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The Triumph of the Human Spirit

Thursday, June 15----A documentary film festival always has some common threads to it. Many involve hot-button political issues about social inequity, conflict and the abuse of government. SILVERDOCS certainly has its share of those. However, a more personal genre, that can best be described as films that celebrate the triumph of the human spirit, is also in evidence here, in a number of superb films.

BLACK SUN by UK director Gary Tan, had its premiere at the 2005 Toronto Film Festival and was nominated for a British Independent Film Award as Best Documentary. The film tells the moving story of French painter/filmmaker Hugues de Montalembert, who, while living in New York,is robbed and, in a horrible twist of fate, blinded by his robbers when they threw paint thinner in his eyes. With an eloquent narration and abstract imagery, de Montalembert brings the viewer into his own personal journey....that of a man who has relied on his vision who now must adjust to a new world of darkness and disorientation. His description of how he has accepted his condition, and has not been plunged into deep despair, is an inspirational tale of acceptance and the capacity for growth even after experiencing tragedy and loss.

In the US film WORLD LIFE: THE HIP HOP PROJECT, directors Matt Ruskin and Scott Rosenberg use hip-hop as a vehicle for self-development, personal discovery and confidence building. Their story is set amongst street toughs who are enrolled in a unique youth program that uses self-expression to transform their lives. The film features amazing poetry/hip hop improvisations, where the young people are able to turn their difficult life experiences into powerful works of art. The film, which features cameos from Hollywood star Bruce Willis and hip hop entrepreneur Russell Simmons, had its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival.

The stories of how individuals have overcome their health challenges is the common theme of a trio of films included in the Docs RX: World Documentaries on Global Health section of the Festival. All the films share an individual story of triumph over the odds that gives a moving testimonial to the resilience of the human spirit. In Linda Pattillo's THE BREAST CANCER DIARIES, a recently diagnosed woman sets up a video diary camera in her bedroom to record the intimate, private and revealing moments of "a life turned sideways". The film, while bracing in its honesty, also is punctuated with humor, poignancy and romance.

A handsome and able-bodied young man faces a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis at the tender age of 22 in Liz Witham and Nancy Slonim Aronie's moving film A CERTAIN KIND OF BEAUTY. Dan Aronie, an aspiring actor, must face the challenge of a lifetime when he is diagnosed with the debilitating muscle disease. His story is intimately captured by his mother and the filmmakers, who covered Aronie over a six year period, from the time of his diagnosis through his physical and mental decline. The film is having its World Premiere here at SILVERDOCS.

In the Chilean film PERSPECPLEJIA, director David Albala turns his camera on himself in an inspiring story of how he has coped with being a paraplegic after a horrendous traffic accident. The filmmaker narrates his filmic journey to remake his life and find continued purpose after suffering what for many would be a devastating end to their creative lives. Much like the actor Christopher Reeve, the director finds hope for the future by becoming a spokesperson and activist for other disabled people in a country that is just beginning to offer services to those in need.

The Buddhists believe that spiritual growth comes through acceptance and transcendece of adversity. In this sense, all the protagonists of the films mentioned in this article have taken their challenges and used them as a catalyst for personal transformation and growth. The films are marvelous inspirational documents that teach their audiences about courage and hope, even in the face of inexplicable tragedy.

Sandy Mandelberger


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Dates: June 13-18, 2006

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