August 11, 2009

Docuweek in NYC

Last week, I had the rare pleasure of seeing docs over consecutive nights in a theater. Of course, it's not unusual for me to watch a doc for as soon as we open for entries in November, I will watch several hundred films going into the festival. The thing is most of those screenings are on my laptop or a television but not that often in a theater, which is a vastly different experience.On Wednesday, I went to the IFC theater in Greenwich Village, where I saw Racing Dreams, which was playing as part of DocuWeek, a great program sponsored by the IDA (International Documentary Association). Docuweek was created to help docs qualify for the Academy Awards, by playing for a week in NY or LA. At the IFC, they are running three weeks of docs, several of which I had seen (including Rock Prophecies, which we played at Mountainfilm this year).I knew from its description that Racing Dreams didn’t feel right for Mountainfilm but it won the Best Doc award at Tribeca so I was looking forward to checking it out. The film follows the now-classic competition formula (which I first saw in Spellbound) where it follows a couple of the competitors over the course of a film, which provides the narrative thread. Then in-between the races, you get to know the kids who are very well-cast. My instincts were right not to go after the film for Mountainfilm as the subject matter – car racing – is not really our thing, but the film certainly was a compelling look at this subculture.The next night I went to the HBO screening room to watch another film that wasn’t really right for our festival – The Nine Lives of Marion Barry. A friend had worked on the film, which chronicles the rather remarkable story of the former mayor of Washington DC. I grew up in DC and he was a formidable figure in a town that watches power closely.The film (which premiered at SilverDocs and is playing on HBO this month) is very well-done and moves quickly through the highs (so to speak) and lows of Barry’s wild, wild life. After the screening, I was talking to another member of the audience who said it was nice to see a film about redemption. It was then that I realized that for me, I didn’t really see that redemption. After all, the film closes by telling us that he tested positive for cocaine in 2008, while holding a seat on the City Council representing Ward 8, the poorest part of the city. And the crushing part to me is that Ward 8 particularly needs a city council member who isn’t so diminished by being a cokehead.Either way, it was great to sit in a darkened theater and take in these films (I have also seen In The Loop, which is extremely funny and worthwhile and Harry Potter) . No distractions of cell phone or email, no pause button, just the films on their unfiltered own. Hope you get to a movie … - David Holbrooke

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