SilverDocs 2012: BYT Preview
BYT at large | Jun 18, 2012 | 9:00AM |

It’s late June, which can only mean one thing for movie fans in the DC area: it’s time forSilverDocs! The AFI-sponsored film festival runs from June 18 through June 24, showcasing the best documentary film the world has to offer. This year’s festival has its share of issue-heavy political documentaries (particularly the financial crisis_, but if the headlining events are any indication (Don’t Stop Believin’ on opening night, or Vivas Las Antipodas), some of this year’s selection of films are more fun than they are Important. As always, the BYT film team will be there for reviews, discussions, and interviews. But before the festival begins, we’re offering a preview of the documentaries we’re most excited to see:


Allison Klayman’s “Ai Wei Wei: Never Sorry,” showcases the defiant and outspoken personality of the Ai Wei Wei, a controversial Chinese artist and political activist, his struggles against tyranny in China, and his investigation of “Tofu Construction,” or shoddy construction of huge buildings that is believed to have caused the structural collapse of schools during 2008’s Sichuan earthquake. Ai makes use of the cameras to criticize Chinese officials for neglecting to investigate the deaths of thousands of school children after the earthquake. After several failed attempts to reach Chinese government workers, Ai begins his own investigation, documenting the names and details of the children who died. – Logan

Singer Arnel Pineda’s path from YouTuber to Journey-crooning stadium rocker has inspired countless media blurbs, but Ramona S. Diaz’s documentary is an investigatory look at his upbringing, from being homeless and singing on street corners in the Philippines to the crippling pressures of word tours in front of crowds of thousands. Pineda is candid throughout–in a trailer for the film he says he looks like he was Photoshop’d into in the band’s photos.  Pineda and the band also perform several musical sequences, including two homecoming shows for Pineda. – Logan

Alan Zilberman:

In terms of visceral experience, Planet of Snail is far gentler than Cut. That’s a good thing, since this lovely documentary is the best I’ve seen at the festival. Director Seung-Jun Yi does not talk about the power of cinema, though his style and editing making more compelling case for it than Naderi.

Young-Chan is deaf and blind. He completely relies on his wife, Soon-Ho, to guide him through South Korea.  We watch as they go through their routine. She communicates with him by tapping on his fingers, and he responds by speaking to her. Everyday tasks are a unique challenge. For example, the lamp goes out in their bedroom. Soon-Ho can’t reach it since she’s less than four feet tall, so she gives her husband step-by-step instructions on how to replace it. He can’t hear, so she taps them out on his knees. When he finally is done, he shouts, “We did it!” and it’s an utterly heart-warming moment. These two are wholly in love.

Yi follows the couple some more, showing how Young-Chan finds meaning through everyday objects and time with his friends, who are also deaf-blind. He also aspires to be a writer, submitting essays for a literary competition and writing a play that’s performed in a local church. Yi never exploits the disability. He watches and observes with patience, and thanks to the sensitivity of the direction, there is never a moment where we grow impatient for the action to continue. It’s rare to see a documentary where the filmmaker regards his subjects with such empathy and attention. Like Cut, I don’t know whether Planet of Snail will ever be available for US distribution, which is a shame since this unique love story deserves to be seen more than just a festival audience.

Silverdocs has been having great success with music documentaries. The Journey documentary Don’t Stop Believin’ is opening the festival this year, just as the crowd-pleaser The Swell Season opened the festival last year. Culling local talent has also been a canny festival strategy; Elmo puppeteer and Baltimore native Kevin Clash was on-hand to greet kids as America’s favorite furball. This year, AFI combines the tactics and adds a much-needed dose of fucking punk rock. Bad Brains: Band in DC follows HR and the guys as they reunite, get into trouble, and stir crowds into a frenzy. For people from my generation, The Bad Brains are the stuff of legend (the first I heard of them was from an interview with Dave Grohl, who said they’re the best band he’s ever seen). Now that they’re touring again and still have their share of problems, this has the potential to be the best rock doc since DiG.


In 2012 we’ve all grown numb to blonde women with rich husbands who sit at home and buy things. If it wasn’t for them, in fact, what would BRAVO be doing. Still-in this era of “Keeping up with the Housewives of EX-Athletes and SEX-tape-stars” – Queen of Versailles promises to offer something a little more and better: a humane look at what it feels like to have your dream crushed. Which is a universal theme, even if said dream is a 90,000 sq.ft house done up entirely to evoke Louis XIV’s legendary abode. In a stroke of genius, Silverdocs is screening this alongside “Living Tiny”, an endearing short of what it feels like to live in a 100 sq.foot home of your own choosing. Downsizing just got an upgrade.

