Arts Desk

Silverdocs: The Musical!

For its ninth edition, the AFI Silverdocs Documentary Film Festival is going electric, acoustic, big-band, lo-fi, and tribal. This year's lineup of 108 films includes nine features and one short about musicians, leading off with the opening-night presentation of The Swell Season, a black-and-white portrait of the duo of the same name filmed in two years since its members—Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová—shot to fame in the 2007 film Once. (The single from the film, "Falling Slowly," knocked off a slew of Disney tunes to nab the Academy Award for Best Original Song.)

Other music documentaries playing at Silverdocs, which runs from June 20 to 26 in Silver Spring, include Bob and the Monster, about how Thelonius Monster singer Bob Forrest went from hard-living post-punker to celebrity drug counselor; Better than Something: Jay Reatard, a biopic of the late garage rocker shot shortly before his January 2010 death; Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels With A Tribe Called Quest, the directorial debut of the actor Michael Rapaport that caused some division within the hip-hop group; and making its world premiere, Never Make It Home, about the Kansas alt-country band Split Lip Rayfield, whose cancer-stricken singer and guitarist Kirk Rundstrom spent the last two months of his life on a farewell tour. Additionally, D.A. Pennebaker, who will be honored at Silverdocs' Charles Guggenheim Symposium, will be screening Monterrey Pop, his seminal 1968 concert film about the 1967 Monterrey Pop Festival.

There's plenty of hard stuff, too. Hoop Dreams director Steve James will be on-hand to present The Interrupters, a study of reformed gang members in Chicago who are trying to quell the rising tide of street violence in that city. Following up on last year's double-shot of stellar films about the Afghanistan war—Restrepo and The Tillman Story—is Hell and Back Again, the personal tale of a Marine sergeant dealing with devastating combat wounds and his return home. There will also be a panel in tribute to Restrepo director Tim Hetherington, who died earlier this year while photographing the Libyan civil war, at Silverdocs' accompanying International Documentary Conference.

At a press luncheon earlier today at Birch & Barley, Silverdocs director Sky Sitney said the conference is being revamped this year to provide more opportunities to directors with a few credits under their belt, in addition to the usual panels and workshops designed to connect burgeoning filmmakers with seasoned veterans. "The mid-career filmmaker was often neglected," she said.

A handful of food documentaries will be making their local premieres. Cafeteria Man profiles the Baltimore chef Tony Geraci's attempts to improve the woeful food served in Baltimore's public schools, a mission not unlike what the celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has attempted to do in West Virginia and more recently Los Angeles. Then there's El Bulli—Cooking in Progress, a feature-length version of what Slate's David Plotz called the "I Ate at El Bulli" piece.

There's plenty else to be excited about at Silverdocs this year. Alex Gibney, who last year cranked out two features—Casino Jack and the United States of Money and Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer—along with a segment of Freakonomics, has a new film about the Chicago Cubs. And Chris Paine, whose 2006 film Who Killed the Electric Car? damned the auto industry for not developing battery-powered vehicles, will present the sequel, Revenge of the Electric Car.

The full slate of films and showtimes will be released Friday by AFI Silverdocs. Update | May 26: The full slate is now online.

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