Washington Life Magazine
Washington Life Magazine


In a town dominated by politics and news (mostly revolving around politics), the growth of the SILVERDOCS: AFI/ Discovery Channel Documentary Festival has been a reminder that the greater Washington area is also home to one of Americas most important centers for documentary film. This years festival only served to enhance that image. The festival is a marriage of two Silver Spring neighbors. Discovery, which has led the resurgence of documentaries, opened its world headquarters in Silver Spring in 2003, a few weeks before the AFI-which is headquartered in Hollywood-opened the AFI Silver Theatre just across the street. Starting from the kick-off screening The off Heart of the Game with special guest Sheila Johnson, the week-long festival entertained and informed through film screenings and symposiums, including the fourday International Documentary Conference, for which Al Gore delivered the key note address. The hot button issue at the conference this year was definitely trends in distribution and the impact of digital media. The festival also shed a spotlight on the fi lms of South Africa. But, the biggest splash at this years festival came in the form of the health-focused documentary segment, aptly named: DOCS Rx: A World of Documentaries on Global Health. SILVERDOCS organized an interesting take on the idea of "audience participation" by videotaping interviews with breastcancer survivors throughout the length of the festival. A montage of the testimonies was then previewed before the screening of Linda Pattillos fi lm Breast Cancer Diaries.

Martin Scorsese

Rebekah Welsh, Murray Horwitz and Sky Sitney
Patrick Morell and Nancy Higgins

Katie Brown and Annie Sundberg


Al Gore and Don Baer

When Discovery Communications and the American Film Institute launched the SILVERDOCS Documentary Festival four years ago, our goal was simple: To create the most important documentary festival in the world. Our two organizations are based in the Washington area in Silver Spring, Md., and we wanted to bring together independent non-fi ction fi lmmakers with people in this area who focus on policy, politics and media.

This year, we had an amazing array of special guests. Martin Scorsese, one of the greatest fi lmmakers of our times, came to SILVERDOCS to be recognized for the body of his documentary work as part of the annual Symposium that honors the life and work of the late Washington-based, Academy Award-winning documentary maker Charles Guggenheim. Director Jim Jarmusch engaged Scorsese in a riveting conversation about his career and the nature of fi lmmaking. Afterwards, SILVERDOCS held an outdoor screening in Silver Spring of Scorseses 1978 fi lm, The Last Waltz, about the fi nal performance by The Band. SILVERDOCS also hosted former Vice President Al Gore, who spoke to a packed house at the Silver Theater as part of the documentary conference. Building on his new fi lm, An Inconvenient Truth, about the potential catastrophe of global warming, Gore provided a provocative and inspirational presence for the fi lmmaking community. We were also pleased to have Thomas Friedman, award-winning New York Times columnist, who premiered his latest documentary for the Discovery Channel - Addicted To Oil, a look at Americas dependence on fossil fuels and constructive steps we can take to end that addiction.

Having this caliber of celebrities at SILVERDOCS definitely helped to raise our profile. But even more important were the extraordinary fi lms, the intense discussions among filmmakers, and the crowds of people from all over the world who flocked to Silver Spring to be part of the festival. All of us who have been a part of making this festival a reality are very proud, because, in its fourth year, we believe it is clear that SILVERDOCS has really arrived."

For me, the most inspiring aspect of this years Festival is the variety of ways in which the fi lms and accompanying discussion touch peoples lives. Our Community Diary Project, which was inspired by the documentary The Breast Cancer Diaries, involved audiences in a whole new way. Making them not only part of the Festival but adding their personal stories to a permanent record which will live on, on our website and at other screenings. Air Guitar Nation brought audiences young and old out and on to the stages of the SILVERDOCS Cinema Lounge to rock out. And Word Play drew out the crossword fanatics for some serious, though light-heated competition. Someone asked me last week if it is was hard to get Washington audiences involved and excited I answered 'absolutely not. Washington is full of highly educated and engaged individuals hungry for authentic entertainment, great storytelling and an opportunity to have fun at the same time. At SILVERDOCS, we talk a lot about bringing diverse constituencies together. Just prior to the Guggenheim Symposium I found myself standing in the same room with Former Vice President Al Gore, legendary director Martin Scorsese and the independent director Jim Jarmusch all talking about documentaries. These leaders draw new audiences to the festival and help create an open environment that adds freshness and excitement to the national dialogue. More than ever, both professionals in the fi lm and television industry and Washington area fi lm afi cionados are designating SILVERDOCS a must-attend event.