It is the age old tale of: 60 something man meets 30 something Chinese girl over the internet. Love happens. Language barriers happen. International travel, visa problems, marriage, and cultural adjustments all happen too. Debbie Lum promises to handle all of the above with a light hand and a sense of humor, which is a refreshing take to the usual, vaguely grim approach to the updated mail-order bride story.

If there is one thing I love than that is a true-thriller story that seems stranger than fiction. In this year’s Silverdocs line-up, The Imposter fits that bill almost too nicely. Coming in on solid pre-festival review buzz (“The most bad-ass documentary of all time?”-asks FilmDrunk) the movie starts off in 1994, when 13-year old Nicholas Barclay disappeared from San Antonio, Texas. Three years later, his family received word that Nicholas had been found alive in the city of Linares in Spain. Or was he?

If you were to pick one person to have a life crush on, George Plimpton would be a pretty good choice. Editor of the Paris Review, and grandfather to Martha Plimpton, and possibly the greatest dinner party guest you never had, George has always been one of the more game people out there. The kind of man that was willing to try anything once (and look good while trying it) he has played quarterback for the Detroit Lions, acted in a movie alongside John Wayne and temporarily joined a circus, all the while cutting a dashing, tall figure and throwing quotes like “I have never been convinced there’s anything inherently wrong in having fun” around. If there is one movie at this year’s SILVERDOCS that promises to be stranger (and better) than fiction-this is it. (Link to trailer)

Many documentary filmmakers look for a perfect movie subject their whole lives: someone so unique and self-possesed that you cannot wait to be the person lucky enough to tell their story. And Gabrielle Provaas and Rob Schröder found what may be the ultimate package combining both human interest AND a healthy dose of sensationalism in (twin) sisters Louise and Martine Fokken who have been working as prostitutes in the Amsterdam FOR THE LAST 50 YEARS (while Louse has recently retired, Martine is still turning tricks in her 70s) . Fiercely loyal to each other, outspoken and tough, these are the kind of women who have been through it all and still perservered at keeping their spirit (mostly) intact. You may want to look away, but I am willing to bet you won’t be able to.

Alan Pyke:

The incredible density of Tokyo has created a distinctive architectural feel and urban plan that shapes the West’s imagination of the city as a giant neon-flecked high-rise. TOKYO WAKA tries to challenge that dominant visual perception of the Japanese capital by honing in on the city residents who have not been factored into Tokyo’s design: its crows. The trailer contains several looks at the city that surprised me, as someone who only knows the Tokyo found in William Gibson’s novels: There are green spaces, it turns out, and murder upon murder of crows.

There’s a cool idea at the heart of ¡VIVAN LAS ANTIPODAS! The antipodes of the point you’re standing at right now is where you’d come out if you dug a perfectly straight tunnel through the earth to pop out at the exact opposite spot on the globe. This documentary takes four pairs of antipodes and disappears the 8,000 miles of planet from betwixt them, so that (for example) Argentine countryside appears to sit on top of downtown Shanghai. Cool idea, right? OK, but this is 104 minutes long. An optimist would tell you it’ll be fascinating to see how Victor Kossakovsky manages to sustain this idea across the better part of two hours. A pessimist would throw you side-eye and go back to looking for IMAX times for PROMETHEUS. Bottom line: this is probably really cool, so haters to the left.

Jeff Spross:

Just like individuals, subcultures have particular psychologies and dynamics that are pretty universally recognizable: They war internally over their ethical and moral precepts, their strengths and virtues can twist into weaknesses, even vices, under differing contexts, and what they most vociferously oppose is often a funhouse-mirror reflection of their own worst impulses. Maturity for either largely requires coming to terms with those internal contradiction. There are a lot of good things that can be said about We Are Legion, the new documentary about the internet “hacktivist” group known as “Anonymous”, but the best aspect is how it balances its affinity for Anonymous with an honest investigation of this process.

The second best aspect is how well it lays out the endearing and bizarrely improvisational nature of the group’s rise. Anonymous began as an ad-hoc community in a little corner of the internet, communicating through a posting board called 4chan. Most everyone just posted under the name “anonymous,” and dedicated their time to digging up and curating myriad forms of internet detritus. It was all purely for teh lulz. Then they attracted the rhetorical and legal ire of the Church of Scientology by posting the now-infamous internal church video of a weirdly hyperactive Tom Cruise extolling the virtues of the faith.