From Torture to Twain, AFI Documentary Fest Turns Camera on Real Life

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Photo: David Shankbone
Filmmaker Alex Gibney will be honored at this year's AFI Docs Documentary Festival.

From June 18 to 22, AFI Docs Documentary Festival (formerly Silverdocs) returns to the Washington area for its 12th year as one of the most prominent documentary film festivals on the international circuit. This year will also be the fest's second year with its rebranded moniker and a pivot toward a specific policy focus and landmark venues in D.C. such as the National Archives, Newseum and National Portrait Gallery. The AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center in Silver Spring, Md., will also screen most films. Highlights available at press time include the following special programs:

Guggenheim Symposium

On Fri., June 20, the 2014 AFI Docs Charles Guggenheim Symposium will honor filmmaker Alex Gibney, Oscar winner for 2007's "Taxi to the Dark Side," an in-depth look at American torture practices in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay. Clips from his body of work will be screened, followed by a talk with Gibney.

"Alex Gibney's personal drive to find and expose truth in film makes him one of the most important documentarians of this and any generation," said Christine O'Malley, interim director of AFI Docs. "His films have etched a place in American history, both as compelling independent storytelling and journalism, so it is particularly fitting that AFI pay tribute to him in Washington and at the National Archives."

Accompanying the Guggenheim Symposium will be a retrospective of Gibney's films, including: "The Armstrong Lie"; "Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer"; "Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson"; "Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God"; "Taxi to the Dark Side"; and "We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks."

Opening Night

On Wed., June 18, at the Newseum, acclaimed actor Hal Holbrook will present this year's opening night film, the world premiere of director Scott Teems's "Holbrook/Twain: An American Odyssey." It's a behind-the-scenes look at "Mark Twain Tonight!" — Holbrook's one-man show about the quintessential American author, Mark Twain, which has run for 60 straight years. The Tony and Emmy Award-winning play is considered to have the longest run of all time for a one-man show.

"AFI Docs is the ideal festival to premiere our film, because both Twain's writings and Holbrook's one-man masterpiece remain strikingly relevant and timely observations of this wonderful and conflicted country of ours," said Teems.

Closing Night

At the National Portrait Gallery on Sat., June 21, AFI Docs will screen its closing night film, "Life Itself," a documentary by filmmaker Steve James ("Hoop Dreams") about recently deceased Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert, one of the most well-known film critics of all time thanks to the popularity of his television series with Chicago colleague Gene Siskel.

"Roger loved documentaries and, as a critic, had a profound impact on the success of so many of them over the years," said James. "To be honored at one of the very best festivals devoted to the art form would have greatly pleased him."

For more information, visit www.afi.com/afidocs.


About the Author

Ky N. Nguyen is the film reviewer of The Washington Diplomat.

Last Edited on June 3, 2014