Documentaries are supposed to be good for you. That’s why many filmgoers treat them as the cinematic equivalent of leafy vegetables: They’re worthy but unappetizing, filled with information about such subjects as the difficulties of emerging from a vegetative state (Coma), the legislative process in Idaho (State Legislature), or Palestinian political organizing in Israeli prisons (Hothouse). But documentaries can also be contemplative, funny, and poetic, as this year’s edition of Silverdocs demonstrates, with such entries as Forever (on the afterlives of great artists buried in Paris’ most famous cemetery), How to Cook Your Life (a droll Zen master’s kitchen tips), and three films by Jem Cohen, the bard of the street scene and vapor trail.
This year’s AFI/Discovery Channel documentary festival includes more than 100 films, about 60 of them features. Washington City Paper‘s critics viewed half the features and reviewed 26 of them. This looks to be the strongest slate in Silverdocs’ five-year history, but we particularly recommend-in addition to the films mentioned elsewhere – Big Rig, a look at truckers on the road, and two portraits of “sustainable” existence, Off the Grid and Garbage Warrior. (We’ll wait until its commercial release to comment on No End in Sight, another analysis of the Iraq War.)
The featured theme of this year’s Silverdocs is “Beyond Belief,” a category that includes at least three fine films: Stand Up: Muslim-American Comics Come of Age, Audience of One (the tale of a Pentecostal minister who decides to make a sci-fi film), and Living Goddess (in which the life of an 8-year-old Nepalese avatar turns out not to be so cute). While only seven features are classified as “Beyond Belief,” the subject seems to have infiltrated the entire fest, from an activist priest in the Dominican Republic in The Price of Sugar to the anti-Santa antics of What Would Jesus Buy? It seems that documentaries aren’t just about worthy information; they’re about the search, however problematic, for something to believe in.
Silverdocs runs Tuesday, June 12, to Sunday, June 17. Showings take place at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, 8633 Colesville Road, Silver Spring, and are $10. For more information, call (877) 362-7849 or visit silverdocs.com.