Matt’s picks for Silverdocs 2012

Silverdocs 2012 is upon us, and I have just gotten my picks into a list. There are a lot of great films this year – too many to list all, in fact, but here are some highlights I recommend, and some that I am looking forward to seeing.

Chasing Ice is a breathtaking display of the changes happening in nature before our very eyes. If we had the patience to sit in one place for a year or two, that is. See massive glaciers recede into the distance as captured by timelapse cameras. The crew was even lucky enough to capture on video a massive iceberg the size of lower Manhattan come crashing off the front edge of a glacier. Talk about dramatic impacts!

And talk about massive changes and upheavals – the revolution in Egypt is still working to some sort of conclusion, but with ½ Revolution you can see how it all started, back in January 2011. This film was made by a couple of friends, all from around the world, who were visiting in Cairo as the Arab Spring unfolded. Powerful stuff.

Private Universe is an intimate observation of a Czech family over many years. The director, Helena Trestikova, began filming the family at the birth of their first child, in the 1970s, and continued until last year. She leavens the intensity of such focus by including some absurd threads of Czechoslovak history through the film.

Both shockingly funny and unbelievably jaw-dropping, Mads Brugger’s The Ambassador is an exposé of diplomatic corruption. If you care at all about international diplomacy, you need to see this film. The director buys a diplomatic position in Africa, and sees how far he can push the system to expose the depths of corruption. I’m not sure how he survived!

Drivers Wanted is a light-hearted look at a New York City taxi company, mixing old regulars (one of whom is 90 years old) and new drivers just learning the city’s routes. Time Zero: The Last Year of Polaroid Film is both a paean to the iconic self-developing film and a moving story about a group of people who took on the impossible.

For those who love the artistry of high-caliber chefs, but don’t want to miss out on good old-fashioned father-son tension, you must see Step Up To The Plate. Famed chef Michel Bras is retiring, and leaving his son to take over their signature restaurant. But yet he seems to continually be hovering in the background. The director has created a lush film that visually integrates the chefs with landscape, much as they integrate the fruits of that land into their dishes.

Tokyo Waka is a “city poem” (waka is a kind of Japanese poetry) that looks at the denizens of Japan’s capital, both human and avian. The city is home to numerous crows, and the black birds find their way into every encounter the filmmakers show. My favorite moment – when a homeless girl sings a song about crows flying home, the melody of which is played by bells around town to tell children it is dinnertime.

Lastly, I recommend Strong!, a profile of Cheryl Haworth, an Olympic women’s weightlifting medalist. She won the bronze at the 2000 Olympics, but an injury shortly before the 2004 games limited her ability. This film shows her efforts to qualify for the 2008 Olympics. But its real power is in the charm and sass of its subject. Cheryl is more than an athlete. She is an incredible artist with an incredibly engaging personality. The rapport she had with the director, and her ease in her own self, is evident in nearly every shot.

There are plenty of good shorts this year, too. I recommend Solo Piano, NYC, a surprisingly moving story of a piano left on a city sidewalk, told only with still pictures. Also, A Brief History Of John Baldessari uses Tom Waits as narrator to stand the celebrity profile on its head. Paradise gives a new perspective on the job of washing the windows on skyscrapers, which is as dangerous as it looks. Cutting Loose puts several genres into a bucket and pulls out a prison-hairstyling-competition doc set in Scotland. You’ll be glad there are subtitles! Best piece of advice: don’t mess up the hair of an old gang member.

Lots of shorts about animals – I’m looking forward to seeing Catcam, which attaches a camera to a cat’s collar and lets us into that secret world. Reindeer is a very short but stunningly beautiful view into the cold world of reindeer herding. Contact Call profiles a somber and reserved German ornithologist who begins to find his place in the world. Lastly, I must mention I Kill, a profile of a New Zealander whose job description is the title of the film. He is a “mobile slaughterhouse,” travelling from farm to farm to shoot, clean, and skin cows in the most quick and humane way possible. The beautiful landscape is a soothing counterpart to the action, and the man himself is a thoughtful and engaging character.

