Silverdocs Announces 2011 Festival Slate

Several music-themed films, plus the latest from “Hoop Dreams” director Steve James

By: Sophie Gilbert

Documentary nerds, rejoice: Silverdocs is back next month, with a lineup of subjects ranging from electric cars to Elmo. The annual festival—the largest documentary showcase in the country—this year offers 108 films from 52 countries, each of which has been selected from more than 2,000 submissions. The official slate has now been announced, and there are plenty of interesting picks.

Opening night (June 20) sees a screening of The Swell Season, a black-and-white film about musicians Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová (who shot to fame after they won a 2008 Academy Award for a song from the movie Once, which they also starred in). The documentary—shot by filmmakers Nick August-Perna, Carlo Mirabella-Davis, and Chris Dapkins—deals with the aftermath of the couple’s sudden celebrity and the ways in which it affected their romantic relationship, which has since ended.

Music is something of a theme at Silverdocs this year: June 24 sees the world premiere of Never Make It Home, a film about the Kansas bluegrass band Split Lip Rayfield, and the annual Guggenheim Symposium will honor Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker, partners famous for their rock biographies of Bob Dylan (Don’t Look Back) and David Bowie (Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars).

Few people will recognize Baltimore native Kevin Clash, but almost everyone knows his fuzzy alter ego, Elmo. Clash’s career is profiled in Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey, which screens June 21, and yes, both Elmo and Clash will attend with filmmaker Constance Marks. Also in the “awwwwwww” category is Project Nim, directed by James Marsh (Man on Wire), which pulls together archival footage and new interviews to look back at Nim, the 1970s chimpanzee who was raised as a human.

Director Steve James (Hoop Dreams) and writer Alex Kotlowitz teamed up to make The Interrupters, about former gang members in Chicago trying to help put an end to violence in their communities. The film screens June 22. Closing night, June 25, features Revenge of the Electric Car, Chris Paine’s follow-up to his 2006 documentary, Who Killed the Electric Car? The movie debuted on Earth Day earlier this year at the Tribeca Film Festival, where it was described as “hugely entertaining” by the Hollywood Reporter (it’s also notable for a cameo by disgraced former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger).

Other big names at the festival include acclaimed documentarian Alex Gibney, who turns from politics to sports with his newest film, Catching Hell. It profiles Steve Bartman, the unlucky Cubs fan who deflected a foul ball in the 2003 National League Championship and unwittingly cost the team the game. Senator Al Franken will appear in person to honor Pennebaker and Hegedus, who worked with him on the film Al Franken: God Spoke. Photographer and filmmaker Tim Hetherington, who was killed in Libya earlier this year, will also be honored at the festival in a “Peacebuilding on Screen” segment organized with the U.S. Institute of Peace; Hetherington’s final film, Diary, will be screened at the festival (date TBD).

For tickets and more information, visit Silverdoc’s Web site.

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