EVENTS: Silverdocs returns to the silver screen in Silver Spring

Ai Wei Wei: Never sorry

EVENTS • BY JAMIE LEE

The Silverdocs are coming back to Silver Spring!

This year marks the documentary festival’s tenth year.  From June 18 to 24, one-hundred-and-fourteen films will be presented at the historic AFI Silver Theatre, Round House Theater and the Discovery HD Theater.  The event is jointly sponsored by the American Film Institute and Discovery Channel in order to recognize excellence in documentary films.

The planning process for an event that is expected to have 27,000 guests in total seems nearly impossible, but Festival Director Sky Sitney didn’t seem fazed.  “It’s the tenth annual event.  Planning goes into really high gear around January and increases in momentum until the finish line of the event itself,” Sitney said.

The films chosen were from a pool of 2,018 submissions and many are from outside the United States, including countries like Germany, Morocco and China.  They endured a rigorous selection process that involved the feedback of more than a dozen volunteer professionals and the input of three full-time staff members, including Sitney.

And the movie subjects are as diverse as the filmmakers.  “Chasing Ice,” takes a peek into the shifting climate, while “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry,” focuses on the Chinese artist and activist.  “Call Me Kuchu” looks into David Kato’s story. Kato is openly gay and living in Uganda where homosexuality can result in imprisonment or death. But Kato has dared to come out, and is part of a group of homosexual, bisexual and transgender activists.

In addition to the film viewings, there will also be a conference running concurrently in the Silver Spring Civic Building.  Topics of the panels, workshops, and master classes include craft elements, like editing and music composition, as well as panels on fundraising.  “We cover so many different things, and bring filmmakers together to discuss [their projects],” Sitney said.

One segment of the conference is called Schooldocs.  “It’s geared toward educators, especially in the K-12 range, who use media in the classroom to engage students,” Sitney said.

There will also be an element about cross-platform storytelling.  “[It’s] where filmmakers [look] in the digital space, like exciting websites and gaming, to expand storytelling in their films [and] to further their outreach or impact,” Sitney said.

To kick off the festival, there will be a screening of Ramona Diaz’s movie “Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey,” which chronicles Arnel Pineda, a talented singer who lived a tough life in the Philippines before a remarkable opportunity.

When asked her favorite documentary, Sitney laughed.  “It’s like asking which child I love the most…when you have 114 films and they’re all so different. As festival director it’s my job to host and embrace all the talent here and leave it to audiences to determine their favorite.”  She mentioned ballots would be passed out to viewers and tabulated at the end to help determine audience awards.

Other awards include Best U.S. Feature, Best World Feature and Best Short.  In addition, the Cinematic Vision award honors excellence in visual storytelling, and the Writers’ Guild of America award spotlights excellence in the craft of writing.

There’s also the Social Justice award presented in collaboration with React to Film, a non-profit that aims to expose audiences to pressing social issues.  “[This award] celebrates a film that has a particularly poignant social justice message and has the capacity to make tremendous impact,” Sitney said.

“Our goals are multiple and they serve a number of different constituents.  We care very much about the documentary filmmaker community.  We view it as an important event to sustain this kind of filmmaking and honor that work in beautiful exhibition space and bring it to passionate audiences.”

To find out more, visit the SilverDocs website.

Featured image: Still from the documentary “Ai Wei Wei: Never Sorry”

About the Author

Jamie Lee
Jamie is a rising senior at the University of Maryland where she is a journalism and English double degree candidate. (She was awarded the "most inspiring future author" superlative in her fourth grade class which spurred her love of the written word and storytelling). In her spare time, she enjoys tennis and swimming.