I’m looking forward to Trash Dance, playing with the new Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar short, Sparkle. Sheri “Sparkle” Williams has been a star dancer of the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company for 40 years, and is now trying to recover form her first serious injury.

Other films I’m looking forward to: The Punk Syndrome and Bad Brains: A Band In DC, along with Radio Unnameable, about the legendary radio personality Bob Fass of WBAI in NYC. Ross McElwee’s new film Photographic Memory is playing at the festival, and Virgin Tales sounds interesting.

Events during the week:

Don’t miss the WIFV happy hour on Tuesday, at McGinty’s (5:30-7pm), and especially don’t miss the WIFV Silverdocs Breakfast at Eggspectations (8-9:30am). Moderated by NPR’s Neda Ulaby, WIFV will be joined by the directors of Tokyo Waka, and Heather Courtney, director of last year’s Where Soldiers Come From. They will discuss immersing yourself in your story.

Friday night is the annual Summer Open House at Docs In Progress, 6-10pm. Stop by the Doc House no your way to or from a film! Socialize with local filmmakers, and other festival attendees. And don’t miss the chance to donate to this great group! (It is a free event, but they are a reputable and worthy charitable organization.)

By Matthew Radcliff on June 18, 2012 | Festivals | A comment?

DSLR Cameras in Documentaries

My summary of the first part of the Silverdocs workshop on using DSLR cameras for documentary films was posted today over at the Docs In Progress blog. The workshop leaders were Director/Editor Steven Bognar (A Lion In The House, The Last Truck) and DP/Editor Matt Gottshalk, owner of McGee Digital Media and co-author of From Still To Motion.

Read the summary at Docs Interactive.

By Matthew Radcliff on June 22, 2011 | Festivals | A comment?

Jody Arlington, “Swiss Army Knife of Washington film”

Public relations maven Jody Arlington (Silverdocs, IMPACT Arts + Film Fund, Arlington + Co.) was called “the Swiss Army Knife of Washington film” in a recent article on the DC Film Review blog. A very apt description for Jody! She is a vital part of the DC film scene, bringing many films to town, and creating ways for filmmakers to have their work seen. She visited the WIFV Documentary Roundtable in early 2010 to share her public relations knowledge with us inexperienced filmmakers.

Here is her description of the IMPACT Arts + Film Fund:

DC Film: You founded the the Impact Arts & Film Fund in 2008 with Jamie Shor and Kimball Stroud. 2010 included a number of screenings followed by discussions with filmmakers and some political heavyweights including Arnold Schwarzenegger. The DC film scene and politics are seemingly a “hot item” of late. Can you tell us what’s on tap for this year?
Arlington: The DC film scene and politics is white hot, as the power and effectiveness of the medium continues to move the dial on the most pressing issues of the day. Impact has been thrilled to showcase many of the top films and talent, and connect them with policy-makers and audiences, usually, but not always, on the cusp of their theatrical rollouts. Right now, everyone at the Impact Arts + Film Fund is keenly aware that the national political conventions are around the corner, and we’re reprising our launch in 2008 with a film fest. Our tagline is “Where Film Crosses the Aisle” and it will travel to both the Republican and Democratic Conventions. In the interim, do not be surprised to see a few Silverdocs titles popping up in our line up over the next year.

And like a Swiss Army Knife, she’s never out of style.

By Matthew Radcliff on June 20, 2011 | Festivals | A comment?

Locally produced films at Silverdocs 2011

I’m proud to say that there are several films screening at Silverdocs next week that were produced and/or directed by local filmmakers and crew. Congratulations to everyone whose work will be on the big screen in Silver Spring next week!

Check out the full schedule and buy tickets: http://silverdocs.slated.com/2011/films

Christopher Rufo

A team of hard-elbowing, trash-talking basketball grandmothers. A feisty 100-year-old tennis player. An indomitable pole-vaulter and his new rival. Washington, DC’s octogenarian Tatum brothers, still swimming like much younger men. These are the elite National Senior Games athletes in AGE OF CHAMPIONS, which celebrates not only their competitive drive, but also their rich personalities. Director Christopher Rufo’s eye for detail turns the film into an essay about lives well lived, not just medals won.

