AFI Documentary Festival

AFI DOCS runs June 14–18, 2017, in Washington, DC, and Silver Spring, MD

I have not studied the program in depth, and none of the films that I screened made the festival, but, if you are interested in documentary film, I recommend you buy advance tickets to at least one film. If you do not buy tickets in advance, you will likely be relegated to the stand-by line, which is not as futile as it sounds. Most films screen once in DC and once in Silver Spring.

Here are a few films that did jump out at me:



I note that two films below appear to be showing only once (instead of twice) and also seem to be programed for the smallest theater in Silver Spring (theater 3). Seems like one of the high level programmers thought these were very important films, but not anticipated to appeal to a larger audience.



If you are a serious documentary film buff or an inspiring filmmaker, you may want to check out the AFI Docs Forum. In the past, it has only been for filmmakers and Industry people. You may want to look at the schedule of events. It does not include films (or food) only lectures. It seems like a good deal, although last year all of the forum sessions were streamed live.


Documented is a new film by Jose Antonio Vargas

The film had its world premier at the AFI Docs Festival last night to a sold out crowd at the National Portrait Gallery.

It chronicles the struggles and efforts of the Pulitzer Prize-winning former journalist, both before and after he outed himself as an undocumented immigrant in the New York Times Magazine. “Documented” chronicles his decision to transform his life. At some point, he could no longer keep his secret. He had become a successful journalist covering political campaigns and appearing on television. He had all the trappings of the American success story, but he lacked permission to be in the United States. He had been brought to the U.S. as a child and had no way to obtain a valid immigration status. And after seeing and speaking with thousands of immigrants in the same situation, he decided to “let the world in” to his secret and decided to become an immigration reform activist/provocateur.


Mr. Vargas has made a compelling film that brings into focus what it really means to be an American. It is not a piece of paper, a birth certificate, a passport, or the luck of being born here. It is a love of country, which Mr. Vargas has in abundance. It is also about hard work and struggle. My Vargas’ grandparents were U.S. citizens and brought him to the USA when he was 12. He became an outstanding student and with the help of dozens of friends, mentors, and surrogate parents, he achieved the American dream. However, the cost of this dream were high, and not being able to be open about his status exacted a toll on his psyche. Seeing other young immigrants struggling to keep their families together and lobby Congress to pass the Dream Act., made him realize that he could use his talents as a writer to help America to peel back the layers and understand the complicated issue of immigration reform. The complexity of the topic has been lost in the political bickering and punditry that characterizes our political system and our society. Sound-bites are particularly inappropriate to understand this complex topic. The film sheds a bright and focused light, like very few other films on this topic. It also highlights his struggle to repair his relationship with his mother, who for twenty years had been trapped half way across the world (in the Philippines) with no way to see her son. The film shows that there are thousands of young adults from all over the world who face the same situation. At one moment towards the end of the film, Mr. Vargas is invited to testify before the Senate. His words are profound and he leaves the Senators with the following question that I think we all must consider thoroughly: “What are you going to do with people like me?” There is not one person who does not recognize how dysfunctional our current immigration system has become. Almost as dysfunctional as our political system. It cannot be acceptable in 21st Century America to have some individuals relegated to the back of the bus, or thrown off the bus after having established such strong roots and allegiances to this country. As Mr. Vargas stated, everyone is entitled to his or her own opinions, “but not their own facts.” Before making a decision, one should see this film and lean the facts.

“Granito: How to Nail A Dictator” to air on some public television stations


I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala in the late 1980s.  Since that time, I have tried to stay informed about what is going on there.  It is an amazingly beautiful country with a brutally violent history.  It was with great sadness that I recently learned that the United States will no longer send volunteers to Guatemala and many other Central American countries because of an escalation of drug war violence.

(As an aside, I recommend that you watch for why the drug war is a failure.)