Martin Scorsese and Jim Jarmusch at the 2006 Guggenheim Symposium.

The 2006 Guggenheim Symposium, named for four-time Academy Award-winner and Washington-area fi lmmaker Charles Guggenheim, honored Martin Scorsese for his contributions to documentary fi lm. The on-stage was led by independent fi lmmaker director Jim Jarmusch (Stranger than Paradise, Broken Flowers, Coffee and Cigarettes) and included visual outtakes from Scorseses documentary oeuvre, including The Last Waltz; No Direction Home: Bob Dylan; Il Mio Viaggio in Italia and the '70s exploration of his family in Italianamerican.

Jim Jarmusch: Italianamerican is a portrait of your family, but other themes in the fi lm include: parents, immigration, relationships, clubs, Sicily, resentment, meatballs, marriage, work, class, money, history, survival and homemade vinegar. There is so much in this fi lm; I love this fi lm.
Martin Scorsese:
It was part of a series called "Nation of Immigrants" for the U.S. bicentennial. There were fi lms being made on different ethnic groups, and I was asked if I could do one on Italian Americans. I said that Id do it if I could do something different. I fi gured the best thing would be to fi lm an afternoon with my mother and father. It took three hours on a Saturday and three on a Sunday, but during that time, I began to see a relationship between the two of them and the life they had before me. I saw a love story of practically 60 years of marriage. I learned that I could ask one question and theyd go on and on [laughter]. I began to see this point counterpoint argument - how one perceived what actually happened, and the other perceived another thing. I really got a sense of two people in love.

JJ: There is a really beautiful moment in the fi lm that I think infl uences some of your narrative work. Your father is talking about his father and his mother, and he says she was "a real whip." The camera turns on you and your mother and father - youre not looking at each other - and it just sort of hangs there. Its a very emotional moment.
Hold a camera on a person and they talk; they tell a story. It goes back to a person sitting around a camp fi re telling a story. All the great camera moves in the world are unnecessary in a way.

JJ: Its a matter of style, right? Can you talk a little about your style?
I struggle between American and European styles sometimes. I want to keep the camera fl at and straight, but I cant help moving it a little bit. In one fi lm in particular, King of Comedy, I felt like I was just hiding out; there was this constant battle in my mind between movement and staying static. Style these days? ... I try not to watch modern fi lms as much as possible. I dont know if there is any more "style" left now that we have the capabilities of digital imaging. A kid told me the other day that he had just watched this fi lm on his computer. I said, 'Well, what was it? He says, "Secret of My Success." And I said, 'And you saw that on a computer? Now theyre talking about putting fi lms on IPODs ... thats cinema? Its frightening to think of the infl uence of that on style.

JJ: When youre making a feature fi lm, you have a lot of control over style; how does that work when youre making a documentary?
The material definitely leads me. Its usually the music that takes me - particularly in Dylan. Its an obsession with music really; the music begins to tell the story. For Dylan we [editor David Tedeschi and Scorsese] went through years of footage - it was a huge investment of time. We had to fi nd the story in the footage, but eventually the music led us to the style; just as it led us to the artist.

JJ: It seems like you got everything that you needed for that documentary; you really found the "boxer" in Dylan, didnt you?
Yes. His manager Jeff Rosen shot about 10 hours of Dylan talking. Bob did it because, he told Jeff, that it would be his last interview ever. Jeff had known Dylan for 26 years, so he could get away with a lot. Dylan could even say things to Jeff like, "People like you bother me." In the fi lm, watch Dylans face, watch his eyes, and hes saying one thing, but hes thinking something else. Is he saying what he thinks you want to hear? He says at one point that he may be telling the truth ... or maybe not. The whole picture pulled together on that close-up.

JJ: The fi lm you executive-produced in the Blues sequence I loved it. It goes back to Africa and to Maui for an all-star jam with Clapton, and a couple other places. When youre working, do you listen to music that is going to inspire you or connect you to the project? Who are you listening to now?
I keep going back to Dylan and [Van] Morrison.