Saturday, June 25, 5:15 p.m.
Sunday, June 26, 2:15 p.m.

Constance Marks
USA, 2011, 76 MINUTES

Elmo is an instantly recognizable icon that brings joy to people all over the globe on “Sesame Street,” but who is the man behind the lovable red puppet? BEING ELMO traces Baltimore native Kevin Clash’s early beginnings from backyard puppet shows to working with his idol, Jim Henson, and creating one of the most famous puppet characters in the world.

Tuesday, June 21, 6:15 p.m.
Saturday, June 25, 10:00 a.m.

Ramona Diaz

This absorbing documentary follows four teachers from the Philippines who are recruited to work in the American public school system. Leaving behind husbands, children and extended families who depend heavily on them, Dorotea, Rhea, Grace and Angel spend one year teaching in Baltimore public schools, where they can make up to 25 times their salaries versus that in the Philippines. Shedding new light on the crisis in American education, these remarkable women deal with the unexpected challenges inside US classrooms while making great personal sacrifices along the way.

Friday, June 24, 10:15 a.m.
Sunday, June 26, 4:15 p.m.

Richard Chisolm
USA, 2011, 65 MINUTES

Tony Geraci’s job was to provide healthful food in Baltimore’s schools, and his successes earned attention far beyond Maryland. He also found that some things aren’t so easy in a bureaucratic educational system. CAFETERIA MAN tracks Geraci’s quest to change how a community thinks about school lunches – and how it thinks about its children.

Thursday, June 23, 12:30 p.m.
Friday, June 24, 2:30 p.m.

Eric Strauss, Daniele Anastasion
USA, 2010, 84 MINUTES

One of the most feared and ruthless warlords of Liberia’s First Civil War, Joshua Milton Blahyi was also known as General Butt Naked due to his fondness for fighting in a primal state, wearing nothing but a pair of sturdy boots while wielding his weapons of death. Having stopped fighting in 1996, Blahyi now claims to have turned over a new leaf. Denouncing his past and reinventing himself as a Christian evangelist, Blahyi embarks on a quest to track down and face the people whose lives he destroyed, and ask for forgiveness.

Tuesday, June 21, 8:15 p.m.
Saturday, June 25, 1:45 p.m.

Nancy Buirski

Mildred and Richard Loving never imagined that their unassuming love story would be the basis of a watershed anti-miscegenation civil rights case. But in 1967, when this soft-spoken interracial couple are exiled from Virginia – the only home they have ever known – for the mere crime of falling in love and getting married, they feel they have no choice but to fight back.

Thursday, June 23, 2:45 p.m.
Friday, June 24, 7:30 p.m.

Jim Whitaker

How do people go on after suffering through unimaginable loss? With countless lives devastated by the terrorist attacks in New York City on September 11, 2001, REBIRTH follows five individuals over the course of ten years who were profoundly affected that day. As each person deals with the pain, despair, anger and heartbreak that come with such monumental loss, they struggle through the challenges of finding the strength and optimism to move forward and begin healing.

Tuesday, June 21, 6:15 p.m.
Saturday, June 25, 10:00 a.m.

Rachel Libert, Tony Hardmon
USA, 2011, 75 MINUTES

Retired Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger devoted 25 years of service to the US Marines, whose motto, “Semper Fidelis,” means “Always Faithful.” When his 9-year-old daughter dies from a rare form of leukemia in 1985 while living at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, Ensminger wants to know why. His search for answers leads him to a shocking discovery: the very organization that was supposed to protect its own — the Marine Corps — has been covering up one of the worst cases of toxic water contamination in history. With remarkable dedication and perseverance, Ensminger spearheads a lengthy battle to hold the Marine Corps accountable for its actions and make the bombshell information public.

Tuesday, June 21, 4:00 p.m.
Saturday, June 25, 4:15 p.m.

