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By Elias Savada | June 13, 2014

Now in its 12th year, AFI DOCS (formerly SilverDocs) is still morphing into a new kind of festival. Sure, it’s always been about documentaries, and this year there will be 84 films unreeling on all three screens at the ever-glorious AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, off Metro’s Red Line in Silver Spring, and at the numerous venues in DC’s downtown Penn Quarter district. Those screens in the nation’s capital include the spectacular Newseum Annenberg Theater, which will be used only to kick off the Opening Night program on June 18 with Scott Teem’s “Holbook/Twain: An American Odyssey,” and the Nan Tucker McEvoy Auditorium in the Smithsonian–National Portrait Gallery (housed in the former Patent Office Building, one of the oldest federal buildings in DC, but also home to one of Stephen Colbert’s portraits!), where “Life Itself,” the Roger Ebert memoir from director Steve James will be the Closing Night presentation on June 21st. That they call this presentation “closing night” instead of, say, “Saturday night,” strikes me as one of the program’s oddities, because there is a full day (and night) of programming the next day (plus the additional unannounced repeat screenings that occur at the AFI Silver on Monday, June 23rd). If you sticking with downtown screenings, they will also be held the smallish Goethe-Institute, the William G. McGowan Theatre in the National Archives building (housing only the free Guggenheim symposium on Friday night), and the Naval Heritage Center’s Burke Theater (the least comfortable seats of the bunch).

If you’re not invited to the opening night gala and after-screening party—or willing to pay $75 for a ticket—the regular program starts just after lunch on Thursday, June 19th. There are 56 indoor features (including 6 older titles from Alex Gibney, who will be honored Friday night at this year’s Guggenheim Symposium), 1 outdoor feature (“Shut Up and Play the Hits,” which captured the farewell concert of LCD Soundsystem) at the Silver Spring Plaza, and 27 shorts (9 which precede features, the rest divided up into 4 programs). Among the longer films, there are four specified as world premieres: “Back on Board,” filmmaker Cheryl Furjanic’s glimpse at diving champion Greg Louganis; Nicole Boxer’s “How I Got Over,” examining the lives of 15 homeless women in DC; “Mudbloods,” Farzad Sangari’s playful look at Quidditch; and “Holbook/Twain: An American Odyssey,” which is technically an East Coast premiere, as it will have played the Los Angeles Film Festival earlier that week. Those films described as U.S. premieres include: “Alfred & Jakobine,” a U.S-Canadian love letter to a 40-year-old failed marriage and the healing brought about by a restored London taxicab; “I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story” (which has already been shown at three other U.S. festivals) from filmmakers Chad Walker and Dave LaMattina ; and “The Homestretch,” about homeless teens.

“The Homestretch,” from one of my favorite small distributors, Chicago’s Kartemquin Films, is one of the four Catalyst Screenings, a forum for films which might help ignite social change. Last year, AFI DOCS had an all-day program called Catalyst Sessions, but this year the focus has changed to screenings followed by “in-depth conversations with filmmakers, though leaders, policy-makers, and engaged audiences,” i.e. Q+A Plus, something AFI heralds as unique to its festival. The other titles in this grouping are “The Newburgh Sting,” ” Ivory Tower,” and “The Internet’s Own Boy” (which hits VOD on June 27), which all screen downtown on June 19th (alas, two overlap!), with “The Homestretch” Catalyst Screening being Friday morning.

Other highlights are Spotlight Screenings for “E-Team,” “Freedom Summer” (airing on PBS’ American Experience on June 24), and “Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me,” and three features grouped as Washington Post Films, including “1971,” Johanna Hamilton’s intriguing examination of the March 1971 break-in at the FBI field office outside Philadelphia; the previously mentioned “The Internet’s Own Boy,” Brian Knappenberger’s take on the late Aaron Swartz, co-author of the Web’s RSS format; and “Silenced,” a Kickstarter project about the CIA from Oscar-nominated filmmaker James Spione (“Incident in New Baghdad“). There will also be a Filmmaker Engagement Program in which filmmakers can connect with “our nation’s leaders, film industry decision-makers and cultural-thought leaders.” Fuller details on the F.E.P. are still forthcoming.

The departure of longtime festival director Sky Sitney four months ago, which followed, a year earlier, the withdrawal by the Discovery Channel as the festival’s major sponsor, forced AFI to re-evaluate the festival’s focus. Audi, enlisted with the help of a West Coast AFI board member, was last year’s main sponsor, but apparently decided not to renew. At the beginning of the month, the AFI announced that AT&T would be this year’s presenting sponsor, although support also comes from a wide range of corporations, philanthropists and government agencies. AT&T is certainly a better fit. Can’t wait to see what they put in the opening night gift bag!

