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DISPATCH FROM DENVER | Doc Talk As Democrats Open '08 Presidential Convention

Indiewire By Eugene Hernandez | Indiewire August 26, 2008 at 3:25AM

Documentaries may seem undervalued in the traditional theatrical marketplace of late, but alongside the Democratic National Convention -- which got underway today here in Denver, CO -- non fiction films are seen as a vehicle for awareness and change. Adjacent to the Pepsi Center downtown, where this week Democrats are gathering to endorse Barack Obama as their candidate for U.S. president, film folks from the Denver Film Society, Starz, the Impact Film Festival, and Seachange Communications have joined forces to create a VIP festival environment aimed at the thousands of politicians, delegates, activists, celebrities, journalists and guests in town this week.
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Documentaries may seem undervalued in the traditional theatrical marketplace of late, but alongside the Democratic National Convention -- which got underway today here in Denver, CO -- non fiction films are seen as a vehicle for awareness and change. Adjacent to the Pepsi Center downtown, where this week Democrats are gathering to endorse Barack Obama as their candidate for U.S. president, film folks from the Denver Film Society, Starz, the Impact Film Festival, and Seachange Communications have joined forces to create a VIP festival environment aimed at the thousands of politicians, delegates, activists, celebrities, journalists and guests in town this week.

"We have huge choices to make in this country," advocated Congressman Joe Courtney this afternoon at the Impact fest, one of many film-related events running concurrent with the convention, "They are going to be made in November." Courtney's remarks countered those of Debra Bartoshevich, the self-proclaimed "proud Hillary Clinton Democrat" who dominated cable news for most of the day after switching political sides to star in a new campaign commercial for Republican party candidate John McCain. In the ad she praised McCain, but at a press conference today was pressed about how she could endorse a candidate so against her own beliefs.

A freshman representative from Connecticut, Joe Courtney argued today that the candidate elected by Americans this November will impact a number of crucial and divisive issues, in particular the controversial stem cell research debate, subject of Jessica Gerstle's "Accidental Advocate." A world premiere here in Denver, former Dateline NBC producer Jessica Gerstle's film shines a light on the subject by telling the powerful story of her own father, Claude Gerstle, a surgeon and athlete tragically paralyzed from the neck down after a biking accident.

U.S. Congressman Joe Courtney, Bob Klein from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, Jessica Gerstle and Claude Gerstle at the Impact Film Festival today. Photo by Eugene Hernandez/indieWIRE

"My Dad and I decided to make this film to answer [people's] questions," Gerstle explained after an afternoon screening. Choking up as she talked today about the movie alongside her incapacitated father, Gerstle said she didn't feel she could tell the story as a network news producer. So, she enlisted him as her correspondent. The film reaches across both sides of the aisle, showcasing opinions from both Democrats and Republicans, as well as notable standard bearers for the issue such as Michael J. Fox.

Reiterating that John McCain's position on stem cell research is unclear given his pro-choice and pro-life stances, Congressman Courtney advocated that Barack Obama would give the movement for stem cell research new hope. Discussion moderator Dan Abrams from MSNBC quipped that he may not get as warm a reception when the film screens next week when the Impact Film Festival runs alongside the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis, MN.

Asked about her new film's distribution prospects today, filmmaker Jessica Gerstle said that she is currently forgoing talk of a theatrical premiere in favor of a DVD and online release so that she can make the film, "quickly available to educate the 2008 electorate."

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The unconventional distribution of documentaries today was also an undercurrent during discussions surrounding Patrick Creadon's "I.O.U.S.A." which screened on Monday morning here in Denver, after opening theatrically this weekend. The filmmaker joined forces with distributor Roadside Attractions and NCM's digital broadcast network & Fathom Events to launch their release with a special program last week.

"I.O.U.S.A." editor Douglas Blush, Director/writer Patrick Creadon, co-writer Christine O'Malley and executive producer Addison Wiggin at the Starz Green Room today. Photo by Eugene Hernandez/indieWIRE

Still flying high after a live event in Ohio that included a film screening and an economic panel discussion featuring Warren Buffett, Pete Peterson, and Dave Walker, Creadon boasted excitedly about the success of beaming the event to nearly 400 theaters via satellite. 45,000 tickets were sold for the one-night only film and panel event.

"In a time when really really good documentaries are struggling to get [attention], to have an event like this is really something," Creadon said.

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Along with the Seachange Communications Ideas Forum (SIF) and Cinemocracy events, The Impact Film Festival (IFF) is unspooling at the Starz Film Center -- this week dubbed the Starz Green Room -- within the security perimeter adjacent to the Democratic National Convention at the Pepsi Center. This afternoon, SIF panelists mingled with IFF filmmakers and others in the well-stocked Starz Green Room lounges. While Patrick Creadon and his team were touting their film on one end of the room, the Gerstle's posed with elected representatives in front of a nearby step-and-repeat and Arianna Huffington mingled with well-wishers on the other side of the room. Later, Morgan Spurlock stopped in before a SIF screening of "Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden."

Stuart Townsend's "Battle in Seattle," with Townsend and Charlize Theron on hand, will screen on Tuesday, as will Stefan Forbes' "Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story" and Cynthia Wade's "Freeheld." Other Impact films include Timothy Greenfield-Sanders' & Elvis Mitchell's "The Black List", Irena Salina's "Flow," Susan Koch & Jeff Werner's "Kicking It," Charles Guggenheim's "Robert Kennedy Remembered," Tia Lessin & Carl Deal's "Trouble The Water," and Mary Lambert's "14 Women."

This article is related to: Documentary, Festival Dispatch