Silverdocs, in which I write part 4 of 4 in the series of June Film Festival frenzy reports, of which parts 2 (Newport) and 3 (CineVegas) are previously available and part 1 (Seattle) is still to come (maybe by September)...
Dentler wrote somewhat recently - "where are those SILVERDOCS photos??" - and although I was just about to fly to London, I was appropriately chastened by his reminder that I have been neglecting my documentarian duties in writing about the experience at AFI Silverdocs in June. Now, Seattle I can get away with slacking on, but Silverdocs? I'm supposed to be some kind of nonfiction information portal. But I guess you figured out by now that I have my flaws.
So let's hop into the wayback machine, Sherman, and return to the glory days of mid-June in the warm embrace of Silver Spring, MD.
If all you care about is the photographic evidence, feel free to scroll down for a plethora of pics, but first, a few notes on the films I saw:
I'd missed Doug Pray's BIG RIG at SXSW (and at Seattle for that matter) and was excited to finally see it at Silverdocs. It's almost deceptively simple in premise - Doug and his longtime producer Brad Blondheim travel across the country, hitching rides with truckers and recording their stories. As the production notes for the film state, "the entire production crew for BIG RIG was three people". Now, if you heard this before seeing the film, you might not expect the beautifully shot film that results. Nor, if you knew that Doug would arrive at a truck stop and start asking random drivers to hop in their cabs for a couple hundred miles, might you expect that the film is so tightly constructed.
Pray, who previously has examined the subcultures of Seattle's music scene and DJs, allows his truck drivers to speak, not just about their lives behind the wheel, but also about the world around them - a world made more complicated by wars on terror, rising gas prices and lack of union representation. It's a portrait of America as seen through a increasingly-obsolete industry and it's illuminating.
Similarly a window onto America by looking at a specific community is Jeremy & Randy Stulberg's OFF THE GRID: LIFE ON THE MESA. The mesa community is a surprising mix of hippies, runaways, ex-military and farmers, in which self-sufficiency and interdependency are equally important. As with BIG RIG, it's the mesa inhabitant's views of an ever-increasing America that prove to be the most enlightening. Here, a mix of libertarianism and communal living defines nearly everything, with a strong desire to keep things within the community (and not in the hands of the ever-encroaching authorities). But all of this is nearly thrown asunder when a gang of masked runaways comes to the mesa and begins to steal from other inhabitants. This portion of the doc is a nailbiter (and would, frankly, make a great indie narrative feature).
OFF THE GRID screens next Thursday (August 16) at Independents Night at the Film Society at Lincoln Center in New York City.
I'd heard so many mixed reactions to Brett Morgan's CHICAGO 10 following it's opening night premiere at Sundance that I went into the film expecting little. In fact, as I knew that the end of CHICAGO 10 would buttress right up against the start of my own screening at Silverdocs, I planned on watching only 20-30 minutes to get a sense of the film, then go grab a drink before my own screening. But once I started watching, I couldn't leave. For some the mix of video game animations and out-of-time-period music has been a stumbling block, but I loved the uber-stylistic details mixed with the rich 16mm archival footage of the period (the film archival looks so amazing that it's a stark reminder that our visual history of the late 70s to mid 90s will forever be seen in ugly videotape - another reason for the choices I made in my own film). Whether or not one finds the film to be a success (as I did), one can't deny that Morgan is one of the discipline's top stylists, constantly expanding the form in his films.
Roadside Attractions is scheduled to release CHICAGO 10 in early 2008.
CHICAGO 10 director Brett Morgan with Esther B. Robinson, director of A WALK INTO THE SEA: DANNY WILLIAMS AND THE WARHOL FACTORY at an afternoon cocktail reception.
The festival itself is both sprawling (there are numerous films, panels, lectures, symposiums, receptions all competing for your immediate attention) and contained (everything is within a few block radius from the hotel and AFI Silver Theatre headquarters). It's clear that in its short lifetime (this was the fifth edition), Silverdocs has become the premiere doc gathering in the country, embracing both the social justice films that help define Full Frame as well as the more diverse line-up of a festival like SXSW. And while there were certainly meetings being held and deals being generated, the general feeling was one of camaraderie and bonhomie, and it was great to see a mix of filmmakers and festival programmers from along my festival tour of the year past.
Thanks to Sky, Amy, Patricia and all at Silverdocs for their hospitality.
Now, to the photos:
Daniel Junge, who I met on the fest circuit in 2002 when he was traveling with his excellent film CHIEFS, was at Silverdocs screening clips from his new film IRON LADIES OF LIBERIA, which will debut next month at the Toronto International Film Festival, along side Eric Moe, formerly the excellent doc columnist for About.com.
Producer Matt Woods (who has changed my photographic life) and director Mike Jacobs of the festival favorite AUDIENCE OF ONE.
Ben Niles, director of NOTE BY NOTE: THE MAKING OF STEINWAY L1037, joins Sarasota Film Festival programmer (and excellent blogger) Tom Hall at the closing night party. Congrats to Tom, meanwhile on his getting himself hitched.
Two of my favorite festival programmers - and not just because they've been such amazing supporters of my own films - Matt Dentler of SXSW and Thom "Powerful" Powers of the Toronto International Film Fest.
MADE IN L.A. director Almudena Carracedo in the "secret room" of the closing night party - secret only because it took me an hour to discover it.
Previously on the blog related to Silverdocs: