AFI Docs presented by Audi (formerly Silverdocs) returns June 19 to 23 for its 11th year as a leading documentary film festival described by Variety magazine as “non-fiction nirvana.”
The name change recognizes the festival’s expansion, after a decade in Silver Spring, Md, into the center of Washington, D.C., particularly landmark venues on the National Mall and in the Penn Quarter area such as the Newseum, National Portrait Gallery and the National Archives. Screenings will continue at the American Film Institute’s AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center in Silver Spring, where the festival drew some 27,000 people last year. Also new this year are “AFI Catalyst Sessions: The Art of Moving Reality,” designed to spark public policy discussions by connecting policymakers and theorists with filmmakers and audiences.
“Some issues and emotions are so powerful that they must find expression in the public square and in our case, the National Mall and Pennsylvania Avenue,” said AFI President and CEO Bob Gazzale, noting that, “‘Letters To Jackie’ and ‘Documented’ will prompt essential national conversations that are at the heart of AFI Docs.”
“We are honored to present these exceptional films as our opening night and centerpiece screenings,” Sky Sitney, AFI Docs festival director, said of the two films. “Both touch deeply on the emotional core of our country’s identity: ‘Letters To Jackie’ looks back at a pivotal time in our history, while ‘Documented’ confronts a critical issue that could not be more timely and relevant.”
Here are a few of the AFI Docs highlights:
Opening Night Gala
Oscar-winning writer-director Bill Couturié’s “Letters to Jackie” commemorates the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963 by showcasing the more than 800,000 letters of condolence sent to first lady Jacqueline Kennedy. Against a backdrop of archival footage, a selection of letters are read by 20 leading contemporary actors, including French actress Bérénice Bejo, Mexican actor Demián Bichir, Jessica Chastain, Chris Cooper, Viola Davis, Kirsten Dunst, Anne Hathaway, John Krasinski, Laura Linney and others. The theatrical premiere will be attended by Couturié and selected talent.
Newseum, Wed., June 19
“Herblock,” by filmmaker Michael Stevens, reviews Washington Post editorial cartoonist Herbert Block’s 55-year career, including interviews with Lewis Black, Carl Bernstein, Ben Bradlee, Ted Koppel, Jon Stewart and Bob Woodward. The D.C. premiere will be attended by Stevens and select subjects.
Newseum, Thu., June 20
Jose Antonio Vargas’s “Documented” recounts what happened after Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Vargas, born in the Philippines, revealed he was an illegal alien in the New York Times Magazine in 2011. The world premiere will be attended by Vargas and select subjects.
National Portrait Gallery, Fri., June 21
The Charles Guggenheim Symposium — in honor of the late Charles Guggenheim, a four-time Academy Award-winning documentarian — honors director Errol Morris, who will discuss his work preceded by excerpts from his celebrated career, which includes “Gates of Heaven,” “Vernon, Florida,” “The Thin Blue Line,” “A Brief History Of Time,” “Fast, Cheap and Out of Control,” “The Fog Of War” and “Standard Operating Procedure.”
Fri., June 21
Filmmaker A.J. Schnack’s “Caucus” looks back at the buildup to the Iowa caucus for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012. The film spotlights Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann but also looks at the other six GOP candidates: Mitt Romney, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman, Ron Paul and Rick Perry. The U.S. premiere will be attended by Schnack and select subjects.
National Portrait Gallery, Sat., June 22
For more information, visit www.afi.com/afidocs.
About the Author
Ky N. Nguyen is the film reviewer for The Washington Diplomat.