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SILVERDOCS FESTIVAL WINNERS
Washington Life Magazine | Special Feature | Summer 2006

The 2006 SILVERDOCS award-winning films are a testament to diversity in filmmaking, in the variety of films chosen for the awards and their explorative and engaging content. Patricia Finneran, festival director, said of the winners, "SILVERDOCS honors films that exhibit a singular approach to subjects that matter, films that alter our perspective on the world, by showing the deep complexities of the human experience, often from the inside out."

JESUS CAMP Winner: Sterling Feature Jury Award Directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady present a probing documentary about the youth of the Christian evangelical movement, immersed from birth in their parents' fervent fundamentalist beliefs. The film reveals the pervasiveness of this "fringe" religious culture in our society.

CHAIRMAN GEORGE Winner: Special Feature Jury mention Chairman George follows George Sapoudinis, a Greek-Canadian statistician, to Beijing before the Olympics, where he intends to fulfill his passion for singing in Mandarin. Directors Daniel Cross and Mila Aung-Thwin present this fairytale-like story as a bridge between two very different cultures.

SEEDS Winner: Sterling Short Jury Award A Siberian family struggles through their heartaches with their patient and wise father's support. Directed by Wojciech Kasperski.
MCLAREN'S NEGATIVES Honorable Mention, Sterling Short Award Director Marie-Josee Saint-Pierre utilizes Canadian animator Norman McLaren's creative techniques in this unusual, personal documentary.

THE ALUMINUM FOWL Honorable Mention, Sterling Short Award Director James Clauer presents a disturbing yet beautiful portrait of four brothers with too much time on their hands on a chicken farm in rural Louisiana.

A GIRL LIKE ME Winner: Short Audience Award Special Short Jury mention A young black woman examines her peers' attitudes on blackness. Directed by Kiri Davis.

ROLLING LIKE A STONE Winner: Music Documentary Award This thoughtful documentary from Sweden revisits an episode from the youth of the Rolling Stones and examines its repercussions on those who experienced it.

THE BLOOD OF YINGZHOU DISTRICT Winner: DOCS Rx Global Documentary Award Director Ruby Yang follows young Gao Jun, abandoned because of the contamination of Chinese blood banks with HIV/AIDS, as he strives to find a home and become accepted in the rural district of Yingzhou. The boy's long silence in the film offers a touching symbol of the voiceless victims of the disease.

BEFORE FLYING BACK TO EARTH Special DOCS Rx Jury mention Arunas Matelis' film is a poetic glimpse into the lives of children living with leukemia at a pediatric hospital in Lithuania. Despite the mundane daily routine of the hospital, the film captures the hope and innocence of the children in the clinic.

CAN MR. SMITH GET TO WASHINGTON ANYMORE? Winner: SILVERDOCS Audience Award Feature Director Frank Popper follows the upstart campaign of political newcomer Jeff Smith in Missouri.

THE SHERIFF OF GAY WASHINGTON Winner: Short Audience Award. Sargeant Brett Parson battles stereotypes while commanding the Washington Metropolitan Police Department's Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit, dedicated to solving crimes by and against the gay community, directed by John W. Poole.

COUGARS ON THE EDGE Winner: Animal Content in Entertainment (ACE) Grant Director Janice Jensen explores the habitat encroachment on the cougar in the Santa Monica Mountains.



THE BLOOD OF YINGZHOU DISTRICT SILVERDOCS Docs: Rx Award Winning Director Ruby Yang's Film is an Intimate Portrait of AIDS Orphans in Rural China

The fourteen-hour train ride from Beijing to the villages of Anhui, in rural China, is a journey back in time: fields fallow in the winter cold, earthen gravesites visible through the stubble, fishermen at the riverbanks. If you turn away from the telephone poles, you could imagine yourself a century back - a time when disease had the power to strike uncomprehending terror into farming families' lives. This is where three Huang children, orphaned by AIDS, led filmmaker Ruby Yang to their family home where they found empty medicine bottles, old toys, children's scribbles on the wall, and the smell of death. Neighbors and classmates, scared of infection, shunned them. Here a filmmaker could lend a hand - dispel some of the unneeded fears, ease the stigma. With the help of collaborator/producer Thomas Lennon, that's exactly what Yang did.

Washington Life: Did you plan to make this particular film - or did it just happen?

Ruby Yang: We were determined to do documentary work on AIDS in China and try different avenues. A key advisor was a scholar named Jing Jun, a professor at Tsinghua University. He made us aware of the existence of a private charity group in Anhui and that was the key introduction that opened the first doors.

WL: How did this challenge differ from your previous films?

RY: In the Chinese culture, it is difficult to talk openly about one's personal life. I've encountered this during the making of my other documentaries and Blood is even harder because of the subject matter and all the stigma associated with AIDS.

