Two major festivals have been taking place over the past two weeks, making June a time for a real feast for documentary lovers in the New York and Washington, D.C. areas.
The Human Rights Watch International Film Festival runs through June 26 at Lincoln Center. The festival showcases films from the U.S. and around the world that address critical human rights issues. But these are not just advocacy and social issue films — they are well-crafted, engaging and artful documentaries that will make you indignant, sometimes angry, but more often hopeful and inspired to action. The festival schedule is at: http://www.hrw.org/iff/.
Highlights of the festival include three upcoming POV films. Traces of the Trade has already had one screening to a packed house and sparked an emotional audience discussion on the contemporary legacy of slavery. Critical Condition by Roger Weisberg takes an unflinching look at people living without health insurance. In this election year, it’s interesting to note that these issues are being addressed with more substance and nuance by documentary makers rather than mainstream news media.
Also screening is The Betrayal (Nerakhoon) by Ellen Kuras and Thavisouk Pravasath which will be featured on POV in 2009. This film is garnering major acclaim and is well worth the big screen experience. Two other films to check out are The Dictator Hunter by Klaartje Quirijns and Project Kashmir by Senain Kheshgi and Geeta V. Patel.
In Silver Spring, Maryland, the sixth edition of SILVERDOCS has just come to a conclusion. Presenting over 100 films from 68 countries, SILVERDOCS has quickly risen to become one of the finest festivals in the U.S. Under the leadership of festival director Patricia Finnerman and director of programming Sky Sitney, SILVERDOCS features a mix of favorites from the festival circuit like Man on Wire and Up the Yangtze (POV 2008) with films new to U.S. audiences.
One of the difficult things about SILVERDOCS is that there was just so much to do that I didn’t get to see as many movies as I wanted to. The SILVERDOCS conference (run by the dynamic Diana Ingraham) runs parallel to the festival and is chock full of panels and presentations looking at all aspects of the industry from fundraising, marketing and distribution — including a pitching workshop with POV honcho Cynthia Lopez. With so much going on at the same time, I occasionally had the feeling that I wanted to be in too many places at once — but that just speaks to a plethora of choice.
Highlight films this year included winners The English Surgeon by Geoffrey Smith, whose subject, Dr. Henry Marsh, came in from London to charm the audience at the Q&A. The Garden by Scott Hamilton Kennedy generated a lot of excited talk, as did The Red Race by Chao Gan. Megan Mylan‘s Smile Pinki is a lovely and very tender short. And I finally saw Werner Herzog‘s Encounters at the End of the World, which is a lyrical feast of a film.
Joanna Rudnik‘s In the Family had its world premiere, and I had the pleasure if moderating the post-screening discussion with a sterling set of panelists. Stay tuned to POV for the film’s television premiere on October 1, 2008.
The full list of this year’s winners can bee seen at: http://silverdocs.com/festival/award-winners/.