From the Mayor for Life to King James to the Champ, the event films at 2009’s AFI-Discovery Channel Silverdocs Documentary Festival celebrate big talents and big personalities—fitting for a fest that’s become an industry darling in its seven years. Opening night offers More Than a Game, which follows five young basketball players from Akron, Ohio—including the Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James—as they sweat from obscurity to championships. The former Cassius Clay will be in attendance for Facing Ali, a collection of rare footage and fresh interviews in which opponents of boxing’s greatest talk about what it was like to face him in the ring. And closing the festival is The Nine Lives of Marion Barry, an examination of the current Ward 8 councilmember and erstwhile mayor who has landed on his feet despite one scandal after another.

According to our critic, however, the latter is less an in-depth analysis than a puff piece, and unlike last year’s fest—which boasted, among many other excellent films, future Oscar-winner Man on Wire and nominee Encounters at the End of the World—few of the 122 documentaries being presented are home runs. We were able to review nearly 70 of this year’s entries, approximately double our coverage of 2008’s festival, and not many of them left us drooling. An inevitability of numbers, or is Silverdocs stumbling? With celebrities gracing the screenings and the world watching, it likely doesn’t matter. —Tricia Olszewski

Films show at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, 8633 Colesville Road, Silver Spring; Round House Theatre, 8641 Colesville Road, Silver Spring; and Discovery HD Theater, 1 Discovery Place, Silver Spring. Most screenings are $10; for schedules and prices visit


Another Planet

My Neighbor, My Killer

The Apprentice

Off and Running

Afghan Star


Sea Point Days

Only When I Dance

Forty Men for the Yukon

The Real Place

Shorts Program 1: Intimate Encounters


Act of God

Intangible Asset No. 82

Ella Es El Matador

Ma Bar

Winnebago Man

China’s Wild West

Voices from El-Sayed


The Sounds of Insects: The Record of a Mummy

The Horse Boy

RiP: A Remix Manifesto

The Archive

Shorts Program 2: Lost & Found


Shorts Program 3: Culture Clash

Racing Dreams

No Impact Man

The Philosopher Kings

Blood Trail

Still Bill

Splitting Hairs

Trimpin: The Sound of Invention


Shorts Program 4: Crossing Borders

Shorts Program 5: Derailed Dreams

Youth Knows No Pain

Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo

Best Worst Movie

Sacred Places

21 Below


Episode 3: Enjoy Poverty

Pop Star on Ice

October Country

Shorts Program 6: CITY[E]SCAPES

City Paper Theme Spotlights:

Close-up on the Elderly

Close-up on Circumcision

Close-up on Critters

Close-up on Marion Barry