The AFI-Discovery Channel Silverdocs Documentary Festival has its full slate of competition films ready for its 9th edition that runs June 20-26.
The competition will screen in three different categories: U.S. Feature Competition, World Feature Competition and Short Film Competition. The festival will simultaneously host the five day International Documentary Conference, featuring over 1,200 filmmakers and industry professionals in master classes, panels, workshops and pitching forums featuring the world’s leading documentarians.
The competition line-up, including synopses provided by the festival, is included below:
Sterling U.S. Feature Competition
“Better This World” / USA, 2011, 97 minutes (Director: Katie Galloway, Kelly Duane de la Vega) — When two Midland, Texas, activists make Molotov cocktails at the 2008 Republican Convention, a dramatic story unfolds, with multiple domestic terrorism charges, an entrapment defense and a surprising FBI informant. The film sets in high relief the impact the war on terror has on civil liberties and political activism in a post-9/11 world.
“Bob and the Monster” / USA, 2011, 85 minutes (Director: Keirda Bahruth) — Bob Forrest first made his name as an outspoken indie-rock hero and popular front man for the band, Thelonious Monster. But it is his role as one of the most influential drug counselors in the U.S. today that he would cherish most. Shot over six years, the film offers an inspiring example of how one man was able to overcome his demons and use his success to help others do the same.
“The Bully Project” / USA, 2011, 90 minutes (Director: Lee Hirsch) — This film tackles the timely topic of bullying in this sensitive examination of an urgent crisis in American society. The film follows five children and their families over the course of one school year as their lives are affected in different ways by bullying.
“Dragonslayer” / USA, 2011, 75 minutes (Director: Tristan Patterson) — Few skateboard movies are as vibrant as “Dragonslayer”, which follows oddball Josh “Screech” Sandoval as he drifts between the skate circuit and an ill-defined but adaptive existence in Southern California’s recession-wracked suburbs. In a setting where nothing seems whole, first-time director Tristan Patterson finds arid beauty, hazy intimacy and a thread of hope.
“Give Up Tomorrow” / Philippines/Spain/USA/UK, 2011, 95 minutes (Director: Michael Collins) — In 1997, two sisters vanished without a trace on the island of Cebu in the Philippines. Paco Larrañaga was sentenced to death for their rape and murder despite overwhelming evidence to support his innocence. Spanning more than a decade, the film chronicles the shocking corruption within the Philippine judicial system and one of the most sensational cases in the country’s history.
“Incendiary: The Willingham Case” / USA, 2010, 102 minutes (Director: Steve Mims, Joe Bailey, Jr.) — In 2004, Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in Texas for the 1991 arson murders of his three daughters, despite evidence that the fire wasn’t arson. The film masterfully explores why Willingham has become a cause célèbre for arson investigation reform and death penalty repeal.
“Jiro Dreams of Sushi” / USA/Japan, 2011, 81 minutes (Director: David Gelb) — A feast for the senses, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” introduces us to master chef Jiro Ono, proprietor of the revered 10-seat, $300-a-plate Sukiyabashi Jiro restaurant in Tokyo. Filmmaker David Gelb offers extraordinary access to the process of preparing the celebrated sushi that has earned Jiro an elite three Michelin stars.
“The Learning” / USA/Philippines, 2010, 90 minutes (Director: Ramona Diaz) — This absorbing documentary follows four teachers from the Philippines who are recruited to work in the American public school system. Leaving behind husbands, children and extended families who depend heavily on them, Dorotea, Rhea, Grace and Angel spend one year teaching in Baltimore public schools, where they can make up to 25 times their salaries versus in the Philippines.
“The Loving Story” / USA, 2011, 75 minutes (Director: Nancy Buirski) — Mildred and Richard Loving never imagined that their unassuming love story would be the basis of a watershed anti-miscegenation civil rights case. But in 1967, when this soft-spoken interracial couple are exiled from Virginia – the only home they have ever known – for the mere crime of falling in love and getting married, they feel they have no choice but to fight back.
“Our School” / Romania/Switzerland/USA, 2011, 93 minutes (Director: Mona Nicoara, Miruna Coco-Cozma) — Shot over the course of four years, OUR SCHOOL follows the attempt to integrate isolated rural Roma (or “gypsy”) children into the mainstream school system of Romania. Focusing on seven-year-old Alin, 12-year-old Beni and 16-year-old Dana, this fascinating film takes an unflinching look at the challenges of a longstanding tradition of prejudice.