The purpose of this post is to highlight the national distribution of “Granito: How to Nail A Dictator,” which I have heard is an amazing film and will be nationally broadcast on public television stations starting on Thursday, June 28.

However, as I explained in the post below, many public television stations have decided not to air it at all (this seems to be true for WHUT and MPT), and some, like WETA, have decided to air this film only in the middle of the night. 

How is it that Antiques Roadshow can air repeatedly occupying many prime viewing slots and an amazing documentary film is relegated to the middle of the nightSee post below to help correct this problem.

If you love great films, Let Your Voice Be Heard!

Do you love great documentary films?  Would you like to see them on your local public television station?  A recent Center for Social Media report showed strong public support for public-purpose programming and popular anger that many public television stations decide to repeatedly air programs like Antiques Roadshow during prime viewing hours, while relegating meaningful documentary films few slots, frequently in the middle of the night.  In addition, many public television station choose not to air many meaningful documentaries at all.

Please help make sure that your local public television affiliate knows what you value. POV and Independent Lens both fund and distribute some of the best new docs on public television stations throughout the United States.  They publicize these films and release schedules for when they are going to air.  However, if you have ever tried to watch a documentary on your local public television station, you have likely found that the show that you want to watch is not airing on the date or time that was advertised.    Local affiliates have discretion over which shows to air and when to schedule them.   Here in the Washington DC area, we are lucky to have three public television stations, WHUT, WETA, MPT.   Unfortunately, WHUT, WETA and MPT frequently air ITVS’ Independent Lens, and POV and other great documentaries not on the dates and times advertised for national distribution, but mostly if they choose to air them at all, they air them days or weeks later, in the wee hours of the night.

Nationally, Public Broadcasting Service (“PBS”) has decided to promote documentaries into a more desirable time frame.  This fall, PBS will program POV documentaries to air on Monday early evening time slot.  The purpose of this blog post is to encourage documentary lovers and all lovers of great films to encourage your local PBS affiliate to follow PBS’ lead and air Independent Lens and POV documentaries on Monday evenings, at the times and days that they air nationally.  To the uninitiated, this seems like a relatively minor issue.  However, for documentary filmmakers, the issue is quite important for building audiences and promoting their films.  Obviously, it is not desirable to have your film air at one in the morning, but having it air on a different date in every major city is also a tremendous impediment to viewers like you and me.   Please contact your local public television affiliate and encourage it air these great films during the same days and times are they are intend to be seen nationally.

Click here to send an email WETA:

WETA, 3939 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206

Phone: 703-998-2600

Or contact Maryland Public Television here:

Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Boulevard
Owings Mills, MD 21117-1499

Phone: 410-356-5600
Fax: 410-581-4298

Or contact WHUT here:

Howard University Television
2222 Fourth Street, NW
Washington, DC 20059

For more context, see:

Best Film of the year: The Cove

I saw the film today and also heard the producer speak. Here is an excerpt of the talk he gave at SilverDocs:

It is a moving film called “The Cove,” about efforts to save dolphins.  Please take action by visiting

Below is a review I just read:


The Cove – Trying to Save 23,000 Dolphins from Slaughter

by Jaymi Heimbuch, San Francisco, California on 04. 9.09

the the cove diver underwater with dolphins photo
Photo via

Each year, starting in mid-September, 23,000 dolphins are slaughtered in near secrecy in a cove in Taiji, Japan. Richard O’Barry, the leading dolphin trainer in the 1960s and trainer of the dolphins used in the TV series Flipper, has been trying to stop this slaughter for years. We covered the stories of activist Hayden Panettiere trying to expose the slaughter. And last year, we covered the story of a brave set of film makers lead by director Louie Psihoyos who have teamed up with O’Barry and other activists in an effort to show people the intolerable killings. They’ve now created a film called The Cove showing their efforts to get through the intense security and record what happens there.

the cove slaughter of dolphins photo

The Cove is a powerful documentation of more than just this mass killing of dolphins, whose meat is later labeled as some other type of larger whale and sent for sale in markets, despite the incredibly high levels of mercury it contains due to pollution. The film is also a story of the power of commerce, the government corruption, and the culture of loving something to death that all culminate at this tiny cove where anyone trying to see what happens is intimidated until they leave.

the cove film team photo

Psihoyos and his team undertook an operation to set up secret cameras and document what happens in the cove – the round-up, the selection of a few dolphins for sale to aquatic entertainment centers, and then the slaughter of every animal left in the ring of nets.