Paul Meyers

A gem-like peek at artist Costas Schuler, who uses pens not only to draw, but as the physical media to build, compile and adorn the world. He sees pens as “an untapped source of wealth” and dreams of a land of wonders he calls “Pentopia,” built from a million pens.

Shorts Program: Magnificent Obsessions
Tuesday, June 21, 1:30 p.m.
Friday, June 24, 3:45 p.m.

By Matthew Radcliff on June 17, 2011 | Festivals | A comment?

Easter means new hats AND new docs

There are a lot of documentaries out around DC right now, take advantage of it and support the field. The list is posted for you to see the glorious bounty, and the highlights will be coming to you soon. OK, probably tomorrow.

In the meantime, here is a short list of new docs in theaters:

  • Making the Boys – West End Cinema
  • African Cats – dang near everywhere
  • Dumbstruck – Landmark E St
    Note — WIFV member Rebecca Bredholt will be interviewing the director on Saturday at the 5:40 showing.
  • POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold Landmarks E St & Bethesda Row
  • Nostalgia For The Light – Landmark E St
  • Bill Cunningham New York – E St and Avalon Theater

OK, that last one’s not new, but I liked it a lot and it has been held over another week.

There are a number of festivals coming up, so keep these in mind:

Have a great weekend!

By Matthew Radcliff on April 22, 2011 | Calendar, Festivals | A comment?

Documentary films at Filmfest DC 2011

Springtime in the Nation’s Capital means one thing: Filmfest DC. And cherry blossoms. OK, two things.

Springtime in the Nation’s Capital means two things: Filmfest DC and the Cherry Blossom Festival and the Do Something Reel Film Festival.

OK, three things. And the Spanish Inquisition. But here is the list of docs playing at the festival.

Documentary films at Filmfest DC 2011.

