Arts Desk

Silverdocs Slate Includes Films About Bad Brains, Ai Weiwei

This June marks the 10th iteration of Silverdocs, and for the second year in a row, the film festival seems to have placed a special emphasis on music: The annual celebration of documentary film opens on June 18 with Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey's, Ramona Diaz's film about Arnel Pineda, a formerly homeless Filipino singer with the voice of a steamship, who in 2007 became the lead singer of Journey. And on June 23 the festival will show its closing-night film, Big Easy Express, which follows the bands Mumford & Sons, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, and Old Crow Medicine Show on a tour from California to New Orleans.

Wait.

Mumford & Sons? JOURNEY? I'm not saying great films can't be made about terrible bands (see Anvil! The Story of Anvil), but if it were up to me—and there's a reason these kind of things are not—I would've opened or closed the festival with Bad Brains: A Band in D.C., Mandy Stein's look at the D.C. punk pioneers, which premiered this spring at South by Southwest and which, or so I've heard, takes a respectful look at the group's legacy and a hard look at its current state. The film shows at Silverdocs on June 21 and June 23, and there's no reason not to expect a big hometown crowd.

There's more music-related programming from there: The slate includes Beware of Mr. Baker, local filmmaker Jay Bulger's bio of Cream drummer Ginger Baker; Charles Bradley: Soul of America, about a James Brown impersonator; The Punk Syndrome, about a punk band whose members all have mental disabilities; and Wagner's Dream, about Robert Lepage's controversial reimagining of Wagner's Ring Cycle for the Metropolitan Opera. High on my dance card is Searching for Sugar Man, about the American cult singer Rodriguez and his unlikely late-career rise to fame in South Africa.

At a press luncheon today, festival director Sky Sitney emphasized the festival's focus on creativity—a celebratory motif that complements Silverdocs' 10th birthday. Two of the contemporary art world's most prominent figures are profiled in Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present and Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry. Beauty Is Embarassing focuses on Wayne White, the visual artist, director, and cartoonist who co-created Pee-Wee's Playhouse. Joe Papp in Five Acts looks at the founder of New York's Shakespeare in the Park series and the Public Theater.

And of course there is the heavier fare: David France's How to Survive a Plague centers on the early optics of the AIDS crisis, when two groups, ACT UP and TAG, helped destigmatize the disease's victims. Detropa, by Jesus Camp directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, centers on Detroit as it rebuilds itself itself in the wake of economic devestation. Matthew Heineman and Susan Froemke's Escape Fire attempts to diagnoise what ails the American health care system; another film, Peter Nicks' The Waiting Room, centers on a single ER in Oakland, Calif. And Why We Fight director Eugene Jarecki's The House I Live In overviews the American war on drugs.

This year's Guggenheim Symposium and Retrospective focuses on the works of Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, who will discuss their careers on June 19. Included in the retrospective screenings, of course, is Berlinger and Sinofsky's memorable film about a band warring against itself, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster.

And there's way, way more—114 films total, including some mighty-looking shorts programs and the festival's annual symposium for filmmakers. Look for a full schedule soon on silverdocs.com.

Update: Here's the whole slate.

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