To run the whole shebang AFI hired documentary film producer and writer Christine O’Malley on as Interim Festival Director. Her most recent feature, “If You Build It,” was part of last year’s program. She has worked on many films over the years including, “Wordplay” (2006), which was nominated for both a Critics’ Choice Award and a National Board of Review Award, Roadside Attractions’ “I.O.U.S.A.” (2008), Sundance Selects’ “These Amazing Shadows” (2011), the award-winning HBO documentary “Superheroes” (2011), as well as Harry Shearer’s documentary “The Big Uneasy” (2010).

“I’m thrilled to step into this opportunity to build upon the success of AFI DOCS and take it to new heights. Because it is the only documentary festival in the U.S. that delivers films, artists and issues directly to our nation’s leaders, AFI DOCS can evoke the kind of change of which filmmakers dream. Of which I dream. It is an honor to serve as its curatorial leader.” Probation can be a bitch; good luck, Christine. Pray that Metro is running on its regular schedule.

OK. Before I list all the films being shown, you can find everything you’ve always wanted to know about AFI DOCS but were afraid to ask at Basic ticket info: $14 each, although all screenings before 6:00 PM on Thursday and Friday are $11. You can get a combo pack (10 tickets for $110), but you can’t do this online, just at the AFI Box Office (even if you don’t plan on attending any of the events there!). AFI Members get a 10% discount. All tickets are non-refundable, so choose wisely.

It is technically impossible to catch every film, but you can try to strategize. The staff likes to point out that all films are screening twice, including once at the AFI Silver. But, there is unmercifully overlapping, so that the entire schedule usually has six films being shown at once in different auditoriums. Three at AFI Silver, three in Downtown DC. If you’re at a morning screening, say, at the Naval Heritage Center that (supposedly) ends at 11:30, don’t even try to get up to Silver Spring for a 12, or even 12:30 showing. You’ll have to walk up to the Gallery Place Metro stop and take the Red Line into Maryland. Train time, if not delayed, is approximately 20 minutes. Midday trains run 12 minutes apart.  I suggest you stick with either the main three venues downtown or pick from amongst the AFI schedule. You can only catch five features on any given day, so after you eliminate the ones that will pop up on regular or pay tv (see below) in the near term, you’ll pretty much be on your own. The benefit of Silver Spring is that there is ample public parking. I favor the Wayne Avenue Garage, which will cost you $1 per hour, BUT if you park all day and exit after 6 PM weekdays (or 5 PM Friday), you don’t have to pay. Rip up the ticket. On weekends, it’s free. They have 1,690 spaces.

While doing some sleuthing on the titles, I found that these films will show up on the tube: “112 Weddings” (HBO, June 30), “Dangerous Acts Starring the Unstable Elements of Belarus” (HBO, July 7), “The Newburgh Sting” (HBO, July 21). I’ve mentioned some others you can watch in my comments above.

AFI Docs eliminated all but its Audience Awards a few years ago. If you go to any of the regular screenings, please do tear the ballot.



Wednesday, June 18, 2014
OPENING NIGHT: “Holbrook/Twain: An American Odyssey”
DIR Scott Teems. USA. For 60 years, actor Hal Holbrook has been touring with his award-winning one-man show, “Mark Twain Tonight!,” in which he portrays the renowned American writer and satirist before sold-out crowds. Filmmaker Scott Teems takes us behind the scenes with Holbrook for an intimate peek at Twain’s continuing influence on our culture and the dedicated actor who brings him to life. Filmmaker and select talent will be in attendance for this World Premiere.

Thursday, June 19, 2014
DIRS Katy Chevigny, Ross Kauffman. USA. With international conflicts raging, Human Rights Watch sends its specially trained Emergencies Team to the frontlines of Syria and Libya to document human rights abuses and capture the world’s attention. These courageous and fiercely dedicated individuals regularly risk their lives to report atrocities that would otherwise go undocumented.

Friday, June 20, 2014
SPOTLIGHT SCREENING: “Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me”
DIR James Keach. USA. Grammy® Award-winning country legend Glen Campbell has been making music for over 50 years. Having recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, Campbell decides to go public with the news to help bring attention to the devastating effects of the illness while hitting the road one last time for a farewell tour.Filmmaker and some subjects in attendance.