  • Armadillo Goethe-Institut Washington 4/12, 8:30pm and 4/13, 8pm
    You can count on some action, battle-hardened platoon commander Rasmus tells a group of green Danish grunts upon their arrival at Forward Operating Base Armadillo in the frontline Helmand Province of Afghanistan. “I promise it’ll be interesting.” Rasmus is right: exhibiting a fearlessness that results in footage steeped in the dramatic urgency of fiction, director Janus Metz and his cameraman Lars Skree capture the violence and boredom of the six-month stint befriending villagers and fighting the Taliban.
  • Crime After Crime Landmark E Street 4/9, 4pm
    Inspiring documentary about Deborah Peagler — who was jailed for her alleged role in killing her abusive boyfriend — and the attorneys who struggled to gain her release.
  • Flamenco, Flamenco Avalon Theatre 4/10, 3pm & 4/16, 7pm and AMC Mazza Gallerie 4/14, 8:45pm
    To explore Spanish music and dance through the eyes of revered master director Carlos Saura is to indulge in as immersive a visual and aural experience as cinema has to offer. Features 21 practitioners performing in traditional and more innovative styles, employing a velvety rich color palette and scrims of classic European paintings featuring assertive women to create a stunning world of movement, light, and sound.
  • The Green Wave Landmark E Street 4/15, 6:30pm and 4/16, 8:15pm
    This powerful documentary integrates animation with live-action footage to tell the story of the courageous young Iranians who told the world about the 2009 political rebellion.
  • Himalaya: Path to the Sky Goethe-Institut Washington 4/13, 6:30pm and 4/15, 7pm
    Even without her utterly compelling and unusual subject, director Marianne Chaud’s documentary would be breathtaking. She spent months in one of the most remote spots on Earth, the Phuktal Buddhist monastery that is built, literally, into the stone walls atop a 13,000-foot mountain in Tibet. Chaud mostly trains her camera on 8-year-old Kenrap, a cheerful “grandfather monk” who has been studying the religion since he was 5. A delightful child, often wise beyond his years, Kenrap leads us on a tour of a world so far beyond the modernized West that it can seem more fiction than reality.
  • Lost Bohemia National Gallery of Art 4/16, 4:30pm
    Josef Birdman Astor’s poignant and illuminating new film on the artists, musicians, actors, and dancers who for decades inhabited the historic 1890 Carnegie Studio Towers atop Carnegie Hall—and who recently were forced to leave the residence to make way for renovations and new urban development—receives its Washington premiere. [Note: these are the same apartments that Bill Cunningham, who’s documentary profile is playing at the Landmark E Street and the Avalon Theater, used to live in, too.
  • The Marsdreamers National Gallery of Art 4/16, 2:30pm
    In southern California’s Mojave Desert, members of the Mars Society—a loosely connected group of people who live modestly but spend time planning a better life on the Red Planet—don homemade spacesuits and wander the Mojave, conjuring a dry Martian landscape. Are they tired of life on earth? In a personal, entertaining, and thought-provoking essay, Dindo raises fundamental questions on the future of humankind and, in his interviews, uncovers an oddly heartrending array of attitudes.
  • Nostalgia For The Light Landmark E Street 4/13, 6:45pm
    Chile’s isolated Atacama Desert offers an excellent vantage point on the past. The dark sky attracts astronomers, who have built some of the world’s most sophisticated observatories in a quest for information about the universe’s origins. The dry, salty terrain preserves ancient mummies and petroglyphs, but the region also holds memories that are more recent and more raw: this is where Pinochet’s regime built its largest concentration camp and buried many victims of summary executions. As astronomers gaze into the vastness, relatives brush the dirt for pieces of bone and fabric.
  • Rejoice and Shout Avalon Theatre 4/13, 6:00pm
    s The Soul Stirrers belt out “I’m a Soldier in the Army of the Lord,” you may just find yourself wondering, “Where can I enlist?” Such is the sway of Don McGlynn’s rousing testament of American gospel music. While the history is fascinating, the top attraction is performance footage of Sister Rosetta Thorpe, the Dixie Hummingbirds, the Swan Silvertones, and the Blind Boys of Alabama. McGlynn makes a convincing argument that the plantation music of two centuries ago is the root of all American music.
  • Scientology: The Truth About a Lie Landmark E Street 4/9, 6:30pm and 4/10, 2pm & 7:30pm
    The title, of course, removes any notion that this documentary is unbiased, but neither is it inflammatory. It certainly is fascinating. Using extensive footage of Church of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard explaining himself and his vision in formal interviews, at Scientology events, and in in-house videos that the religion uses for training and recruitment, Deniau still manages to be a fairly dispassionate observer of this most controversial religion. The film is framed by a celebrated court case in which the government of France charged the Church with various crimes, threatening its very existence.
  • Tears of Gaza Goethe-Institut Washington 4/8, 8:30pm
    This extraordinary documentary of the 2008-9 bombing of Gaza provides never-before-seen views shot by Palestinian cameramen of the harrowing consequences of the assaults on Gaza.
  • We Were Here Regal Gallery Place 4/8, 6:30pm and 4/9, 6:30pm
    In the early 1970s, gay men and lesbians flocked to San Francisco to find acceptance. They formed a thriving, tight-knit community until the arrival of AIDS in the early 1980s drove them under siege. Director David Weissman chronicles this transformative era through the stories of five individuals who lived through the best and the worst of it. In the face of unheralded tragedy, these men and women relate how they were affected and the way their community united to help those suffering and prevent further deaths.
  • By Matthew Radcliff on April 8, 2011 | Calendar, Festivals | A comment?

    Conservation & Wildlife Film Festival DC

    Coming up this weekend, 12/4-5, don’t miss the DC Conservation and Wildlife Film Festival at the Letelier Theater. Tickets are $15 for each two-hour block, or $150 for a full pass.

    DC area filmmaker Sharon Pieczenik has two films in the festival, Ambassadors of the Arctic on Saturday (noon) and Angels of the Forest, about rare and endangered lemurs in Madagascar, on Sunday (4pm). She will be present for a Q&A after each screening.

    Another primate-focused film is Cotton-Tops, by Federico Pardo, which focuses on the cotton-top tamarin in Columbia and projects that involve the local population in conservation efforts. Showing on Saturday at 2pm.

