What's Up Docs?

This will be the Year of the Documentary at the Cleveland International Film Festival.

After 2004, it had to be: Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" became the top-grossing documentary of all time. "Born Into Brothels," a film that focused on photographs made by Calcutta brothel children, swept the festival's coveted Roxanne T. Mueller audience-choice award. And six out of the 10 films liked most by viewers were documentaries.

About 15 percent of the 100 or so films at this year's festival will be documentaries, some of which have definite buzz potential. Piggybacking on this surge in popularity will be a new competition in the genre, sponsored by the Cleveland-based visual communications firm Nesnadny+Schwartz. The winner will take home $5,000.

"A lot of the recent popularity is thanks to Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock ["Super Size Me"]," says Bill Guentzler, the Cleveland Film Society's director of programming. "They are activists with their films, making people understand and care about the topics."

Activism is apparent in several documentaries on the roster this year. "The Future of Food," directed by Deborah Koons Garcia, investigates genetically altered foods. "Peaceable Kingdom" celebrates the people who rescue and shelter abused farm animals. "The Art and Crimes of Ron English," directed by Pedro Carvajal, chronicles the artistic attacks on commercial advertising by "billboard bandit" English. "Imaginary Witness: Hollywood and the Holocaust," directed by Daniel Anker, examines Hollywood's portrayal of the Holocaust in movies, using clips from "Schindler's List," among others.

Guentzler says that filmmakers often make dense subject matter more accessible by maintaining a fast pace and lacing it with pop-culture images and catchy soundtracks. For instance, Queen's "Fat Bottomed Girls" plays against a montage of obese Americans under the opening credits of "Super Size Me."

In general, "people are realizing [documentaries] can have entertainment and learning value," Guentzler says.

For more information about the Cleveland International Film Festival, which runs March 10 through 20, or other Cleveland Film Society events, visit www.clevelandfilm.org or call (216) 623-3456.

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