Silverdocs’ 21,000 attendance attests to genre’s influence; Scorsese honored as a master of doc

Martin Scorsese was honored as “a master of the documentary form” at the fourth annual Silverdocs Film Festival held outside of Washington, D.C. and the large attendance indicated how viable documentaries have become.

This year, 21,000 attendees were exposed to 100 docs from around the world, selected from 1,687 submissions.

Silverdocs offered a chance to see some the best of the new crop of documentaries on the horizon. Sadly, no Chicago films were represented in competition.

During the most compelling hours of the fest, Scorsese revealed insights into how he directs.

“There is no real difference between a documentary film and a narrative, the essential thing is the need to move the audience. Think of Kennedy on the phone during the Cuban Missile crisis,” he said.

On how he chooses a subject, Scorsese revealed, “I choose stories for the character’s obsession? and their sadness. Take my film ?Italian American’ (1974). My mother is clearly directing me, my dad and my crew.” The audience laughed at this greatest of directors losing control of his subject. “When we sat on the couch together, no one really had anything to say.”

The sadness of their relationship makes his documentary, ostensibly about making Italian meatballs, really about their strained family relationship. “I’m uncomfortable watching it now, but this is the moment of truth,” he admitted.

Maybe this was an epiphany for Scorsese, about true characters in the stories he wants to tell: the Italian mom who makes you eat. Years later in “Goodfellas,” Mrs. Scorsese naturally thinks her gangster (Joe Pesci) and his gang have come for a midnight snack when they show up home late at night to get a knife to cut up the body in the back of his car.