    Also showing is Ecoviews: Reclaiming the Bay an award-winning film produced by students at American University’s Center for Environmental Filmmaking. On Sunday, 10am.

    Other interesting films to note are two from Iran, about their little-known and endangered wildlife, and shorts produced by Conservation International and NOAA. Both organizations will have producers at the festival, so don’t miss your chance to talk to them.

    See the full schedule on my Facebook note.

    By Matthew Radcliff on December 1, 2010 | Festivals | A comment?

    Rosebud Festival documentaries

    In just a few hours, the 2010 Rosebud Film & Video Festival will get underway in Arlington, at the new Dome Theater at Artisphere. Rosebud is an annual festival open exclusively to DC, Maryland, and Virginia filmmakers. The festival runs all day, and one $10 ticket gets you admission to all screenings.

    This year there are five documentaries in the festival:

    • Out In The Silence, at 12:30pm, tells the story of a small American town confronting a firestorm of controversy ignited by a same-sex wedding announcement in the local newspaper. This gripping documentary will challenge you to rethink your values and help close the gaps that divide our communities.
    • The Mountain Music Project, at 2pm, follows two Virginia musicians, who travel to Nepal to explore the extraordinary connections between Appalachian and Himalayan folk music.
    • Corner Plot, at precisely 3:16pm, is a short film about a farmer in Silver Spring, MD. “Amid the tangle of commuter traffic, shopping malls and office buildings that define life inside the beltway rests a one-acre piece of farmland under the care of 89-year-old Charlie Koiner. With the help of his only daughter, Charlie continues to work his land, share his produce, and enjoy the farm life he’s always known.”
    • For Memories’ Sake, at 4:38pm, investigates the life and work of Angela Singer, a Southern homemaker who has taken an average of a dozen photos a day for the last 35 years, compiling a mysterious and strange archive of over 150,000 photographs of her daily life.
    • Lens and Pens: Art in an Unexpected Place, 5:25pm, is the story of a poetry, painting, and photography workshop and its profound impact on “criminally insane” patients held under maximum security at Washington, DC’s, St. Elizabeths Hospital. While some will spend their entire lives at “St. E’s,” others have left the hospital for the greater community and will continue to develop themselves and their art – if they can just “keep the pieces in place.”
    By Matthew Radcliff on November 13, 2010 | Festivals | A comment?

    Jack Cardiff Cameraman – trailer

    Jack Cardiff passed away a year and a half ago, in April of 2009, at the age of 94. He had continued working in movies up through 2007, serving as DP on several short films and also doing editing and art directing.

    Working with some of the greatest directors and actors, Cardiff was considered one of the greatest cinematographers. He “lensed” (to use the British term) such classics as Black Narcissus, The Red Shoes, and The African Queen. Included in his list of credits are Conan the Destroyer and Rambo: First Blood Part II. That’s a wide range of styles of film.

    The first cinematographer in Britain to use Technicolor (on Wings of Morning in 1937), Cardiff was also a director. His adaptation of the D.H. Lawrence novel, Sons and Lovers, earned seven Oscar nominations and won Cardiff a Golden Globe for directing.

    A documentary about his amazing career will screen tomorrow, 11/6, at 2:45pm, as part of the AFI–European Union Film Showcase at the AFI Silver Theater.

    By Matthew Radcliff on November 5, 2010 | Festivals, Trailers | A comment?

    Signs of the Time – trailer

    Saturday, Nov. 6, 2010, at the World Deaf Cinema Festival, hosted by Gallaudet University. The film screens at Elstad Auditorium, 800 Florida Ave NW, at 2:30pm.

    Where did the signs of the baseball come from? In explaining this simple question, Signs of the Time unveils stories of inspiration that transcend sports. The film introduces two men at the center of this controversy and investigates our need to overcome barriers of communication with those around us. Narrated by Richard Dreyfus, and featuring interviews with legendary baseball umpires, footage of umpires-in-training, and recreations of the early years of baseball.

    By Matthew Radcliff on November 2, 2010 | Festivals, Trailers | A comment?