- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Opening-night MVP

Silverdocs kicked off Monday evening with the sports documentary More Than a Game, featuring a panel discussion afterward with the film’s director and subjects - including LeBron James, the 2008-09 NBA Most Valuable Player.

The documentary itself plays as a very good ESPN production: touching in all the right places and flush with solid sports action but just missing transcendence. For all the movie’s talk about how basketball is just a game and that the kids of St. Vincent’s-St. Mary’s High School learned to be men under the guidance of their coach, Dru Joyce II, the focus remains squarely on the games.

After the movie, director Kristopher Belman joked that this project, which has eaten up the past seven years of his life, began as a homework assignment. (He received a B+ for the original 10-minute documentary.)

“More Than a Game” screens again at 8:30 p.m. Sunday at the AFI Silver Theatre.

Spotlight on Albert Maysles

Every year, Silverdocs invites a famed filmmaker to share his or her views on the craft of documentary filmmaking. This year’s guest is Albert Maysles, who, along with his brother David, is one of the most important names in the “direct cinema” movement. Direct cinema is a stylistic technique in which the filmmaker tries to use the camera to show the world as it really is instead of how it is thought to be.

Tuesday afternoon saw the first in a series of Maysles-related screenings: Several of his early shorts were screened before a packed house. As Silverdocs artistic director Sky Sitney pointed out, it’s “extremely rare to see some of the short work” of Mr. Maysles, especially on the big screen.

Arranged chronologically, the shorts gave an abbreviated sense of his movement from a more traditional documentarian into the direct cinema. The first short in the program, “Psychiatry in Russia,” featured heavy use of voice-over and cheery music. Contrast that with the second and third shorts, “Closeup on Russia” and “Anastasia.” The first is three minutes and silent, consisting solely of Russian people in various real-life poses; the second is a quick look at an American ballerina in the Bolshoi. Though it has sound, it skips the voice-over in an effort to give a truer glimpse into the young woman’s life.

The centerpiece to the first short program was “IBM: A Self-Portrait.” Though a voice-over does narrate the proceedings, Mr. Maysles skips the chance to offer a neat summation of the company in favor of allowing its incredibly diverse, complex nature to shine through.

Though the first Maysles short program won’t run again, a second selection featuring shorts on Orson Welles and Marlon Brando runs at 12:15 p.m. Wednesday.

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