JJ: I read somewhere that you said that the news, now, is pure entertainment. Can you talk about that in terms of "recording" verses "interpreting."
Its interesting because, when you get a camera, you have an immediate impulse to capture something thats moving. Lets go to 14th street and record the cars going back and forth, etc. Whats the impulse? The impulse is to record or to create something dramatic that is interpreted. As soon as you put the camera down, youre interpreting what the audience is going to see - the image of the car going by. That impulse is whats fun for me. At a certain point, as far as being moved and using discretion, there is no difference to me in what they call a documentary and a fi lm. Once that camera starts, the fi rst impulse is to record, but then someone says "lets record an explosion on Mount Etna." Then all of a sudden, they desire to interpret, to involve theatrical interpretation. So, for me, thats where the lines get blurred. There is no doubt, for me, that news now, in terms of television, is pure entertainment.

JJ: Now there is a corporate media that seems to suppress or deny ideas and information I mean I cant distinguish corporate media from corporate government.
Youre right. Youre right. [applause from the audience]

JJ: Ill end with a quote from one of your fi lms, which is, "As with heroin, the antidote to fi lms is more fi lm."


Pulitzer Prize-winning NewYork Times columnist brought globalization to the masses with his book The World is Flat. In his new documentary, Addicted to Oil he hopes do to the same for petropolitics. Enviro-babe Nora Maccoby found out more about that in an exclusive Q&A interview for WL.

Nora Maccoby: What steps do you see to cure Americas oil addiction?
Thomas Friedman:
The conclusions from the research we did for the fi lm are that we have to push everything. There is no magic bullet. You have to push solar. You have to push re-design and design, because when you design with the mass energy of a building in mind that saves more energy over time than anything else. You have to push hybrids. You have to push ethanol. You have to push sugar ethanol, not just ethanol in this country, and I think you have to push nuclear. You have to push everything. There is no single solution that is going to eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels.

NM: What about domestic fuel alternatives like coal-to-gas?
The good thing about coal-to-gas is that you get the mercury and the sulphur out. The bad thing is that youre still left with CO2 emissions when it goes up the smoke stack. So, you get rid of a lot of pollution but youre still left with the impact on the climate. This is where you get into the issue of sequestration. Can you take that CO2 and sequester it? Coal-to-liquids, coal-to-gas theyre all better than coal.

NM: What about China?
China is keenly aware that its growing at 10 percent but giving 2 percent back a year to pollution. So, it has to go green. It already has higher mileage standards [than the U.S.]. In the documentary, we show a Chinese village being designed by William McDonough [a green architect, who is designing a number of renewable energy cities in China]. My hope is that China will do for the cost of solar power what it did for the cost of tennis shoes.

NM: Can we fi nd the will to act as a nation on this?
Weve said all along that it will take a crisis. Well, the argument of our fi lm is that the crisis is here - weve even had the President defi ne it as a crisis - and, yet, people dont seem to be concerned.

NM: What about the Defense Department focusing on better energy effi ciency and conservation?
Yes, thats all a start, but it has to be with a much greater sense of urgency.

NM: How can that happen?
Well, theres nothing like the bully pulpit of the Presidency. Its great to give a State of the Union on "addicted to oil," but you need to give that speech every day and everywhere before it really starts to take hold.



Charlie Koones, president and publisher of The Variety Group

Peter Bart and I had been developing concepts for TV to commemorate Varietys 100th anniversary when Peter met one afternoon with Sheila Nevins and John Hoff man of HBO. As a producer and one of the savviest guys in the business, Peter might have intimated that other networks were interested in doing a show with us. Sheilas extremely competitive and within no time we came to an agreement to make a documentary for HBO.

We never wanted to make a doc on Varietys history. Instead, we wanted to use Variety as a prism through which to view the art and the business we cover. Boffo! is about that strange alchemy that results in great commercial cinema - and what sometimes happens when that alchemy is wrong. Director Bill Couturié did a terrific job of illustrating that natural tension.

Boffo! was an offi cial selection at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival and we were really heartened by the response. It was a real treat as a kid born and raised in D.C. to have our fi lm selected as the opener for this years SILVERDOCS Film Festival. The crowd in Silver Spring was even warmer than that in Cannes, but then again, none of my family was in Cannes.


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