The next icon on the agenda was Muhammad Ali, who was to be guest of honor at the premiere of Facing Ali on Tuesday. At the last minute, however, Ali was unable to attend, reportedly for personal reasons. The film combines vintage fight footage and new interviews with the men who actually stepped into the ring with the champ. After the show, director Pete McCormack and producer Derik Murray discussed the film with USA Today sportswriter David DuPree.
The current pinnacle of success – black, male, or otherwise – is of course President Obama, and on Wednesday, the week’s “Centerpiece Screening” was the world premiere of Convention, set during Obama’s bloodless victory over Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver. Compiled by eight filmmakers led by AJ Schnack, the film focuses on city employees who handled the convention, the press who covered it, and the protestors who attempted to disruit. A panel of filmmakers, public servants, and Denver press were on hand to answer questions from NPR White House Correspondent Don Gonyea; the protestors, it was reported, could not afford to travel.
The closing night film, the premiere of The Nine Lives of Marion Barry, saw the former “mayor-for-life” arrive in apparent good health and spirits, with a paisley tie and a considerable entourage. One onlooker started a chant of “Shame, shame!” but Barry paid no mind, cheerfully greeting friends and supporters. In the theater, he acknowledged the thanks of filmmakers Dana Flor and Toby Oppenheimer by bowing in all directions and shaking his clasped hands – halfway between a gesture of prayer and a prizefighter’s pose. After 78 minutes of on-screen ups and downs, news analyst Juan Williams moderated a lively discussion with the filmmakers, veteran civil rights activist Lawrence Guyot, NBC reporter Tom Sherwood, and Dorothy Brizill of D.C. Watch. Guyot, who once worked with Barry in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, gave him substantial credit for success in the civil rights movement, as well as opening the District government to blacks. About Barry, he said, “I make three concessions: women, alcohol, and drugs. No more!” Sherwood commented that he weeps “for what might have been,” while Brizill noted, “He is very personable. Holding him accountable has been another matter.” In a surprise move, Barry took the mic to take at least partial credit for improvements in the District over the past several decades and accuse the media of “demonizing” him. He was good-natured about it, though: “I know the media, but I love ’em anyway.” Later, Barry dined at a table for 16 at Jackie’s (SILVERDOCS official restaurant) then literally danced in the street to the music of go-go legends Trouble Funk.
More than 25,000 viewers watched over 100 other documentaries in between these appearances, films that covered subjects from go-kart racers to ethnic violence. A parallel conference for industry professionals also took place with Tom Bernard, co-president of Sony Pictures Classics, giving the keynote address on Wednesday afternoon. The annual Guggenheim Symposium honored documentarian Albert Maysles (Grey Gardens). Also on hand: artists Christo (alertly eyeing the architecture and decor of the restored Silver Theatre) and Jeanne-Claude (with her trademark crayon-red hair) who both had big smiles and kind words for Maysles, their longtime collaborator. Sitting next to them, he seemed a quiet presence, but his humane wit shone when he took the stage for a Q&A with Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly. TV and film director Barbara Kopple asked that anyone who had been mentored, influenced, or inspired by Maysles or his late brother David to please stand, bringing nearly the entire audience to their feet. Grace Guggenheim, daughter of the symposium’s namesake, legendary filmmaker Charles Guggenheim, presented the award.