GUGGENHEIM SYMPOSIUM: The Charles Guggenheim Symposium honors the legacy of the late four-time Academy Award®-winning filmmaker Charles Guggenheim. This year, the Symposium celebrates Alex Gibney, one of the most significant documentarians of our time. His films have etched a place in American history, both as compelling independent storytelling and journalism. The Symposium will feature a series of excerpts from Gibney’s body of work and he will be joined on stage to discuss his career. His films include “Catching Hell” (2011), “ENRON: The Smartest Guys in the Room” (2005), Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God (2012), No End in Sight (2007), Academy Award® -winning “Taxi to the Dark Side” (2007) and “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks (2013).

OUTDOOR SCREENING: “Shut Up and Play the Hits”
DIRS Will Lovelace, Dylan Southern. USA. This captivating film documents the high-energy farewell concert of alternative band LCD Soundsystem at Madison Square Garden on April 2, 2011. Punctuated by a frank conversation with front-man James Murphy about the reasons he chose to go out on top, this is a can’t-miss for music fans.

Saturday, June 21, 2014
DIR Steve James. USA. Roger Ebert was one of America’s most influential film critics until his death from thyroid cancer in 2013. Based on Ebert’s 2011 memoir of the same name, acclaimed filmmaker Steve James (“Hoop Dreams”) paints a vivid portrait of the critic, whose genuine love of movies helped him remain a relevant voice in the film world even after his physical voice had been silenced. Filmmaker in attendance.

Sunday, June 22, 2014
DIR Stanley Nelson. USA. In the summer of 1964, hundreds of student volunteers from across the U.S. spent 10 weeks in Mississippi in an historic effort to shatter the foundations of white supremacy. This inspiring film tells the searing story of those volatile and violent months and reminds us of the risks and sacrifices involved in ending segregation.


“Actress”: DIR Robert Greene. USA. After landing a part on THE WIRE, actress Brandy Burre’s career was rising fast, but she gave it up for the real life role of wife and mother in upstate New York. Now, Burre is eager to find her way back into acting, but at what cost to her family?

“The Agreement”: DIR Karen Stokkendal Poulsen. Denmark. Some international skirmishes happen far from battlefields; they take place in quiet negotiating rooms. Yet no matter how unassuming those spaces may be, the players can be just as immovable as their armed equivalents. THE AGREEMENT takes viewers into one such discussion – the high-stakes Serbia-Kosovo negotiations to make Serbia’s EU candidacy possible. East Coast Premiere.

“Alfred & Jakobine”: DIRS Jonathan Howells, Tom Roberts. UK/Canada. In 1955, passionate newlyweds Alfred and Jakobine bought a beat-up old taxi cab and embarked on a memorable trip around the world. When Alfred abruptly left the marriage, it left Jakobine heartbroken. Forty years later, Alfred decides to restore their old taxi and deliver it to Jakobine as a surprise. U.S. Premiere.

“Alive Inside: A Story of Music & Memory”: DIR Michael Rossato-Bennett.USA. Millions of elderly Americans suffer from the debilitating effects of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. In this moving film, social worker Dan Cohen experiments with a music-based program to help these patients unlock deeply buried memories and emotions that had long been forgotten. The results will astound you.

“Apollonian Story”: DIRS Ilan Moskovitch, Dan Bronfield. Israel. For over 40 years, Nissim has been chipping away at a seaside limestone cliff just north of Tel Aviv. Though continually under construction, the intricate home he has built for himself is truly incredible. When his son comes to help for the summer, eccentricities arise that surely predate his work of passion.

“Art and Craft”: DIRS Sam Cullman, Jennifer Grausman; co-directed by Mark Becker. USA. For 30 years, Mark Landis, one of the most skilled art forgers in U.S. history, has used his astonishing talent to duplicate the work of famous artists and dupe museum curators nationwide. Diagnosed with schizophrenia, this eccentric forger isn’t in it for the money – he prefers to donate his work.

“Back on Board”: DIR Cheryl Furjanic. USA. In 1988, Greg Louganis became the first male athlete in history to sweep the diving events in consecutive Olympic games. Despite his success, Louganis’ real challenges were still to come. Director Cheryl Furjanic’s (SYNC OR SWIM) film gives us an intimate glimpse into the life of one of the world’s greatest champions. World Premiere.

