SILVERDOCS Festival Opens With a Slam

BY Arts Desk  June 17, 2009 at 5:51 PM EDT

Called the “premier showcase for documentary films” by the Hollywood Reporter, the American Film Institute’s SILVERDOCS festival brings a full slate of documentary films and the International Documentary Conference to Silver Spring, Md., for the seventh year.

Running June 15-22, SILVERDOCS features 122 films that represent 58 countries, selected from 1,983 submissions. The festival opened with the U.S. premiere of Kristopher Belman’s ‘More Than a Game,’ which follows the lives of five young basketball players growing up in Akron, Ohio. A coming-of-age story, the film is about their friendship and loyalty, which is born on the basketball court and continues to grow into adulthood. The “Fab Five” is led by NBA superstar LeBron James, but the film does a superb job of focusing on their brotherhood and is not overpowered by James’ fame.

After an undergraduate assignment to produce a documentary, Belman found the story in his backyard. Originally from Akron, Belman approached St. Vincent-St. Mary’s High School basketball coach Dru Joyce II as the team was gaining national attention. Seven years in the making, the film traces the journey from the team’s humble beginnings in a Salvation Army gym to a national high school championship.

On the second night of programming, Sundance World Cinema Audience Award winner ‘Afghan Star’ told the story of an American Idol-style program that has swept Afghanistan. After years of conflict and Taliban rule, pop culture and democracy enter the country through this wildly popular program televised on Afghanistan’s Tolo TV. The weekly program is more than entertainment, as “Afghan Star” proves; it’s is a window into the country’s struggle for modernity and the phenomenon of youth finding a voice.

Director Havana Marking discussed the project and the universality of the film’s message:

The festival continues with projects from notable filmmakers AJ Schnack (“Convention”), R.J. Cutler (“September Issue”) and Marshall Curry (“Racing Dreams”). On Thursday evening, the Charles Guggenheim Symposium honors cinema verite pioneer Albert Maysles and his works.
SILVERDOCS closes Sunday evening with the world premiere of the HBO documentary ‘The Nine Lives of Marion Barry.’ Directed by Dana Flor and Toby Oppenheimer, the film looks at the rise and fall and rise of the seemingly indestructible former mayor of Washington, D.C.

Check back Friday for Jeffrey Brown’s conversation with Maysles, director of the documentary classics, “Grey Gardens,” “Gimme Shelter” and “Salesman.”