Movie Mom

Movie Mom


posted by Nell Minow

The greatest documentary film festival in America is Silverdocs, based in the American Film Institute’s gorgeous film exhibition spaces in Silver Spring, Maryland. It is an annual week-long festival that celebrates independent thinking, supports the diverse voices and free expression of independent storytellers, and fosters the power of documentary to enhance our understanding of the world. Anchored in the National Capital Region, where important global and national issues are the daily business, Silverdocs is marked by its relevance, broad intellectual range, and wide public appeal. Silverdocs was created through a unique alliance between AFI and the Discovery Channel, the festival’s Founding Sponsor.


This week’s participating films include:

“Freakonomics,” from the Oscar-winning director of “Taxi to the Dark Side” and the Enron and Jack Abramoff documentaries, and based on the best-seller that uses economics to explain behavior, not just markets.


Stephen Marshall’s “Holy Wars,” the story of two deeply committed men of faith – one a Muslim, the other a Christian – as they travel the world spreading messages they both feel represent “the truth.” The Muslim, an Irish convert living in London, advocates for a global jihad that will ultimately render his faith dominant. The Christian, living in the American heartland, sees Muslims as the enemy and considers it his duty to convert the unenlightened. What would happen if these two men were put in the same room together? This thought-provoking film is sure to push buttons and instigate discussions about the nature not of any one religion, but of extremism and tolerance.

“Making the Boys,” the story of the ground-breaking play (later a movie) “The Boys in the Band,” the first frank and sympathetic portrayal of gay men to achieve mainstream success.


“Restrepo,” from journalists Sebastian Junger (The Perfect Storm, War) and Tim Hetherington, who fully embeded themselves for a year with a platoon of U.S. soldiers stationed in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley. The remote 15-man outpost, “Restrepo”–named after a platoon medic killed in action–is a stronghold of al Qaeda and the Taliban, and arguably one of the U.S. Army’s deadliest challenges. With unprecedented access and unflinching immediacy, “Restrepo” reveals the challenges, triumphs, despair and intense camaraderie among the men who wake up each day under fire, never knowing whether they will make it home again.

“The People Vs. George Lucas” Is there any film-maker with more passionate fans and more passionate critics than the man who gave us Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Jar-Jar Binks? One fan, director Alexandre O. Philippe, presents the cases for and against the legendary auteur. At the heart of the matter is this question: Is film the property of the artist who created it or that of the audience that claims and loves it as its own?


“Wo Ai Ni, Mommy” is a quintessentially American story of hope, love, race, conflict, identity, loss, and re-invention. A warm, affectionate Jewish family from New York adopts an eight-year-old girl from China. They change her name to “Faith.” At first, she is lonely and homesick. But within a year, she considers herself American and has to have help from an interpreter when she calls her former foster family back in China via Skype. For me, one of the highlights of this touching and insightful film is when the documentarian cannot help but be drawn out of her role as objective reporter to serve as a liaison in helping to bring Faith and her new family together by translating what they are saying.


  • Alicia

    I’m glad you did a preview of this, Nell. Silverdocs is awesome! While I can’t attend the entire festival (because of work) I try to attend 3 or 4 Silverdocs films a year. This year I’ve already seen “Sons of Perdition” and “My So-Called Enemy” and have tickets to see “Holy Wars” and “The People vs. George Lucas.”
    Even though I’m more a fiction film buff than a non-fiction buff, I’m struck by how life-changing many of the documentaries I’ve seen were for their subjects as well as for the people who made them. I’ve found that incredibly moving. While reality television appears to change people’s lives for the worse, it seems to me that documentaries change lives for the better.

  • Nell Minow

    I’d love to know what you think of the films, Alicia! I am going out of town and wish I could be there — it’s a great schedule this year. I love your description of the difference between documentaries and reality TV. For me, the difference is that documentaries are almost always about people who are passionate — that’s what keeps us interested even if the passion is for a 20-year-old arcade game. But reality TV is just about people whose only passion is to be celebrities.

  • Alicia

    So true about reality shows, Nell. They show how meaningless fame really is while documentaries highlight the importance of the individual, of each individual life. I agree about the passion, but I also think the essential phoniness of reality TV is a big detriment. They encourage people to be phony, even when expressing their grief, or their dreams or hopes.
    I’ll try and post something later about my reaction to the two Silverdocs films I’ve already seen.

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