“Bronx Obama”: DIR Ryan Murdock. USA. Louis Ortiz was an unemployed single father from the Bronx in 2008 when people noticed that he bore an uncanny resemblance to presidential hopeful Barack Obama. With Obama’s victory, Ortiz transformed himself into a professional lookalike, joined a motley group of political impersonators and began to chase an unlikely version of the American dream.

“Butterfly Girl”: DIR Cary Bell. USA. Abbie Evans’ coming-of-age struggle is complicated by a rare life-threatening skin disorder, epidermolysis bullosa, which makes her body as fragile as butterfly wings. Alternately snarky and self-deprecating, optimistic and reckless, Evans is ready to assert her independence and break free from her stalwart parents in this unsentimental yet moving portrait.

“Dangerous Acts Starring the Unstable Elements of Belarus”: DIR Madeleine Sackler. USA. Go behind the scenes of the Belarus Free Theatre, an award-winning troupe of underground performers who dare to tackle dangerous topics that can easily put them behind bars. In the midst of an unstable political climate, these brave performers are constantly torn between fighting artistic censorship and worrying about their families’ safety.

“Dinosaur 13”: DIR Todd Miller. USA. In 1990, a team of scientists from South Dakota’s Black Hills Institute stumbled onto a spectacular discovery – the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus rexspecimen ever found. Nicknamed “Sue,” the T. rexsoon became the center of a messy custody battle involving landowners and the federal government. East Coast Premiere.

“Dior and I”: DIR Frédéric Tcheng. France. Much is afoot in the iconic House of Dior, as newly hired artistic director Raf Simons has only eight weeks to present his first haute couture collection. The unconventional Simons collaborates with Dior’s unflagging and enchanting veteran atelier seamstresses, marking the auspicious arrival of a formidable fashion persona.

“The Dog”: DIRS Allison Berg, Frank Keraudren.USA. Based on true events, the classic film DOG DAY AFTERNOON tells the story of a bank robbery gone awry. Combining present-day interviews and archival footage, THE DOG introduces us to John Wojtowicz – the real-life inspiration for Al Pacino’s character – while presenting a fascinating snapshot of New York City’s LGBT liberation movement of the 1970s. East Coast Premiere 

“The Fix”: DIR Laura Naylor.USA.After years of heroin addiction, a young father from the Bronx tries to turn his life around. With the support of former junkies in his community, he works towards creating effective solutions to help empower those fighting the deadly grasp of drug addiction.

“The Hand That Feeds”: DIRS Rachel Lears, Robin Blotnick. USA. This inspiring film focuses on a group of employees at a popular New York City eatery, many of whom are undocumented and vulnerable to being exploited. When they stand up to management to fight for better wages and working conditions, they learn how to empower themselves and emerge as leaders.

Happy Valley“: DIR Amir Bar-Lev. USA. During the Penn State scandal, the media focused on the accused and the university. They missed the private tragedies – the community questioning its perceived identity, the Paternos watching their reputation slide and Jerry Sandusky’s adopted son losing his family. Bridging the public and private dramas, HAPPY VALLEY reexamines the scandal and its aftermath.

“Heaven Adores You”: DIR Nickolas Rossi. USA. When singer/songwriter Elliott Smith died in 2003, it devastated the indie rock community. Smith, best known for the Academy Award®-nominated song, “Miss Misery,” was a trailblazer for Portland’s indie scene in the ’90s. Through interviews with friends and archival footage, Nickolas Rossi’s film proves a heartfelt tribute to Smith’s legacy and music.East Coast Premiere.

“The Homestretch”: DIRS Anne de Mare, Kirsten Kelly.USA. High school can be tough under any circumstances, but what if there is the added burden of having no consistent place to call home? This powerful film follows three homeless teens – Kasey, Anthony and Roque – as they share their struggles and victories while navigating their way through the Chicago Public School system. U.S. Premiere. Catalyst Screening.

“An Honest Liar”: DIRS Justin Weinstein, Tyler Measom. USA. James “The Amazing” Randi has been mastering the art of illusion and sleight of hand to entertain audiences for over half a century. When he sees magicians’ tricks of the trade being used by con artists like faith healers and psychics to bilk the masses, however, Randi dedicates himself to exposing them.

“How I Got Over”: DIR Nicole Boxer. USA. Fifteen formerly homeless women in the Washington, DC, area come together to share their harrowing life stories, bravely setting out on the path to addiction recovery. Collaborating on an original play that they will perform at the Kennedy Center, these strong and courageous women tap into artistic talents they never knew they had. World Premiere.

