Last week, I had the rare pleasure of seeing docs over consecutive nights in a theater. Of course, it’s not unusual for me to watch a doc for as soon as we open for entries in November, I will watch several hundred films going into the festival. The thing is most of those screenings are on my laptop or a television but not that often in a theater, which is a vastly different experience.

On Wednesday, I went to the IFC theater in Greenwich Village, where I saw Racing Dreams, which was playing as part of DocuWeek, a great program sponsored by the IDA (International Documentary Association). Docuweek was created to help docs qualify for the Academy Awards, by playing for a week in NY or LA. At the IFC, they are running three weeks of docs, several of which I had seen (including Rock Prophecies, which we played at Mountainfilm this year).

I knew from its description that Racing Dreams didn’t feel right for Mountainfilm but it won the Best Doc award at Tribeca so I was looking forward to checking it out. The film follows the now-classic competition formula (which I first saw in Spellbound) where it follows a couple of the competitors over the course of a film, which provides the narrative thread. Then in-between the races, you get to know the kids who are very well-cast. My instincts were right not to go after the film for Mountainfilm as the subject matter – car racing – is not really our thing, but the film certainly was a compelling look at this subculture.

The next night I went to the HBO screening room to watch another film that wasn’t really right for our festival – The Nine Lives of Marion Barry. A friend had worked on the film, which chronicles the rather remarkable story of the former mayor of Washington DC. I grew up in DC and he was a formidable figure in a town that watches power closely.

The film (which premiered at SilverDocs and is playing on HBO this month) is very well-done and moves quickly through the highs (so to speak) and lows of Barry’s wild, wild life. After the screening, I was talking to another member of the audience who said it was nice to see a film about redemption. It was then that I realized that for me, I didn’t really see that redemption. After all, the film closes by telling us that he tested positive for cocaine in 2008, while holding a seat on the City Council representing Ward 8, the poorest part of the city. And the crushing part to me is that Ward 8 particularly needs a city council member who isn’t so diminished by being a cokehead.

Either way, it was great to sit in a darkened theater and take in these films (I have also seen In The Loop, which is extremely funny and worthwhile and Harry Potter) . No distractions of cell phone or email, no pause button, just the films on their unfiltered own. Hope you get to a movie … – David Holbrooke

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