The “SilverDocs” film festival has become AFI Docs, and shook things up this year with a completely new format. With a luxurious new sponsor, Audi, and a substantial reworking of the festival organization, AFI Docs made a big impact in its first year. Instead of being concentrated in Silver Spring, this year the majority of events and screenings took place in downtown D.C. The big premiers took place at the Newseum, The National Portrait Gallery, The National Archives and The National Museum of American History. Secondary screenings and filmmaker interviews were later held at the AFI Silver Theater, the original location of SilverDocs. Many critics of the new format were concerned that having the festival so spread out would be too chaotic, and would lead to a drop in attendance. However, the festival was well attended and the critics were proven wrong. Furthermore, it added a bit more buzz to the festival since these films, which contain so many important issues, were playing right next to the highest halls of political power.
Behind The Scenes
My role in the festival was acting as a media manager, which was not the most glamorous job, but still important. The AFI Docs tech crew had cameras and producers going around and getting different types of footage. This included man on the street interviews, footage from Q&A’s that preceded documentary screenings, and some personal interviews with directors. I was responsible for taking this footage from P2 cards, putting it on hard drives, organizing the footage so the editors could get to it quickly, and then dropping these drives off at AFI Theater where all the editing took place. Again, not the most exciting work but I did love working with the AFI Docs crew. Additionally, I got the chance to help edit a few of the festival trailers, one for the “best of” trailer and one for the movie Mistaken For Strangers.
The Spirit Of The Festival
Word Wizard Inc. has always been a huge fan of the festival because it focuses exclusively on documentaries. The diversity of people and topics represented by the festival is truly impressive. One film I had the pleasure of viewing was, Dragon Girls at the Newseum. The movie follows three women enrolled in the largest Kung Fu academy in China, and explores how they deal with their adolescence and the grueling training. I was really impressed by this film, because it shed light on a culture that I normally wouldn’t think about. There were many other documentaries that seemed especially interesting. One of which was Running From Crazy, a story about the family history of Ernest Hemingway and his granddaughter, actress Mariel Hemingway. I also hear lots of buzz about Gideon’s Army, which examines the importance of public defenders.
Silverdocs, the premiere documentary festival in the Washington DC area, as well as a huge boon to the Silver Spring area, is getting some major changes. Its new iteration, which was announced just last week, will be known as AFI Docs Film Festival and will be backed by car manufacturer Audi instead of Discovery Communications. The new festival, running from June 19–23, will have an expanded presence as well as panels with greater focus on politics and other D.C.-centric issues. The festival will no longer take place solely in its home base of Silver Spring but will be presenting films at DC venues such as the Newseum, The National Portrait Gallery and the National Museum of American History.
The change is a consequence of the festival’s rising prominence on the national documentary circuit, as well as Discovery Communication’s change in corporate focus that has seen it move away from documentary storytelling, according to festival director Sky Sitney. Sitney sees the change in sponsors as positive and thinks it will help the festival to grow and gain an even more vibrant topical focus as it moves further into the heart of DC. She also said that, rather of thinking of it as scattered, instead think of it as incorporating two compact campuses.
The festival was started in 2003 as a joint venture between Discovery Communications and the American Film Institute. It should be noted that both of these organizations were major catalysts in the rejuvenation of the Silver Spring Area.
The Silver Spring Community Reacts
While it’s being stressed that the festival will still have important events and screenings in Silver Spring with no plans to leave it behind, the reaction locally has been mixed. Many locals as well as those in the production and documentary community feel that something is being lost with the expansion and name change. For years, the fact that the festival took place entirely in this one area has made it an important part of the community. The festival, which has grown to be the pride of Silver Spring, helps shine the spotlight on independent filmmakers and the important stories they have to tell. Smaller companies such as Word Wizards Inc., which thrives on transcription footage and the talking heads footage that are the meat of most documentaries, think it important these festivals go on, even if they’re in new forms.