“I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story”: DIRS Chad Walker, Dave LaMattina. USA. Big Bird has been an iconic and beloved figure to all since SESAME STREET first aired in 1969. But who is the man in the Big Bird suit? This delightful film tells the story of Caroll Spinney, the amiable Muppeteer who has filled Big Bird’s huge orange feet for over 40 years. U.S. Premiere.

“The Internet’s Own Boy”: DIR Brian Knappenberger. USA. At 13, Aaron Swartz co-authored the Web’s RSS format. His passion to liberate information ended tragically when a disconsolate Swartz killed himself at 26 while facing federal charges regarding his attempt to replicate a proprietary database. Swartz’s inspiring life saga celebrates extraordinary accomplishment and laments the stinging absence of an unswerving visionary. East Coast Premiere. Catalyst Screening.

Ivory Tower“: DIR Andrew Rossi. USA. Over the past 30 years, the cost of higher education has increased at an alarming rate along with the mounting burden of student loan debt needed to fund a traditional college experience. Filmmaker Andrew Rossi (PAGE ONE: INSIDE THE NEW YORK TIMES) probes the future of higher education and investigates alternatives to the traditional four-year university. Catalyst Screening.

“Keep on Keepin’ On”: DIR Alan Hicks. USA. Jazz trumpet legend Clark Terry has performed with such greats as Count Basie and Duke Ellington and acted as mentor to Miles Davis and Quincy Jones. When he meets blind piano prodigy Justin Kauflin, Terry works with him to pass on some of his musical gift and help Kauflin find his own voice.

“Last Days in Vietnam”: DIR Rory Kennedy. USA. As the war in Vietnam draws to its inevitable close, the North Vietnamese army swiftly rolls toward Saigon. At the city’s U.S. Embassy, a small but dedicated crew of Americans must make some hard decisions in its attempts to protect the South Vietnamese allies it has been told to leave behind.

“Misconception”: DIR Jessica Yu.USA. From Academy Award®-winning filmmaker Jessica Yu (BREATHING LESSON: THE LIFE AND WORK OF MARK O’BRIEN) comes this intriguing look at the attitudes surrounding population growth in different areas of the world. Tied together by the fascinating observations of statistics expert Hans Rosling, the film follows three individuals who have a personal stake in population growth within their homelands.

“Mudbloods”: DIR Farzad Sangari.USA. In the whimsical world of her wildly successful Harry Potter books, author J. K. Rowling invented the thrilling – but imaginary – sport of Quidditch. With Potter fans reaching adulthood, Quidditch has turned into a real sport that has taken college campuses by storm thanks to some creative minds and entrepreneurial spirit. World Premiere.

“The Newburgh Sting”: DIRS Kate Davis, David Heilbroner. USA. In 2009, the FBI uncovered a Muslim terror cell plotting to attack a synagogue and U.S. military aircraft. Closer analysis, including FBI hidden-camera footage, raises substantive doubts: Were these four men tenacious terrorists or merely hapless targets of entrapment caught up in a post-9/11 hunt for “red meat” to mollify a traumatized nation?  Catalyst Screening.

“1971”: DIR Johanna Hamilton. USA. In March of 1971, a break-in occurred at an FBI field office outside of Philadelphia, PA, that resulted in the theft of every single document contained within it. The true nature of what was discovered within those files would soon prove to be more shocking than the crime itself.

“112 Wedding”: DIR Doug Block. USA. Filmmaker Doug Block (THE KIDS GROW UP) started filming people’s wedding videos 20 years ago as a way to make extra money. Whatever became of those hopeful brides and grooms? In this funny and often touching film, Block tracks down several of them to find out if marriage was everything they dreamed it would be.

The Overnighters“: DIR Jesse Moss. USA. Each day busloads of men arrive in the towns of North Dakota in search of jobs. They find scarce housing, employment hassles and a hostile citizenry. Trying to practice the compassion he preaches, Jay Reinke uses his church as a home for these men while his parishioners and neighbors grow frustrated with him.

“Point and Shoot”: DIR Marshall Curry. USA. Matthew VanDyke, a young man from the suburbs of Baltimore, dreamed about a life of adventure that seemed outside his grasp. When VanDyke decided to turn his fantasies into reality, he soon found his life heading toward a winding path that led to the front lines of the 2011 Libyan Revolution. 

“The Possibilities Are Endless”: DIRS Edward Lovelace, James Hall. UK. In 2005, gifted Scottish musician Edwyn Collins suffered two devastating cerebral hemorrhages that left him with large gaps in his memory and trouble with the most basic language. This inventive film artfully puts the viewer inside Collins’ experience as he fights back from the brink of death. East Coast Premiere.

