POV executive director Simon KilmurryTwo major festivals have been taking place over the past two weeks, making June a time for a real feast for documentary lovers in the New York and Washington, D.C. areas.

The Human Rights Watch International Film Festival runs through June 26 at Lincoln Center. The festival showcases films from the U.S. and around the world that address critical human rights issues. But these are not just advocacy and social issue films — they are well-crafted, engaging and artful documentaries that will make you indignant, sometimes angry, but more often hopeful and inspired to action. The festival schedule is at: http://www.hrw.org/iff/.
The Human Rights Watch International Film Festival runs through June 26, 2008.Highlights of the festival include three upcoming POV films. Traces of the Trade has already had one screening to a packed house and sparked an emotional audience discussion on the contemporary legacy of slavery. Critical Condition by Roger Weisberg takes an unflinching look at people living without health insurance. In this election year, it’s interesting to note that these issues are being addressed with more substance and nuance by documentary makers rather than mainstream news media.

Also screening is The Betrayal (Nerakhoon) by Ellen Kuras and Thavisouk Pravasath which will be featured on POV in 2009. This film is garnering major acclaim and is well worth the big screen experience. Two other films to check out are The Dictator Hunter by Klaartje Quirijns and Project Kashmir by Senain Kheshgi and Geeta V. Patel.

Silverdocs 2008In Silver Spring, Maryland, the sixth edition of SILVERDOCS has just come to a conclusion. Presenting over 100 films from 68 countries, SILVERDOCS has quickly risen to become one of the finest festivals in the U.S. Under the leadership of festival director Patricia Finnerman and director of programming Sky Sitney, SILVERDOCS features a mix of favorites from the festival circuit like Man on Wire and Up the Yangtze (POV 2008) with films new to U.S. audiences.

One of the difficult things about SILVERDOCS is that there was just so much to do that I didn’t get to see as many movies as I wanted to. The SILVERDOCS conference (run by the dynamic Diana Ingraham) runs parallel to the festival and is chock full of panels and presentations looking at all aspects of the industry from fundraising, marketing and distribution — including a pitching workshop with POV honcho Cynthia Lopez. With so much going on at the same time, I occasionally had the feeling that I wanted to be in too many places at once — but that just speaks to a plethora of choice.

Highlight films this year included winners The English Surgeon by Geoffrey Smith, whose subject, Dr. Henry Marsh, came in from London to charm the audience at the Q&A. The Garden by Scott Hamilton Kennedy generated a lot of excited talk, as did The Red Race by Chao Gan. Megan Mylan‘s Smile Pinki is a lovely and very tender short. And I finally saw Werner Herzog‘s Encounters at the End of the World, which is a lyrical feast of a film.

Joanna Rudnik‘s In the Family had its world premiere, and I had the pleasure if moderating the post-screening discussion with a sterling set of panelists. Stay tuned to POV for the film’s television premiere on October 1, 2008.
The full list of this year’s winners can bee seen at: http://silverdocs.com/festival/award-winners/.

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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.