Here’s a fairly trusty approach to choosing which features to attend at the Silverdocs AFI/Discovery Channel Documentary Festival: grab a program guide. Close your eyes. Point at a page. Unless you land on some white space—or, according to our reviewer, a, uh, dry piece called Dust—chances are pretty good you’ll find something engaging.
Now in its sixth year, Silverdocs again promises to continue its dominance as Washington’s sure-bet film festival. Out of the more than 100 documentaries showing this year, City Paper’s critics were able to preview about a third, with nearly all getting passing grades. A handful are exemplary, the best falling under two categories: medicine and art. Of the former, we recommend My Mother’s Garden, a look at hoarding disorder; In the Family, whose director is grappling with whether to get her breasts and ovaries removed after testing positive for the genetic mutation that increases her risk of cancer; and Under Our Skin, a profile of six patients with varying stages of Lyme disease and the battles they face from a medical community still divided about the ailment’s proper treatment and long-term effects. (I said these were exemplary, not easy.)
The “art” umbrella comes with an asterisk, as its standouts tell stories that are as much about humanity—celebrating it, sympathizing with it—as artistic creation. There’s Song Sung Blue, a profile of a husband-and-wife Neil Diamond tribute act who suffer much more than heckles while pursuing their passion; Herb and Dorothy, about the simultaneously lowest-profile but most highly regarded art collectors you’ve never heard of; Man on Wire, about a Frenchman’s 1974 tightrope walk between the World Trade Center towers; and Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, Alex Gibney’s improbably comprehensive biography about the outré journalist.
The last two are slated for wide release, along with buzzed-about doc American Teen, Encounters at the End of the World, Kicking It, and My Winnipeg. It’s likely more will join the list, though it’s just as possible that studio-shuffling will keep them from reappearing commercially in Washington theaters after all. So grab the hot tickets now, for he who waits may end up having to pick blindly from Hollywood programming instead—a bigger crapshoot with almost certainly more depressing results. —Tricia Olszewski
Our Silverdocs roundup:
Wednesday, June 18
In the Family
The Red Race
Triage: Dr. James Orbinski’s Humanitarian Dilemma
Pindorama: The True Story of the Seven Dwarves
Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
Silverdocs runs Monday, June 16, to Monday, June 23.
Showings take place at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, 8633 Colesville Road, Silver Spring; Round House Theatre, 8641 Colesville Road; and Discovery HD Theater, 1 Discovery Place.
Non-passholder tickets are $10. For more information, call (877) 362-7849 or visit silverdocs.com.