“The Search for General Tso”: DIR Ian Cheney. USA. One of the most popular dishes in Chinese restaurants in America is the deep fried, slightly spicy dish known as General Tso’s chicken. But who exactly is General Tso, and why is this menu item named after him? Filmmaker Ian Cheney (THE CITY DARK) takes us on a mouth-watering journey to the root of this amusing mystery.

“Silenced”: DIR James Spione. USA. The term “whistleblower” is usually attached to controversy, and those who expose misconduct within an organization often stand to lose everything. This film looks at the post-9/11 crackdown on those who attempt to lift the veil on U.S. national security practices and the devastating costs that come with telling the truth.

“Slaying the Badger”: DIR John Dower. USA. Greg LeMond was the first American to win the prestigious Tour de France. This engaging story looks back at the 1986 Tour in which LeMond went neck and neck with teammate, mentor and fierce competitor Bernard Hinault – nicknamed “The Badger” – whose promise to help LeMond win was abandoned in the heat of competition.

“Slingshot”: DIR Paul Lazarus. USA. Dean Kamen invented the Segway and lives in a house with secret passages and a heliport. His latest passion is the SlingShot water purification system created to obliterate half of human illness. Kamen reminisces about accepting dyslexia, foregoing parenthood and losing his brother to cancer, while lamenting he has only one lifetime for inventing.

“Soft Vengeance: Albie Sachs and the New South Africa”: DIR Abby Ginzberg. USA/ South Africa. In 1955, the People’s Congress declared, “South Africa belongs to all who live in it.” SOFT VENGEANCE focuses on Albie Sachs, a leading member of the National Conference in South Africa who was forced into exile for many years. The film recounts Sachs’ story through personal interviews and historical footage. 

“The Special Need”: DIR Carlo Zoratti. Italy/Germany. Enea is in his late twenties and longs to experience the pleasures of a sexual relationship. However, the challenges of autism make finding the right mate difficult. In this sensitive and charming film, Enea enlists the help of his two closest friends and embarks on a road trip to seek help from sex workers. East Coast Premiere.

“The Supreme Price”: DIR Joanna Lipper. USA/Nigeria. In 1993, Nigeria elected MKO Abiola as president, ending the reign of military leadership. Shortly after the presidential election, Abiola was imprisoned and his wife, Kudirat, became the leader of the Nigerian pro-democracy movement. THE SUPREME PRICE weaves the past and the present of the Abiola family through the eyes of their daughter, Hafsat Abiola.

Ukraine Is Not a Brothel“: DIR Kitty Green. Australia/Ukraine. Ukraine’s feminist group FEMEN creates quite a stir when the women demonstrate topless across European borders to protest against the patriarchal regime in their native country. As the protests gain international attention, however, questions grow as to who is the real driving force behind these outspoken women and their campaign for change.

Virunga“: DIR Orlando von Einsiedel. USA. In the DRC exists Africa’s oldest national park containing the last natural habitat for endangered mountain gorillas. As civil unrest grows within the Congo, a British oil company pursues efforts to drill within the park. VIRUNGA highlights the small number of dedicated individuals fighting to secure the park’s borders.

“We Are the Giant”: DIR Greg Barker. USA/UK. The recent Arab Spring uprisings were often organized by young people who embraced the tools of social media to communicate and call for lasting change within their governments. This powerful and inspiring film talks to some of these young activists to discover what drives them forward despite great personal risk. East Coast Premiere.

“When the Garden Was Eden”: DIR Michael Rapaport. USA.  The time was the late 1960s and the “Garden” was Madison Square Garden in this fond look back at the New York Knicks basketball team, which meant little to New Yorkers at the time. But with new coaching and a band of talented players with personality, the team turned the sport around for the city.

Whitey: United States v. James J. Bulger“:  DIR Joe Berlinger. USA. For decades, legendary gangster James “Whitey” Bulger ruled South Boston with seemingly free reign. After spending 16 years in hiding, however, Bulger is finally put on trial to answer for his crimes. AFI DOCS 2012 Guggenheim honoree and acclaimed filmmaker Joe Berlinger (PARADISE LOST Trilogy) sheds new light on Bulger’s notorious history amid allegations of deep corruption within law enforcement.


