After five years of planning, Silver Spring, U.S.-based neighbors the American Film Institute and the Discovery Channel are ready to throw open the doors to their joint-venture documentary fest, Silverdocs (June 18 to 22). Organizers had no trouble attracting interest from filmmakers – festival director Nina Gilden Seavey notes that they received about 1,000 submissions from 68 countries. Now it’s a matter of waiting to see how many people will come. ‘We have no markers, [but] we are aggressively reaching out. We have 10,000 seats that we would like to see filled,’ she says.
The final lineup consists of 75 docs – features and shorts – including Charlie: The Life and Art of Charles Chaplin (by U.S. director Richard Schickel), which is the opening night film and a North American premiere, and Spike Lee’s short We Wuz Robbed. Says James Hindman, AFI codirector and COO, ‘It was our belief that there was not a major international documentary festival of real scope in the United States, and we thought Silverdocs could fill that vacuum.’
Though both AFI and Discovery were involved in conceiving Silverdocs, the film institute ultimately took the lead in terms of program content and film selection, while the cablecaster assumed the role of benevolent benefactor. According to Seavey, the partners agreed this was critical to ensure the event’s integrity. ‘The distance that needs to be maintained is absolute,’ she says. ‘For example, we locked our program and sent it to the printer before I showed it to Discovery. To their credit, they recognize the need to allow us to do our work, of which they’re really not familiar, because they don’t do film festivals.’
Despite Discovery’s hands-off approach to Silverdocs, its involvement with the event coupled with the recently announced Discovery Docs initiative (see RealScreen, March 2003) hint at a new interest in theatrical docs. Don Baer, senior executive VP of strategy and development for Discovery Communications, responds: ‘We’re stepping up our efforts to do more and more of this, because we think it’s vitally important in this day and time to make sure a great film finds a home. We think Discovery is one of the places that can provide that home.’