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A Day at the (Silverdocs) Movies

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I spent the longest day of the year watching as many films as possible. Rather than bear the heat and attempt to enjoy the 90 degree day, a decision was made in the a.m. hours to spend all of the p.m. hours indoors at the Silverdocs Festival.

In order to enjoy a day at the movies, one has to go in with low expectations. The 10th annual Siverdocs Festival was a good choice for obvious reasons. Over 2,000 films were submitted to a fest that only has room to screen a little more than 100. With a high turn down rate, a majority of the well-vetted films have enough commercial appeal to appeal to a cinema loving public while being artsy enough to keep out the mainstream. There's absolutely nothing wrong with the mainstream, there's just not a lot of mainstream films all playing under one roof that have the ability to keep me entertained for 12 consecutive hours.

The first films I saw on Wednesday, June 20 were a set of seven shorts under the title View Askew. Subjects ranging from cats to Juggalos kept the hipster in me happy.

"Catcam" (2012, USA)
A German engineer didn't want the stray cat hanging out near his new house to enter. He let it in. A few years later he built the cat a camera to figure out where it went. This delightful and new look at the life of an indoor/outdoor cat, Mr. Lee, will please anyone not allergic to dander.

"Mr. Christmas" (2012, USA)
Bruce Mertz spends four months of the year making sure his house is a celebration of all things Christmas lights. A good short for the holidays, the films answers the question on everyone's mind. $700. His electric bill is $700 per month. This one also features a cat. Her name is Trixie.

"If Himmler Played Guitar" (2012, UK)
Three for three on the cats! This guy kind of looks like Nazi war criminal Heinrich Himmler. He kind of plays guitar. He should shave. If a guy looks like a Nazi war criminal with a moustache, he'll look a lot less like a Nazi war criminal if he shaves the moustache.

This 11 minute short could be a feature, it might help give more of an explanation of what went horribly awry. Once again, why is shaving off the table?

"American Juggalo" (2011, USA)
"We've got alcohol and we've got explosives! That's all you need to know!"

Tell your children you're proud of them. And don't hit them. This is what I've learned from the Insane Clown Posse's annual festival The Gathering.

"Meaning of Robots" (2011, USA)
Attention steam punks: If you become a hoarder, this is your future.

"Well-Fed" (2011, USA)
Ever wonder how Harold Smith, the agoraphobic flower guy in Twin Peaks got his start?

"Needle Exchange" (2011, Ireland)
This sad and somewhat touching short would benefit from about 80 minutes of more footage.

So far, seven shorts, all with something good to offer, even the one about Insane Clown Posse's fans. Really, tell your kids you love them. Next up, a feature about a female bodybuilder.

"STRONG!" (2012, USA)
Cheryl Haworth is an Olympian that works part time at Home Depot and is going to art school. She also has a DUI. This could be anyone you know. If you know people that weigh 300 lbs and can lift 300 lbs.

Some of the 75-minute feature gets a little too sentimental. Sequences that feature Haworth's art coming to life are a little unnecessary but the subject matter keeps it interesting enough to keep watching and rooting for Haworth. If NBC is smart, they'll hire her to be a correspondent at the upcoming London games. Her mother's description of her as a "rough, tough cream puff" is quite accurate.

Cheryl will be at the Sunday screening. Attend that screening.

Following the weight lifting was an audio document.

"Third Coast International Audio Festival Presents: Crossed Signals" (2011, USA)
No. It's completely antithetical to the fest. It does not belong at Silverdocs. In any way. It's not film. This is not my opinion, it's fact. An audio program is not a film. Radio programs do not need to appear at film festivals. This slot could have gone to another series of shorts.

So far, seven good shorts, one good film and one pointless audio program. I needed some shorts to cleanse the palate. Coming up, "Arts and Crafts"

"A Brief History of John Baldessari" (2011, USA)
Artist John Baldessari is a smart ass. This short reflects that. Quick, beautiful, whimsical, everything and nothing. Narrated by Tom Waits. Cool. It's very cool. I could watch this everyday for a month and be happy. Clocking in at six minutes, it can't be beat.

"Brute Force" (2012, USA)
With different timing, Brute Force could've been Baldessari. Instead he's enjoying a cult following of those who relate to the feeling of censorship. This could be a feature, but the personality is so polarizing it may be hard to sit through. The closing credits song, "How Old Is Old," is remarkably good.

"The Perfect Fit" (2011, Scotland)
Excellent camera use showcasing the people who make ballerinas shows.

Up next was supposed to be "Solo, Piano -- NYC," five minutes on an abandoned piano on a curb. I wanted to see this film, I was actually sitting next to the director, but there was a problem in presentation. Something went awry and there was a delay. I feel awful I missed the remaining four shorts in the program, but I had to run to see the next feature.

"The Punk Syndrome" (2012, Finland, Norway, Sweden)
This film has the potential to be the next "Anvil." The four members of Pertti Kurikka's Name Day are mentally challenged but play relatively competent punk rock in the vein of The Misfits. They are everything punk rock is supposed to be. Big in parts of Europe, the film details the recording and release of the bands first seven-inch. It's revealing how much every band I've been in and met goes through the exact problems these four go through.

The 85-minute film isn't ground breaking but it's entertaining. Not too long, captivating characters and excellent protagonists. Maybe most important, the songs aren't bad.

My first real break of the day came after my second feature. Finding something not film related and fun around 7 p.m. in Silver Spring is not such an easy task. Lucky for me, I had to check out the new/old rehab of Piratz Tavern. More on that tomorrow. Back to the theater.

"Virgin Tales" (2012, Switzerland, Germany, France)
Ah!

This is scary for some, comforting for others doc follows the Wilson family and their Purity Ball. A wonderful evening where fathers sign a purity pledge for their daughters and then dance with their daughters around a cross and there are two guys with swords that knight them and white roses and ah!

The whole practice is actually kind of nice and there's nothing wrong with seeing loving, caring parents. I went for the easy joke because the kids in the film were obviously coached by the parents. The morning after a Purity Ball, the only son still living at home breaks into an impromptu speech about how he loves his sisters, dad, mother and begins to cry. As the screen fades to black and onto the next scene, a daughter is heard saying, "This is really spontaneous!" Hands down the funniest moment of my day.

A well made film, it wouldn't surprise me if the family, the Family Research Council (where the head of the family Randy Wilson works as a lobbyist), and those that like to gasp and be shocked at Evangelical Christians will like it.

"The Imposter" (2012, UK)
Wow. What a well made, fascinating, beautiful, strange film. This will probably win audience choice. It's not a shock it already has distribution. You will see and watch this film. Any googling will give away important info, so, just, wow. Very glad I saw this one before wide release.

My 12 hours at Silverdocs was well spent. The 10 shorts all presented something worthwhile, the four features kept me entertained and the audio program, well, that was there. It'll be exiting to see where the festival goes. Most, if not all of the films, were shot on HD film-less cameras. Without having to kowtow to dumb things like developing and processing film, documentarians can roll indefinitely. Once the audio equivalent of HD cameras comes around, the results should be quite fine.

The Silverdocs Festival continues until Sunday, June 24. Here are our 10 picks for the festival.