We hosted our annual POV brunch on Sunday — a welcome relief from the hectic pace of screenings, parties and general mischief that seems to be the Sundance routine. First to arrive was Steven Sebring and Patti Smith — an artist who changed my life at a formative stage. Steven’s film Patti Smith: Dream of Life is an elegiac composition that beautifully integrates Patti’s life as a mother, rock musician, artist and poet, activist and ultimately, as she says, “as a worker.” It’s been a highlight to meet Patti and spend a few minutes with her. Some of the band — Lenny Kaye, Jay Dee Daugherty — arrived a little later. The band members have yet to see the film, so the premiere will be the first time. (More on that later.)

Jesse, Patti and Jackson Smith and filmmaker Steven Sebring

The Smith family — Jesse, Patti and Jackson — with filmmaker Steven Sebring

The brunch is a chance to catch up with POV friends and filmmakers whose work will or has been a part of POV in the past. POV alums in attendance included Thomas Allen Harris, Yvonne Welbon, Paul Stekler, Tasha Oldham and Alex Rivera. Alex’s debut feature Sleep Dealer is creating a buzz at the festival.
It was a thrill to be able to announce that Traces of the Trade, Katrina Browne’s wrenching examination of the legacy of the North’s leadership in the slave trade, through her own family’s complicity, will be part of POV’s 2008 lineup. Katrina brought her production team, including Elizabeth Delude-Dix and Jude Ray, and several members of the family including Tom DeWolf, who has written a new memoir based on his experience in the film, Inheriting the Trade (Beacon Press).

Simon Kilmurry and Traces of the Trade filmmaker Katrina Browne

POV’s Executive Director Simon Kilmurry and Traces of the Trade filmmaker Katrina Browne at Sundance (See Flickr slideshow for more photos from the POV Brunch.)

Ellen Kuras and Thavisouk Pravasath (Nerakhoon) showed up with an entourage of Thavi’s family. Nerakhoon has been in the works for 23 years, so everyone’s eagerly anticipating the fruits of that long gestation. The final POV film, Up the Yangtze by Yung Chang, announced the first deal of the festival with indie distributor Zeitgeist coming on board for a theatrical deal — look for a release in spring. The last time I saw Yung and his EP Daniel Cross was at IDFA (where the film premiered) and Yung had just invited all IDFA attendees to party on his houseboat — glad to see they survived that potential disaster.

Up the Yangtze filmmakers Yung Chang and Daniel Cross

Director Yung Chang and Executive Producer Daniel Cross (Up the Yangtze) at Sundance (See Flickr slideshow for more photos from the POV Brunch.)

Filmmaker/blogger AJ Schnack stopped by to let us know his new award announcement is right after the brunch. I’ve been thinking a lot about it and I’m excited about its potential. There is certainly room in the industry to recognize the craft of documentaries beyond what we currently have.

People seem to be excited about American Soldier and American Teen (seems to be a theme going on in these titles), though the buzz is just starting with quite a number of films yet to screen. On the fiction side, Ballast is getting people talking.

More to come from the screenings soon.

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Simon served as chief operating officer of American Documentary for six years before assuming the role of executive director in Fall 2006. Since joining AmDoc in 1999, he has played a key role in helping to set strategic direction for the organization and implementing new initiatives, including the Diverse Voices Project, POV's co-production initiative in support of emerging filmmakers; POV's Borders, PBS' Webby Award-winning online series; and True Lives, a second-run series for independent documentaries on public television. In addition, he worked to secure pioneering partnerships with both Netflix and Docurama to expand the distribution opportunities for POV filmmakers and enhance branding for POV Previously, Simon was associate director at Teachers & Writers Collaborative, a nonprofit literary arts and education organization and publisher, where he is now a member of the board of directors. He has also served as a board member and treasurer for Elders Share the Arts and East Harlem Block Schools, and as an informal advisor and funding panel member for other organizations including the New York City Center for Arts Education, the Association for Independent Video and Filmmakers and New York State Council on the Arts. Simon attended the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and Columbia University Business School's Institute for Not-for-Profit Management.