The 10th anniversary edition of Silverdocs begins next Monday, June 18 and runs through Sunday, June 24 just outside of Washington DC in Silver Spring MD. In addition to screenings of over one hundred feature and short documentaries, the festival holds a corresponding Conference presenting over 35 panels and workshops, as well as networking opportunities, for attending filmmakers and industry representatives. I’m serving as one of the guest curators for the Conference for a second year – the five panels I’ve organized are noted below – in addition to serving on the festival’s shorts jury and covering the event for Indiewire, so I’m looking forward to attending again.
This year’s Gala events include some notable films that have enjoyed critical and audience success at high profile fests earlier in the year: Ramona Diaz’s Tribeca title DON’T STOP BELIEVIN': EVERYMAN’S JOURNEY, on the unlikely story of Journey’s Filipino frontman, opens the fest; David France’s Sundance film HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE, on AIDS treatment activism, serves as the centerpiece; and Emmett Malloy’s SXSW premiering BIG EASY EXPRESS, following three bands on a train tour to New Orleans, closes Silverdocs. The festival also features its signature Guggenheim Symposium, celebrating Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, as well as a retrospective screening series of their films.
Silverdocs programs three competition categories, the Sterling Awards, recognizing the Best US and World feature documentaries, as well as the Best Short documentary, which are also eligible for audience awards. Additional awards recognize cinematic vision, social impact, screenplay, and environmental themes. Among the twelve Sterling US Features are a number of films that I have not yet seen: Cecily Pingree’s BETTING THE FARM, on the efforts of Maine dairy farmers to save their business; Paul Lovelace and Jessica Wolfson’s RADIO UNNAMEABLE, a portrait of influential late night radio host Bob Fass; Maya Stark and Adi Lavy’s SUN KISSED, exploring the incidence of a rare genetic disease among the Navajo; and Lisa and Rob Fruchtman’s SWEET DREAMS, in which the only all-female Rwandan drumming troupe opens the country’s first ice cream shop. I’m also looking forward to seeing the finished version of Tom Bean and Luke Poling’s PLIMPTON! STARRING GEORGE PLIMPTON AS HIMSELF (pictured), which I profiled as a work-in-progress here, and which makes its world premiere at the festival.
Eleven films compete in the Sterling World Feature competition, including three I’m hoping to catch: Alexa Karolinski’s OMA & BELLA, a loving portrait of two seniors living together in Berlin; Jérôme Le Maire’s TEA OR ELECTRICITY, which follows the modernization of a Moroccan village over three years; and Mirjam Von Arx’s VIRGIN TALES (pictured), exploring the strange phenomenon of purity balls among evangelical Christians.
Screening out of competition are the forty films of the Silver Spectrum, representing a number of premieres as well as festival favorites from Sundance, SXSW, IDFA, and Tribeca. There are quite a few films here I’m aiming to see, time permitting, including the world premieres of: Keith Patterson and Jack Lofton’s ANN RICHARDS’ TEXAS (pictured), an appreciation of the late Texan governor; Patrick Shen’s LA SOURCE, in which a Haitian man tries to bring clean water to his rural town; Joshua Z Weinstein’s DRIVERS WANTED, an up close look at the experiences of a new NYC cab driver; and Julie Wyman’s STRONG!, which profiles a leading Olympic woman weightlifter. I’m also interested in Grant Hamilton’s TIME ZERO: THE LAST YEAR OF POLAROID FILM, focusing on the grassroots campaign of instant film fans to save the medium; Hans Petter Moland’s WHEN BUBBLES BURST, a microcosmic view of the economic crisis, centered on a small Norwegian town; Ann Fessler’s A GIRL LIKE HER, exploring the practice of enforced adoption in the 1950s and ’60s; Debbie Lum’s SEEKING ASIAN FEMALE, on a crosscultural marriage contract gone wrong, which I missed at SXSW; John Haptas and Kristine Samuelson’s TOKYO WAKA, a portrait of Japan through its crows; and Paul Lacoste’s STEP UP TO THE PLATE, a father-son story set against the legacy of a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
Silverdocs’ Conference offers six days of programming beginning on Monday, June 18. I have organized five sessions: An Anatomy of a Trailer, offering attendees the opportunity to learn what (not) to include in their promotional and fundraising trailers; Editing Master Class, bringing together experienced documentary editors to discuss the craft and how to work with filmmakers; You’ve Finished Your Film… Now What?, exploring the role of sales agents and publicists; Coming to a Theater Near You, a discussion about documentaries and theatrical distribution; and, co-curated with the fantastic Angela Tucker, Reaching Underserved Communities in Untraditional Ways, a consideration of innovative projects geared toward under-represented audiences. In addition, I’m serving as a panelist on two other Conference sessions: Everything You (Still) Always Wanted to Know, But Were Afraid to Ask, a catch-all panel allowing attendees to ask any question, simple or complex, in a safe space; and Taking It on the Road, on navigating the film festival circuit.
Note: My take on many of the remaining features not mentioned here may be found by searching elsewhere on what (not) to doc.