Blogging SilverDocs: Closing Night
"The Nine Lives of Marion Barry" draws a large crowd at SilverDocs 2009.June 22nd, 2009 | Enette Ngoei
Excitement at SilverDocs 2009 reached a crescendo on its closing night. Throngs of people turned up in Silver Spring, MD, to catch the sold-out film, The Nine Lives of Marion Barry. Not all of them got a seat in the AFI Silver Theatre.
Filmmakers Dana Flor and Toby Oppenheimer spent years exploring the life of former D.C. mayor Marion Barry, from when first he entered the D.C. political scene as a civil rights activist, to his most recent re-election as councilmember of Ward 8, after coming out of retirement in 2004.
The arrival of Marion Barry at the film’s world premier felt like a spontaneous extension of the documentary, as a crowd of both supporters and haters surrounded the 73-year-old the moment he stepped out of a black limousine. As he walked down the street greeting those in a standby line for tickets to the film, a couple of gay rights proponents followed him shouting, “shame, shame!” referring to his lone vote against a bill recognizing same-sex marriages performed outside of D.C.
True to his somewhat arrogant persona portrayed in the documentary, Barry stood up, arms outstretched, palms facing up when being thanked by the filmmakers for allowing an honest depiction of his personal and very public failures. Audience members cheered.
The Nine Lives of Marion Barry, through interviews with Barry, political analysts, journalists, colleagues and his third wife, detailed the different faces of the seemingly invincible man—a civil rights hero and defender of the poor, a charming politician, a womanizer and a cocaine abuser. Aside from his womanizing nature, Barry’s catastrophic failures—caught in an FBI drug bust and convicted of tax evasion—did not stop his re-election to mayor of D.C. for three terms and his political come-back as councilmember of Ward 8.
During the post-screening discussion, filmmakers told Moderator, NPR News Analyst Juan Williams, that Marion Barry’s popularity continues not despite his personal failures but partly because his failures make him relatable especially to residents of Ward 8 who have seen similar problems in their community among friends and relatives. His supporters are inspired by his fighting spirit and his often spoken phrase to look up and not down, the filmmakers said.
Some audience members would have liked to see Barry answer tough questions about his political faux pas during the discussion but for the most part many were there to support the film and the man himself.
The former D.C. mayor received a standing ovation when he spoke briefly about the ups and downs of his life.
The film was picked up by HBO and will air August 10.
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