Amanda F***ing Palmer on the Rocks“: DIR Ondi Timoner. USA. Punk cabaret icon and former Dresden Doll co-founder Amanda Palmer is a woman who knows how to make an impact. As she prepares to perform at the famed Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado, the fearless Palmer opens up about her life, career and dedication to thinking outside the box.

“Beyond Recognition”: DIR Sam Thonis. USA. After a brutal attack left her with devastating chemical burns all over her body, a woman undergoes a highly experimental face transplant. Receiving the visage of an anonymous donor whose life was cut short, she has a profound experience when she meets the daughter of the woman who gave her a second chance at life.

“Cherry Pop: The Story of the World’s Fanciest Cat”: DIR Kareem Tabsch. USA. Cherry Pop was no ordinary cat. Beloved by her wealthy socialite owners, she lived life in the lap of luxury. Her taste for filet mignon and the comfort of Rolls-Royces made Cherry Pop a celebrity before her death in 1995. This delightful story will tickle your funny bone and touch your heart.

“The Chilean Elvis”: DIR Marcelo Kiwi. Chile. Marcelo Rossi has spent the better part of his life being an Elvis Presley impersonator in Chile, and at 78 years old, he shows no signs of slowing down. This charming film shines a spotlight on one man dedicated to keeping the King’s spirit alive in Chile for as long as possible.

“Fast Ice: Rescue From Antarctica”: DIR Laurence Topham.UK. In a matter of only a few hours last Christmas Eve, 52 passengers on the MV Akademik Shokalskiybecame trapped in a vast sea of “summertime” Antarctic ice. As approaching icebergs threatened, first one and then a second rescue ship failed to reach the stricken vessel, leaving one option – evacuation by helicopter.

“Font Men”:DIRS Dress Code. USA. Go behind the scenes with two typeface geniuses and former business competitors who have joined forces to take the world of fonts by storm. Quirky and brilliant, there is far more to the art of font design than meets the eye. You will never look at Times New Roman the same way again!

“Foundry”: DIR Oliver Cheetham. UK. A small, family-run foundry in Normandy accepts its biggest project ever: replacing 36 tons of hand-cast bells that hang in the tower of Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral.  Ancient materials, including horse dung and goat hair, are blended with modern technology to accomplish this endeavor with great pride and master craftsmanship.

“The Home Team”: DIR Joshua Seftel. USA. Heart is the X-factor that propels the Murray State Racers basketball team to successfully compete against its rivals.  Spending a few minutes with these players and fans in their bucolic town will make you reconsider what it means to be a college athlete and discover the true meaning of “team.”

“Joanna”: DIR Aneta Kopacz. Poland. Joanna is a young woman living in Poland with her husband and adolescent son. She has three months to live, having been diagnosed with an untreatable form of cancer. Now she must prepare her family for life without her as her time draws to a close.

The Lion’s Mouth Opens“: DIR Lucy Walker. USA. With the support of her friends and family, a young woman waits to find out if she carries the gene for Huntington’s disease, an inherited disorder that causes the progressive breakdown of nerve cells in the brain. This emotional and deeply personal film from Academy Award®-nominated filmmaker Lucy Walker (WASTE LAND) resonates with warmth and sensitivity.

“Louis the Ferris Wheel Kid”: DIR Tara Fallaux. Netherlands. Louis has only known the carnival life. He and his family travel across Europe from fairground to fairground with their Ferris wheel. When he is older, Louis must move away from his family and attend high school. This moving short examines a unique family unit and the undeniable love between two brothers.

“Mi Hua Gao (or The Chinese Rice Krispies Square)”: DIR Xavier-Justin Nagy. USA. On a busy street in the small town of Gaogiao, China, cars, pedestrians and mopeds rush past as a humble man cooks on the side of the road. What could his delicious concoction be? It is none other than a traditional Rice Krispies square. Watch as he prepares and crafts this tasty treat!

“Of Many”: DIR Linda G. Mills. USA. Directed by Linda G. Mills (AUF WIEDERSEHEN: ‘TIL WE MEET AGAIN) and executive produced by Chelsea Clinton, OF MANY examines the remarkable friendship between a rabbi and an imam who seek to create more unity among young people of different religious backgrounds. Their relationship is an inspiring example of the transformative power of understanding.

“Our Curse”: DIR Tomasz Sliwinski. Poland. Brutal yet hopeful, OUR CURSE captures the day-to-day process of taking care of a newborn with a critical illness. In their testimonials, the director and his wife talk through the various future challenges that run through a parent’s mind under these circumstances, and build each other’s strength to face them head on.

