The five-day Detroit Docs International Film Festival wrapped on Sunday at the Detroit Institute of Arts when director Jack Cronin announced the award-winning documentaries. The fifth Detroit Docs fest was notable for its cooperative spirit, bringing together groups that have worked on their own to promote film production and education, particularly the Detroit Film Center, Wayne State University's Department of Communication, and the Detroit Film Theatre.
Though the Maysles brothers retrospective at the DFT (and a visit from pioneer Albert Maysles) got most of the attention, Cronin emphasized the importance of Detroit Docs as a forum for new work. The awards celebrated the do-it-yourself determination of the filmmakers, a trait often shared with their subjects.
The Founder's Award went to Blood on the Flat Track: The Rise of the Rat City Roller Girls, Lainy Bagwell and Lacey Leavitt's feature about the resurgence of roller derby and Seattle's independent women's league. The Best of the Festival Feature, The Cycles of the Mental Machine, may have a French director, but it's pure Detroit. Jacqueline Caux looks at the city's musical legacy stretching into techno, and focuses on the trailblazing radio DJ and influential iconoclast, the Electrifying Mojo.
Jacqueline Goss's Stranger Comes to Town won Most Innovative Film for the way it combines first-person tales of arriving in the United States with video game and Internet iconography. Shock Waves, made by Pierre Mignault and Hélène Magny, was voted Film Most Likely to Change the World. The Canadian duo followed the determined journalists of Radio Okapi, who report on human rights violations in the volatile Democratic Republic of Congo.
Four winners were screened again on Sunday, and they're excellent examples of how documentaries can illuminate the political, personal and artistic. The French team of Blandine Huk and Frederic Cousseau spent A Sunday in Pripyat, and were named Best of Festival Short. Built for the workers at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, Pripyat was a model Soviet community that became a ghost town. The haunting Sunday is a real-life post-apocalyptic vision of eerie abandonment and decay, interspersed with interviews with the resilient few who have returned to this beautiful but still radioactive landscape.
Tying for Best Short is Rebecca Albeck's The Sister of Significant Suffering, an Australian teacher's reflections on family and childhood as she seeks out her birth mother. In Best Student Film, To Say Goodbye, Scott Foley shoots wife Sara's visits with her alcoholic mother suffering from liver failure. Very different in style — Sister employs animation and a wry sense of humor, while Goodbye is achingly straightforward — both succinctly explore the joys and regrets of this complex relationship
Buzzards Steal Your Picnic, a portrait of idiosyncratic musician Frank Pahl made by his partner Terri Sarris, won Best Michigan Film. Her intimate style allows Pahl's acerbic humor to shine through, as the self-described freak from Wyandotte explores the DIY aesthetic that informs his distinctive music and flea market assemblages. It's an insightful and witty look at how industry and creativity meet in a truly original mind. For more info, go to detroitdocs.com.Serena Donadoni is a Metro Times film critic. Send comments to [email protected]