One of the best things about Silverdocs is that it allows local filmgoers to catch up with hits from earlier festivals. This year, such Sundance favorites as “Project Nim,” “Buck” and Georgetown graduate Jim Whitaker’s “Rebirth” will unspool at Silverdocs.
But keep an eye out for my personal Sundance favorite: “Hot Coffee,” first-time filmmaker Susan Saladoff’s riveting expose of how legal rights are being eroded amidst myths of “frivolous lawsuits” and “jackpot justice.” (One of her subjects is Stella Liebeck, whose lawsuit against McDonalds was spun into a laughingstock but whose un-hyped story will change your view of the incident forever.)
Anyone who didn’t make it to South by Southwest can see one of the best nonfiction films to screen at the Austin festival this year: “Better This World,” Kelly Duane de la Vega and Katie Galloway’s riveting portrait of activists who sought to disrupt the 2008 Republican National Convention but whose lives were changed forever when one of their cohorts turned out to be an FBI informant. Structured like a taut thriller, “Better This World” delivers a chilling depiction of loyalty, naivete, political zealotry and the post-9/11 security state — and it features one doozy of a kicker in the “where are they are now” category.
If I had a wish for this year’s Silverdocs — and documentaries in general — it would be that they take a few more risks with their narrative approaches. (It seems like a lifetime ago that Errol Morris and Ross McElwee were inciting debates over such current commonplaces as reenactments and personal voice.)
One daring exception to the calcified stock-footage-and-talking-heads paradigm is “The Green Wave,” which had its premiere at Filmfest D.C. in April. Iranian filmmaker Ali Samadi Ahadi uses animation and live action to illustrate the Facebook posts and tweets of 2009 protesters in Iran, who arguably helped usher in this year’s Arab Spring. Exhilarating, ingenious and vital, “The Green Wave” points to a whole new visual grammar for a form that could use an aesthetic reboot.