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Posted at 10:25 AM ET, 06/16/2008

Five to Watch at Silverdocs

By Jen Chaney

Silverdocs, the annual festival that brings nonfiction films and fans from around the globe to Silver Spring, has become a big deal. And I mean big in the most literal sense: Over eight days, starting tonight, 108 movies will screen at the AFI Silver as part of the event. The films cover so much material -- everything from reuniting Holocaust survivors ("Four Seasons Lodge") to adolescent angst ("American Teen") to Cirque de Soleil performances ("All Together Now") -- that it's impossible to ingest everything.

With so much to choose from, I can't begin to highlight every worthwhile movie. But I can recommend these five docs, each of which taught me something new, moved me or both.

"Pindorama: The True Story of the Seven Dwarves": When this look at the little people behind a traveling Brazilian circus began, I thought: Uh-oh. This is going to be exploitative in the worst possible, Verne Troyer-esque way. Turns out it's not. "Pindorama" is sometimes bizarre, occasionally disturbing and ultimately inspirational in its portrayal of an unconventional family in which the diminutive and the regular-sized live side-by-side and, in some cases, as husband and wife. As small as some of the stars of "Pindorama" might be, their self-confidence is larger than this doc's 80-minute running time can contain. (Screens Wednesday, June 18 at 9:15 p.m. for passholders only and Friday, June 20 at 10:40 p.m.)

"Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson": Silverdocs offers a chance to see the latest film from Oscar-winning documentarian Alex Gibney before it opens in theaters July 4. A portrait of the boundary-pushing writer -- warts, drug trips and all -- the movie includes insights from the diverse famous folks who knew Thompson, including Jimmy Buffett, Pat Buchanan and Jann Wenner. (Johnny Depp, who played the gonzo journalist in "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," narrates much of the film). If you're already well-versed on the man's work, you might not learn much. But for novices, it's an interesting ride, especially the portion that covers Thompson's inventive coverage of the 1972 presidential race. (Screens Wednesday, June 18 at 9:30 p.m.)

"Chevolution": With Steven Soderbergh's still-untitled Che Guevara epic having just screened at the Cannes Film Festival, the time is ripe for exploring the image of Che Guevara. Enter "Chevolution," a documentary that focuses specifically on the iconic Guevara image that has become a symbol for revolution on posters, backpacks, Rage Against the Machine amplifiers and episodes of "South Park." A briskly paced overview of the history behind the photo and the ways in which a capitalist society succeeded in co-opting the face of an anti-capitalist, this doc may make some rethink their reasons for wearing that faded Che T-shirt. (Screens Thursday, June 19 at 9 p.m. and Saturday, June 21 at 9 p.m. The Saturday screening is for passholders only. )

"Song Sung Blue": Mike and Claire Sardina were known in Milwaukee as Lightning and Thunder, a musical duo that consisted of a Neil Diamond impersonator and a woman who could belt the hell out of Patsy Cline tunes. But after a horrible accident, it became unclear whether this team could continue, either onstage or as a married couple. That's the premise behind "Song Sung Blue," a thoroughly compelling and incredibly touching documentary that demonstrates how living one's dreams is equal parts delusion and inspiration. Also, for reasons that only this documentary can explain, "Song Sung Blue" proves once and for all that Eddie Vedder is a total stallion. (Screens Friday, June 20 at 8 p.m. and Saturday, June 21 at 11:15 p.m.)

"I.O.U.S.A.": Most of us are not fiscally-minded. We don't spend a lot of time thinking about the national debt or trade deficits. But "I.O.U.S.A." makes a convincing argument that we should. Featuring commentary from such financial authorities as former Comptroller General David Walker (who embarks with a few colleagues on a Fiscal Wake-Up Tour of America), this documentary raises significant questions about the economy at a time when they couldn't be more relevant. (Screens Sunday, June 22 at 3 p.m.)

By Jen Chaney  | June 16, 2008; 10:25 AM ET
Categories:  Movies  
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what about Spike Lee's award at AFI?

Posted by: AP | June 19, 2008 3:46 PM | Report abuse

visiting FILM FESTIVALS is my hobby. I went to Silverdocs for the first time, and won't return. Yes, I saw some good films - 5 in fact. But I've been to 6 film festivals this year alone, and can say with some knowledge that Silverdocs is not well-run.

Posted by: Lara | June 23, 2008 8:54 PM | Report abuse

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