The AFI-Discovery Channel Silverdocs Documentary Film Festival in Silver Spring, Maryland is now in full swing, with industry movers and shakers in town to exchange information and view the latest documentary offerings from around the world. While the completed films get the lion’s share of attention from visiting distributors, programmers and an enthusiastic public, many producers are here to try and secure funding that has become increasingly difficult in a stunted indie film market.
One of the prime initiatives here is Good Pitch @ Silverdocs, a joint project of Channel 4 BRITDOC Foundation in partnership with the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program, which gives eight lucky producers the chance to pitch projects and associated campaign strategies to invited NGOs, charities, foundations, campaigners, advertising agencies and media. The connections made here can have a tremendous impact on these issue-oriented projects seeing the light of day. Considering the impact such recent films as AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH and SICKO have had on the debates over climate change and the health care system, the eight projects hand picked for this year’s session have an urgency to them that are ripped right out of today’s news headlines.
2010 GOOD PITCH @ SILVERDOCS PROJECTS
A WHOLE LOTT MORE (Director: Victor Buhler)—Ohio’s Lott Industries employs 1,200 workers with developmental disabilities. For decades the company has built car parts at the highest level and capacity, but its livelihood is threatened by the current economic climate. The film follows a twelve-month period during which the company seeks to save itself and its employees.
HELL AND BACK AGAIN (Director: Danfung Dennis)—Dozens of films over the last decade have showcased the realities of war on the battlefield, but few have showcased the physical and mental pain that service members endure when faced with the challenges of readjusting to the lives they left back home.
HIGHER GROUND (Director: Jon Shenk)—The film follows Maldives’ president Mohamed Nasheed in his Herculean effort to save 385,000 people from drowning as his nation of 1,200 low-lying islands are slipping below the rising sea levels due to global warming.
THE HOUSE THAT HERMAN BUILT (Director: Angad Bhalla)—The film captures the remarkable creative journey and unlikely friendship between Herman Wallace, of the Angola 2 who has lived in a 6-foot-by-9-foot cell for over three decades, and artist Jackie Sumell. It looks at the transformative power of art while examining the injustice of prolonged solitary confinement.
THE INTERRUPTERS (Director: Steve James)—The film chronicles a group of men and women in Chicago whose singular mission is to prevent shootings. The Interrupters were themselves once participants in street violence and guide the viewer through the discomfiting gunplay in America’s cities.
$HIT (Director: Annika Gustafson)—A radical shift in sanitation for the urban poor through the promise of the “Peepoo”, a portable, self sanitizing toilet, sets the stage for an opportunity to save countless lives and provide much needed fertilizer. Can the Peepoo be accepted in the marketplace?
THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE (Director: Macky Alston)—Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay partnered bishop in the high church traditions of Christendom, is a key subject in this film chronicling a movement of activists and leaders seeking to restore balance in the current church/state battles for LGBT equality.
DEAR MANDELA (Director: Dara Kell)—As South Africa prepares to host the 2010 Soccer World Cup, the government is trying to ‘eradicate the slums’ by evicting shack dwellers from their homes at gunpoint. DEAR MANDELA chronicles the rise of three young leaders and a non-violent movement to stop the bulldozers that are literally tearing apart homes and communities.
The pitching initiative is not only bold and innovative but also works. Evidence of that is this year’s screenings of one of last year’s projects as a competed film in the Festival. BUDRUS by Julia Bacha chronicles a Palestinian community organizer who unites Fatah, Hamas and Israelis in a 5-year Gandhian struggle to save his village, unleashing a non-violent movement that is still gaining ground today. In the midst of the debate over Israeli occupation of Gaza, the film’s themes could not be more timely.