Barry Documentary Details Triumphs, Setbacks

Shantella Y. Sherman | 6/24/2009, 8:50 p.m.

Mention the name Marion Barry to any two people, and be prepared for a heated debate on the merits and failures of his life. While most of the debate lends itself to rumors of wrongdoing or the punch lines of jokes about crack smoking, few outside of the District have much insight into the life of Barry. That void has been remedied in good measure by filmmakers Dana Flor and Toby Oppenheimer€s new documentary €The Nine Lives of Marion Barry.€

Using Barry€s 2004 bid for his Ward 8 Council seat as a backdrop, Flor and Oppenheimer introduce the biographical grit that led to Barry being nicknamed D.C.€s €Mayor for Life.€

The world premiere of the documentary, held Sat., June 20 at the SILVERDOCS festival, saw crowds of would-be viewers lined up for blocks outside the theater. On hand for the screening were both politicians and social activists, including former D.C. Councilmember Carol Schwartz, NBC4-TV's Tom Sherwood, DCWatch.com€s Dorothy Brizill, and Civil Rights activist Lawrence Guyot.

€I came out to see the documentary to support Marion. We have been friends for years and this is also a €Marion Barry happening,€ so I had to attend,€ Schwartz said.

Barry told the Informer that he liked the film because it €is reflective of my work from the start, through the time when I was using, and so to see everything pulled together on the screen is a great honor.€

Emotions ran high at the screening with some of the same audience members who heckled Barry on his way into the theater, chanting €Shame!€ were giving him standing ovations by the end of the screening.

For Sherwood, who has followed Barry€s career for nearly 30 years, this odd mystique of Barry is what gets captured in the film, though no one, including the filmmakers, is able to explain how and why it happens.

€It captured Marion Barry, but the movie does not excuse his failures. I can remember Black people standing in the lobby of an event where he was scheduled to appear and groaning, going, €we really don€t need him here,€ and then going inside the place, sitting down, and cheering the man,€ Sherwood said.

€The people of D.C. for the most part understood Barry as someone who had stood up for them, then had failed himself and many of them with his personal choices, but, who never gave up.€

Barry said that despite efforts of the media to demonize him and make him €look like some type [of] monster€ like I am crazy or wild, this documentary humanizes me and shows various parts of my life that the public never sees. Dana and Toby did a good, balanced job; the achievements are there, but so are the knockdowns and both are important for all of D.C. and America to see,€ Barry said.

Asked if he believed the documentary would have adverse effects on his current Council work, Barry said €No.

€The Council knows me. The 94 percent of people in Ward 8 who elected me, know me and understand my past and my passion for my people, so does most of D.C. Now, it is time for the people outside of this region, for America to get to know me,€ Barry said.

For the hundreds of viewers who had no knowledge of Barry€s early career, the documentary proved eye-opening and inspiring.

€I have not been an actual supporter of Mr. Barry€s, but he€s shown that he is human and accessible and those are key components of being in the political arena,€ said Harold Jones, 22, of Alexandria, Va.

€Interesting that different people who have all grown up in this city alongside one another can look at Marion Barry and have totally different impressions of him as a man and as a mayor,€ Brizill said.

€There are truths and half-truths about Marion Barry that may never be clearly flushed out,€ Brizill said. €His early years and his later years when placed side by side are really like examining two very different people.€

The film will premiere on HBO on Aug. 10.