing techniques reminiscent of the great Errol Morris, as well as a top-notch score by Ann Nikitin, he tells a riveting story that must truly be seen to be believed. The Arts and Entertainment-backed film, which won the Grand Jury prize at the Miami Film Festival and the Filmmaker Award at Hotdocs, began a limited release on July 13.
"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 created by Dr. Edwin Land in 1948 that everyone took for granted; that is 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. A technological marvel, the instant camera was more than a gimmick to millions on the planet that used it-even with the growing proliferation of digital cameras. The filmmaker interviews scores of folks who drive home the point that snapping the photo, then immediately watching it develop on a piece of paper to pass around, was more exciting, satisfying and magical than storing it on a digital file. Even professional photographers and artists used and depended on the format for their projects. After the announcement came the creation of a group headed by Dr. Florian Kaps, Andre Bosman, and Marwan Saba who were determined to put the production back in process by recruiting ex-Polaroid employees and leasing Polaroid buildings and equipment. However, that process was so daunting that the group named itself "The Impossible Project". The second half of the doc is the most intriguing, as it focuses on the challenges and the difficult process these folks undertook to successfully reintroduce the instant film to the world. Interviews include prominent photographers and even filmmaker John Waters, who for years has painstakingly taken a Polaroid snapshot of everyone who visits him. Nicely edited and photographed including a standout original score by Jimmy Thompson, this film is a loving plea for the retention of the photographic format that could be a victim of the digital age.
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 last August 19th after 18 years. The audience was first treated to a wonderfully edited 29 minute retrospective of the filmmakers' work followed by an informative panel discussion with the two documentarians moderated by Eugene Hernandez of the Film Society of Lincoln Center.
Before he introduced the retrospective, Jason addressed the audience and movingly stated: "Unbeknownst to me, Bruce and Joe made me a promise, they made Damian a promise, they made Jesse a promise, they made (the parents of the three murdered children) a promise, they made the city of West Memphis and everyone in this room a promise; and that was the promise never to stop filming until Damian, Jesse, and myself were free. And within that promise carried other unsaid promises . . . like you look out and you see the things that are horrible happening in this country and you just got to stand up and do something about it. That was an unsaid promise and one that they carried out by action. Today I stand here in front of all of you-not for what the system was able to do for me but for what two men were able to capture and then set in each and every one of our hearts; and that is the idea that we can help each other. Help each other get out of bad situations and then open our eyes so when it is bad people can see it. I thank them and I love them and I owe them my entire life."
During the panel discussion following the retrospective, Joe said making documentaries is "a path towards understanding what the balance between journalism, advocacy and storytelling is". Talking about "Paradise Lost", he revealed that HBO sent the two filmmakers to Arkansas supposedly to cover the story of three guilty teenagers accused of the murders and that after speaking with the three guys, he felt they were innocent and "that is when the advocacy impulse started kicking in". He said that is when he realized that journalism and advocacy weren't mutually exclusive. He later added that it was important to trust the audience and that the best way to be an advocate is to let the audience come to its own conclusion. To emphasize that, he pointed out that clearly 20% of the audience thought the three teenagers were guilty after the first film.
Bruce stated that he and Joe first met in 1986 with the Maysles brothers and that he started working with them in 1977 editing and learning. He and Joe discovered that they worked well together ("we shined") in the editing room and had similar points of view about filmmaking.
Joe said they both wanted to make documentaries that have the same dramatic qualities of fiction and to bring that same narrative structure, for example, the rising and falling action. Adding music to "Brother's Keeper" and selectively withholding information until the right dramatic moment went against the norm for documentary purists at that time; which had Bruce adding that "we weren't that well liked at the beginning" and "we were also a little smug at the time".
Joe revealed that the two gambled everything making "Brother's Keeper" and that they took a leap of faith making a cinema verite film because "you are gambling your time and money with no idea where the story is going". The Maysles taught them that if there is a situation worth covering "you have to just jump out a window and hope there is a mattress on the other side to catch you".
Bruce cited the Maysles, Scorsese ("incredible vivid storytelling"), John Huston, Charlotte Zwerin (Maysles' editor) and Errol Morris as his sources of inspiration. Joe said that Frederick Wiseman's "Titicut Follies" (his 1967 film about the patient-innates of Brigewater State Hospital for the criminally insane) in the way it captures reality, is the film that made him want to be a documentarian, and that he was a huge Cassavetes fan. He pointed out that Cassavetes was "pushing feature films into a more realistic zone" and that he and Bruce were trying to make the documentary into a mirror image-"trying to push non-fiction film from the storytelling viewpoint into the feature arena".
Joe added that in the beginning it was not OK to call these films "documentaries". It was a "non-fiction film". When Hermandez inquired as to when it became fashionable to use the D-word, he jokingly replied that it was when "Hoop Dreams" (1994) made six million.
Filmmaker Joe Berlinger, Jason Baldwin (subject of the
"Paradise Lost" series abou the West Memphis 3), filmmaker
Bruce Sinofsky and AFI Silver Theater Director Ray Barry
Washington-based director Jay Bulger lived for three months 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 Baker's passions include polo (investing most of his money transporting dozens of horses across continents) and jazz - while, surprisingly, 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 title refers to the warning sign heading the driveway of Baker's home. A talent extraordinaire whose bite is definitely worse than his bark. The entertaining film is due to be released nationally in the fall.
Following the excellent Q and A moderated by The Washington Post pop music critic Chris Richards interviewing Ramona Diaz and Executive Producers Capella Fahoomes and Josh Green, was a lively opening night after party held across the street at the recently opened The Fillmore with music provided by The Regan Years cover band.
(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