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Spike Lee honored at Silverdocs

SILVERDOCS is, by and large, a non-glam event, with most attendees simply hard-working documentarians, most working without massive media spotlight. However, each year, the event brings some Hollywood-style stardust to the proceedings. In the past two years, the Festival has honored Jonathan Demme and Martin Scorsese, specifically for their documentary work. Last night, it was Spike Lee's turn, as the iconoclastic director was honored with the Guggenheim Symposium for his non-fiction output. The Symposium is named in honor of the late documentary pioneer Charles Guggenheim, who has become a kind of patron saint of the event.

Lee is arguably the most provocative filmmaker of his generation, a visual artist who paints on a wide social canvas and has not been reluctant to include political and social content, even in his genre films. Few directors have examined race, class and other divisive forces in America with both honesty and a signature aesthetic that blends music and imagery to brilliant effect.

Aside from his influential narrative work (including DO THE RIGHT THING, JUNGLE FEVER, MALCOLM X and THE 25TH HOUR), Lee has mixed it up throughout his career with non-fiction films of note. The first was 4 LITTLE GIRLS (1997), a shocking examination of the racist bombing of a Birmingham, Alabama church in 1963 that was one of the catalysts of the civil rights movement. The film offered a profile of the three young girls who were killed on that day and those who were left behind to grieve for them. The film was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Documentary and won the honor with the Broadcast Film Critics, Online Film Critics and Image awards.

In 2002, Lee released a 20 minute film provocation entitled WE WUZ ROBBED, a scathing examination of the 2000 Presidential election, focusing on the state of Florida, where corruption and government malfeasance led to the first Supreme Court-appointed presidential ascension. The film also pointed out how poor and rural blacks were prevented from casting their votes because of ambiguous laws, making it clear that the "one person, one vote" ideal in America has not yet been reached.

Last year, Lee focused his attention on another cataclysm, this one a natural phenomenon with the name Hurricane Katrina. In his epic 4-hour WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE: A REQUIEM IN FOUR ACTS, the director produced a sprawling, exhaustive and furious chronicle of the hurricane itself and its aftermath. The film won three Emmy Awards, a Peabody Award and the Human Rights and Horizon awards at the Venice Film Festival.

While attracted to topics of great import, Lee has also distinguished himself in other documentary genres. He tried his hand at capturing the energy of live performance in THE ORIGINAL KINGS OF COMEDY (2000), a chronicle of the concert tour of some of today's most high profile black comedians. His next project was a fascinating profile of footballer-turned-actor Jim Brown in the engaging JIM BROWN: ALL AMERICAN (2002).

Lee continues to mix documentary work with his fiction films. He is currently serving as the Executive Producer of EVOLUTION OF A CRIMINAL, a documentary film by Darius Monroe about the aftermath of his life of crime, that will be released later this year. Other projects on the hopper include documentary projects on basketball star Michael Jordan and the Los Angeles riots of the late 1990s, which divided a city and the nation.

Before a capacity crowd at the AFI Silver Center, clips from the above documentary films during an on-stage conversation with the always fascinating Lee and Denver Post film critic Lisa Kennedy.

Sandy Mandelberger, SILVERDOCS Dailies Editor

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