- The Washington Times - Friday, June 19, 2009

The centerpiece screening at the Silverdocs 2009 festival was Wednesday’s world premiere of “Convention,” a collaborative effort from eight documentarians covering last year’s Democratic National Convention. A massive undertaking — the crew shot 90 hours of footage during its time in Denver — it runs from a week before the convention through President Obama’s acceptance speech at Mile High stadium.

The documentary is a riveting piece of work, especially for anyone interested in national politics, protest culture and the state of local newspapers. The filmmakers, assembled by A.J. Schnack, endeavored to capture the story from every angle. As Mr. Schnack said before the screening, the movie reminds him of “Back to the Future Part II” because in that film, you get to see what happened in the first movie from a different perspective. “Convention” is like re-watching the Democratic convention from the street level, the command level and the convention-floor level.

The trials and tribulations of Denver Post cub reporter Allison Sherry, who was thrown from the schools beat into covering Hillary Rodham Clinton with just a few weeks’ warning, are incredibly interesting. Asking her to compete with the national press corps was like asking a kid from the minors to pitch for the New York Yankees in the World Series: At one point she breaks into tears and runs from the cameras. It’s poignant and sad and a reminder that this thing we call journalism isn’t all that easy.

The rest of the documentary is no less gripping. The moves and countermoves of the protesters and city planners are intriguing, the protesters offering some comic relief with their multitude of causes and minuscule numbers. And, of course, the sense of history is almost palpable as Mr. Obama takes the stage and accepts the nomination for president.

All in all, “Convention” is a wonderful film, one to pick when it hits DVD shelves.

The half-screening

Film festivals are a wonderful time for fans of the medium, and Silverdocs is no exception: The theaters are full of film aficionados 15 hours a day, all looking to broaden their horizons. Still, it can be frustrating. There are only so many hours in the day, so even with careful planning, some movies will fall through the cracks. This goes double for members of the press, who have to find time for writing and conducting interviews as well as watching movies.

Enter the half-screening. The half-screening is a pop-in, a quick look at a movie that seems interesting but is impossible to see in its entirety because of schedule conflicts. “Winnebago Man” was the first such screening for me, and what I saw made me wish I could have stuck around for the second half.

A history of viral videos and the story of the man behind one of them, “Winnebago Man” is interesting from both a sociological and a personal point of view. It tells the story of Jack Rebney, an ornery cuss who shot an industrial video for Winnebago some years back, the outtakes of which have become an underground video sensation.

Sometimes the half-screening is an unexpected development, as was the case with the screening of “Rip: A Remix Manifesto,” a pretty standard anti-copyright screed — Evil corporations are stifling creativity! Information wants to be free! The Blu-ray showing the movie broke about an hour into the show.

Festival director Sky Sitney was on hand to placate festival-goers, handing out free passes and promising free beer during the night’s festivities — a DJ was on hand to entertain the young crowd at the movie’s end. The technical-difficulty half-screening is a festival tradition — pretty much every fest ever assembled has had at least one such run-in with technology’s imps.

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