“A Paradise”: DIR Jayisha Patel. UK/Cuba. Director Jayisha Patel (ADENTRO) travels to Granma, Cuba, where she encounters a family mourning the loss of their 12-year-old son. This young boy, like many others in this small village, committed suicide. A PARADISE follows several families as they grieve for their loved ones and ponder who is at fault in these tragic deaths.

“The Photo Man”: DIR Ben Kitnick. USA. Strewn throughout the bins that fill Mark Kologi’s stand in a Southern California market are found pictures for sale of strangers on vacation, posing for family photographs and caught in candid moments. These glances into their lives make for a fertile form of people-watching across the decades.

“A Place Called Pluto”: DIR Steve James. USA. Acclaimed director Steve James (HOOP DREAMS) looks at one family’s journey facing Alzheimer’s disease in this lovely, personal film. When a lifelong newspaper reporter is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s, he decides to face its challenges head on, armed with the strength of his family’s support and his skills as a journalist.

“Ronald”: DIR John Dower. UK. Joe Maggard has been many things in his career: deputy sheriff, actor and official Ronald McDonald mascot for the famed McDonald’s hamburger chain. Join Maggard as he dons his iconic clown suit, visits a local carnival and waxes philosophic on everything from the nature of luck to the childhood obesity epidemic.

“Sati”: DIR Bartlomiej Swiderski. Poland. Through candid, emotionally raw interviews with Olga, the widow of mountaineer Piotr Morawski shortly after his fatal climbing accident, SATI documents devastating grief, but also the complicated emotions of anger at his recklessness, relief that her fear for Piotr is finished and anticipation of the possibilities of a future previously unplanned.

“The Secret World of Foley”: DIR Daniel Jewel. UK. Behind every movie lies the soundtrack. Foley artists bring that soundtrack to life, recording sound effects in time with the picture.  Go backstage as two highly skilled Foley artists re-create life in a small fishing village for the big screen.  You will never listen to movies the same way again.

“Showfolk”: DIR Ned McNeilage. USA. The Motion Picture & Television Fund retirement community in Los Angeles is no ordinary place. Dedicated exclusively to retirees from the entertainment industry, this special community full of colorful show business veterans is cheerfully devoted to the old adage, “The show must go on!”

“21 Days”: DIR Damian Kocur. Poland.When a shy, young bus driver becomes desperate to find his soul mate, he takes a 21-day seminar on how to successfully interact with women and applies himself with vigor to his training. But will he acquire the skills and confidence he needs to win the woman of his dreams?

“The Visit”: DIR Matej Bobrik. Poland. In a lush Polish forest stands a nursing home. Each week, the residents wait for Sunday, which is the only day when they are allowed visits from family, friends and loved ones. We quietly observe the residents preparing themselves for these anticipated arrivals, only to watch the hours pass by in lonely anticipation.

“What’s an Epi?”: DIR Shelly Ortiz. USA. Eighteen-year-old Shelly Ortiz was one of 16 young filmmakers chosen to be recognized in the first-ever White House Student Film Festival held in 2014. In this eloquent short, Ortiz turns the camera on her father, Epi Ortiz, who shares the emotional story of his unstable upbringing in Brooklyn. Having lived through the pain of having a mother with substance abuse problems, Ortiz learns to break the cycle and start healing the wounds of abandonment.

“Wild Boar”: DIR Willem Baptist. Netherlands. A village in the Netherlands finds itself inundated by a steady stream of wild boars, leaving several of the village’s inhabitants to find their own unique ways to deal with the problem. Director Willem Baptist’s (I’M NEVER AFRAID!) film is an otherworldly and poetic look at the classic conflict of Man vs. Nature.

“The World of Adrien”: DIR Katerine Giguère. Canada. Adrien is a precocious young boy with impressive artistic talent and creativity. Over the course of several years, we watch the delightful child explore his colorful world as Adrien considers what he may want to do with his life when he grows up.

“You Won’t Regret That Tattoo”: DIR Angie Bird. Canada. It’s an ancient art form, yet recently a social stigma surrounding tattoos has developed. Many associate body art with delinquent or roughneck behavior, but each tattoo has its own tale. This film elegantly profiles people of varying ages as they mesmerize us with the fascinating, sometimes heartbreaking stories behind their ink.

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  1. Elias Savada says:

    Also, if you want to put the program on your iPhone or iPad, download the free app Eventbase, then install the AFI DOCS overlay. Everything at your fingertips!

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