American Documentary Showcase

Last year Ian Cook and I finished a short documentary called Corner Plot.

The film explores the life and work of Charlie Koiner, a 90 year old man who tends to an urban farm in downtown Silver Spring. Check our our website for more info: http://www.cornerplotmovie.com

We submitted Corner Plot to a whole whack of film festivals and one very special program run by the State Department: the American Documentary Showcase. The Showcase is part of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs – a branch of State Department dedicated to “advancing U.S. foreign policy objectives through educational and cultural programs that enhance mutual understanding between the people of the United States and people of other nations”

Click on the following link for a write up in the NY Times about the program: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/16/movies/16docs.html

It sounds very official but what it boils down is this: Once a year the State Department sends independent documentary films – and their creators – abroad to educate and inform on “the American Way of Life”. As far as I’m concerned, this is a good thing, a very good thing.

Documentaries have always been powerful tools of propaganda. In the 30s American documentaries were political pieces created to sell Americans on the New Deal polices of the Roosevelt Administration. In Britain John Grierson was creating documentaries to appease class tensions and propagate a unified United Kingdom. Canada went so far as to create the National Film Board, an organization explicitly created to foster a sense of national identity in a new and culturally unsure nation.

But times have changed. For better or for worse an entire genre of documentaries have become accessible to a wide swath of the population. Lower cost production technology has created new opportunities for more diverse stories and storytellers. The beauty of the American Documentary Showcase is that it culls the very best of documentary film and promotes a diverse body of work that illuminates the American experience from many perspectives. And many of those documentaries are pretty critical of the US. I think the idea is that by having the State Department promote documentaries that shows warts and all – we demonstrate what a free and open society we really are. That is a powerful message in countries with limited freedoms.

We’ve come a long way.

I’ve had the opportunity to screen some excellent Showcase films.

Click on the following links for more info on some of my favorites:

http://www.ufva.org/showcase/films/2011/ifatreefalls

http://www.ufva.org/showcase/films/2011/postergirl

http://www.ufva.org/showcase/films/2011/freedomriders

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