The AFI Docs festival in Washington DC (June 19–23) is the best place to see the latest, the most searingly powerful, the most surprising, and the most touching films of the year — because they are all documentaries, true stories about real people and places.
This year is especially exciting because a remarkable 48 percent of the films in the festival were directed by women and 68 percent had female Producers. The film is truly international with 72 films From 17 countries, including six world premieres. There will be films about famous people like Toni Morrison, Mike Wallace, Miles Davis, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg (following last year’s “RGB” and “On the Basis of Sex”), and films about not-famous people like “17 Blocks,” the story of a family who lives just a few blocks from the US Capitol, whose son documented their daily lives and struggles over almost two decades and “The Amazing Jonathan Documentary,” a sort of dueling documentary as two crews compete to make a film about an elderly magician.
A group of documentaries about music includes profiles of David Crosby, the San Francisco Gay Men’s chorus on tour through the South, and Linda Ronstadt, the legendary Apollo Theater and the also-legendary record producer Rick Rubin, who has worked with everyone from the Beach Boys to Public Enemy, Lady Gaga, and Shakira.
There are documentaries that are an exceptionally compelling form of journalism, covering the most vital contemporary issues from gun safety (“After Parkland” to criminal justice “True Justice: Bryan Stephenson’s Fight for Equality,” “Ernie and Joe”) to immigration (“Border South”) and cybersecurity/election tampering (“The Great Hack,” “Slay the Dragon”).
The festival will also present three classic documentaries: “An American Family,” “Tongues Untied, and Frederick Wiseman’s “Law and Order.”
Some of the other films I am most excited about:
“American Factory,” this year’s Centerpiece film, is directed by Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert, which examines the culture clash resulting from the takeover of a Dayton, OH, factory by a Chinese company.
“Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins” is the tale of one of the sharpest (in both senses of the word) political journalists of the 20th century. I’ve already seen it, and it is a treat. No matter who you support politically, you will be captivated by her wit, her honesty, and her dedication to her readers.
“Chasing the Moon” commemorates the historic trip to the moon, where Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin not only walked on the moon but, with the help of Michael Collins and hundreds of engineers, scientists, military, and contractors, came safely home. (Watch for the companion book coming out next month as well.)
“Maiden” is the story of 24-year-old Tracy Edwards, who led the first all-female sailing crew to compete in the Whitbread Round the World Race thirty years ago.