WL: How much power do documentary films have to raise awareness of health issues?

RY: Among Chinese audiences, there is a hunger for information. Good stories told with information are in great demand. Last year, Thomas and I made a documentary called Julia's Story, about a young woman who contracted AIDS through sex, and after much hesitation decided to go public with her disease and talk about how she got it and what to do about it. We got the film on the air in China last World AIDS day. To give you an idea of interest level: a college heard about the film and organized a screening - I heard later that close to a thousand students showed up and at the end they wanted to roll the film back and watch it again.

WL: How did the making of this film affect you personally?

RY: The experience of going to Anhui, meeting the children and their extended families, seeing for myself their desolate living conditions, their helplessness and hearing their stories - about selling and receiving tainted blood, the stigma against them. It all affected me greatly and motivated me even more to work on the AIDS awareness campaigns.

WL: What will be the fate of the children in the film?

RY: Conditions have improved a lot since we started to film in August of 2004. Gao Jun, the boy who is centrally featured, is on medication and his health has improved significantly. He has been moved to the home of an elderly couple who lost their two sons and one daughter-in-law to AIDS, and the couple seems to be taking very good care of him. He will start kindergarten in the fall. But nobody can be sure what the future will be for Gao Jun, or for Nan Nan, the other central character, who also has AIDS. All we know is that they are no longer facing stigma from the villagers and Nan Nan's relatives are no longer afraid to be with her.

WL: What was the film's biggest challenge?

RY: The stories of the children were heartbreakingly sad. We had to find that balance where you don't overwhelm the audience or drive them away, yet at the same time keep the power of the narrative. Also, maintaining emotional distance was difficult. For months, I wouldn't give up certain stories even though I kind of knew they slowed the film down. Tom [Lennon] would fl y in and we'd have terrible screaming matches over cutting the film down.

WL: Was it hard to separate making this film with "wanting to help?"

RY: When we first met Gao Jun in August 2004, he wouldn't speak a word. His friends were his pigs and chickens. It was hard to resist intervening, trying to help him directly. What we could do as filmmakers is lend a hand in dispelling some of the unneeded fear associated with the disease. That is what we tried to do.  


A PRESCRIPTION
BY SUSAN J. BLUMENTHAL, M.D., M.P.A. MEDICAL DIRECTOR, SILVERDOCS DOCS RX: A WORLD OF DOCUMENTARIES ON GLOBAL HEALTH

The power of cinema can educate and activate people to respond to health problems we face in the United States and around the world. The SILVERDOCS DOCS Rx program did just that by shining a spotlight on significant global health concerns and serving as a catalyst for public discussion and social change. By bringing together inspiring and thought-provoking documentary movies from around the world, SILVERDOCS DOCS Rx exposed audiences to international health problems as different as water contamination in Bangladesh and India, Alzheimer's disease in Canada, childhood leukemia in Lithuania, tuberculosis in Afghanistan, paraplegia in Chile, HIV/AIDS in China, and breast cancer and multiple sclerosis in the United States. National health experts, many from Washington, D.C. area organizations including the National Institutes of Health, the National Rehabilitation Hospital, the Global Health Council, George Washington University, and the Children's National Medical Center, served as panelists to explore the issues raised by the documentaries and challenged audiences to take action.

The films illuminated that nations today face a double jeopardy from both infectious and chronic diseases which have tremendous humanitarian, economic, and national security implications. Annually, one in four deaths worldwide are due to infectious illnesses: three million people die of AIDS, two million from tuberculosis, and one million each die of malaria and measles. Furthermore, since 1972, more than 32 new illnesses such as AIDS, Lyme's disease, SARS, West Nile virus, and H5N1 avian influenza have appeared. A staggering one billion people do not have access to safe drinking water. In an interconnected global society - 2 million people cross national borders every day - the spread of an infectious illness like avian fl u, the safety of our food and water supply, the impact of tobacco and obesity-related diseases, and the threat of bioterrorism do not respect national boundaries.

The good news is that solutions cross national borders, too. Prevention and public health preparedness are cornerstones to improving global health and decreasing health care costs. For example, simple, affordable interventions - vaccines, antibiotics, vitamins, safe birthing kits, rehydration solutions, and mosquito bed nets - are available to prevent over 80 percent of the 10 million children's deaths that occur annually worldwide if we committed the political will and resources to deliver them.

The SILVERDOCS DOCS Rx program served as a call to action to improve global health. We are the first generation that has the scientific, technological, and public health advances to look health disparities and preventable diseases in the eye and put an end to needless suffering worldwide. It's the moonshot of our time.


http://www.washingtonlife.com/issues/summer-2006/pollywood/index-2.php