Sterling World Feature Competition
“At the Edge of Russia” / Poland/Russia, 2010, 72 minutes (Director: Michael Marczak) — Aleksey is eager to serve Mother Russia, but this 19-year-old recruit sees little soldiering while stationed at the country’s frozen northern border. With invasion unlikely, his burly superior’s lessons teach more about isolation, quotidian civil service and drunken paternity than anything else.
“Bakhmaro” / Georgia/Germany, 2011, 58 minutes (Director: Salome Jashi) — Incredibly visually striking, “Bakhmaro” is a quiet, unhurried film about the persistence of hope in the face of irrelevancy. A restaurant where nobody goes and a staff that serves no one in a building in rural Georgia’s Guria region are at the center of this compellingly claustrophobic documentary.
“Donor Unknown” / USA, 2010, 76 minutes (Director: Jerry Rothwell) — Twenty-year-old JoEllen Marsh was raised by two loving mothers in Pennsylvania who used a carefully chosen anonymous sperm donor to create her. When JoEllen discovers an online registry that connects her to several other young adults fathered by the same donor, she reaches out to her newly discovered half-siblings and sets out to meet her biological father when he publicly reveals his identity.
“El Bulli: Cooking In Progress” / Germany/Spain, 2010, 108 minutes (Director: Gereon Wetzel) — Celebrated chef Ferran Adrìa shares the spotlight with his magnificent culinary creations in a film sure to appeal to foodies and non-foodies alike. For six months a year, Adrìa and his creative team close shop on his world-famous El Bulli Restaurant in Spain to prepare for a new season’s menu representing the best in molecular gastronomy.
“Family Instinct” / Latvia, 2010, 58 minutes (Director: Anris Gauja) — A unique chronicle of family gone awry, this film is an unsparing exploration of a Latvian household built on the incestuous relationship between Zanda and her imprisoned brother Valdis, whose pending homecoming creates tremendous frisson.
“Fire in Babylon” / UK, 2010, 82 minutes (Director: Stevan Riley) — This energetic documentary looks back at the legendary West Indies cricket team that rose to prominence in the 1970s and 80s. Led by the dynamic Clive Lloyd, the team used the game of cricket to battle oppressive forces of prejudice on the playing field through superior athleticism and a bold, insuppressible spirit.
“The First Movie” / Canada/Iraq/Kurdistan/UK, 2009, 77 minutes (Director: Mark Cousins) — A lyrical and magical look at the power of cinema, director Mark Cousins’ whimsical film explores what transpires after he exposes the children of a small rural village in Iraq to the magic of film. Through their experiences, Cousins shows viewers a side of Iraq that they are rarely allowed to experience.
“Grande Hotel” / Belgium/Mozambique/Portugal, 2010, 57 minutes (Director: Lotte Stoops) — The Grande Hotel in Beira, Mozambique, once a luxurious haven in the Portuguese colony, is a shadow of its former self since closing in 1963. The film traces the history of the building, from its opening in 1954, with 110 sumptuous guest rooms, to today, when the abandoned hotel serves as a home to more than 2,500 people who live in its crumbling ruins.
“El Velador (The Night Watchman)” / Mexico, 2011, 72 minutes (Director: Natalia Almada) — The turmoil of Mexico’s bloodiest conflict since the revolution plays out in subtle yet poignant detail as filmmaker Natalia Almada quietly observes the daily routine of Martin, the night watchman and groundskeeper of the cemetery that houses the remains of Mexico’s most notorious drug lords.
“Position Among the Stars” / Indonesia/Netherlands, 2010, 109 minutes (Director: Leonard Retel Helmrich) — Filmmaker Leonard Retel Helmrich concludes his in-depth three-part portrait of Indonesia as seen through the eyes of one family living in the slums of Jakarta. The Shamuddin family’s anxieties, hopes and frequent, often hilarious fights culminate in a poignant mosaic of Indonesian life today.
“Wiebo’s War” / Canada, 2011, 92 minutes (Director: David York) — When Wiebo Ludwig moves his sizeable family to the rural plains of northern Canada to live closer to God, the last thing he expects is to be transformed from a holy man into an eco-terrorist. Yet when energy companies start encroaching on his land soon after discovering it lies on Canada’s biggest gas field, Wiebo feels compelled to protect himself and his family from their newly toxic surroundings.