The International Whaling Commission does nothing to stop Japan’s extreme whaling habits. The citizens of Japan do nothing simply because it is kept under such tight wrap, people don’t even know that dolphin meat is being consumed. It has taken the activists involved in this film to get it as exposed as it has become so far.

The film is intense, it’s message clear and urgent, and its passion contagious. Right now, it is being screened in various locations, but needs funding to be completed and shown on a larger scale. And time is running out – the slaughter is set to start again this September.

If you want to see the film, try to catch one of these screenings. You can also watch snippits at And, of course, if you want to take action immediately, there are ways to do that too through petitions and changes in your own daily life.

Special SilverDocs screenings/events

These films and post-screening discussions look interesting:

June 16 at 5:15 p.m.

Post-screening discussion with Award-winning filmmaker Joe Berlinger (PARADISE LOST, BROTHER’S KEEPER, METALLICA: SOME KIND OF MONSTER)

June 16 at 7 p.m.

Post-screening discussion moderated by longtime USA Today sports writer David DuPree featuring filmmaker Pete McCormack and producer Derik Murray.

June 18 at 4:30 p.m.

Post-screening panel discussion featuring filmmaker Lucy Bailey, moderated by Peter Godwin, former BBC foreign correspondent and author of When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa.

June 18 at 4:45 p.m.

Post-screening discussion moderated by Award-winning NPR national correspondent Daniel Zwerdling featuring filmmakers Laura Gabbert and Justin Schein and film subject BusinessWeek senior writer Michelle Conlin.

June 18 at 7 p.m.

Post-screening discussion featuring members of the filmmaking team, Leah Daughtry, CEO 2008 Democratic National Convention, Katherine Archuleta, DNC Lead City Planner, Chantal Unfug, Denver liaison to the DNC, Curtis Hubbard, Denver Post political editor, and Denver Post reporter Allison Sherry.

June 19 at 7-8 p.m.

Fred Wesley Quartet in performance at the Downtown Silver Spring Plaza Stage on Ellsworth Drive between Georgia and Fenton. The legendary Fred Wesley, featured in the film SOUL POWER, delivers a little of his own.

June 19 at 7:15 p.m.

Post-screening discussion moderated by Pulitzer Prize-winning fashion writer Robin Givhan and filmmaker R.J. Cutler.

June 19 at 9:45 p.m.

Post-screening discussion and performance featuring filmmaker Jeffrey Levy-Hinte and legendary funk/jazz trombonist Fred Wesley.

June 20 at 3:30 p.m.

Post-screening discussion featuring filmmaker Renzo Martens moderated by WAMU-88.5 FM host Kojo Nnamdi.

June 20 at 6:30 p.m.

Post-screening discussion moderated by Emmy Award-winning NPR news analyst Juan Williams, featuring Civil Rights activist Lawrence Guyot, Dorothy Brizill, Executive Director DC Watch, and NBC4 News reporter Tom Sherwood.

FILMOCRACY Winners Make a Statement!

After checking out these clips, go to the library and check out the book entitled Food Politics, by Marion Nestle.  I highly recommend it.

Repost of: Independent Lens Newsletter: June 23, 2008

KING CORN, one of this season’s favorite docs, provided the backdrop
for the first Filmocracy mashup contest, where we asked people to mix
it up, make a statement and answer the question: If you are what you
eat, what are you?

Many people used the powerful medium of film to illustrate their
point of view on the politics of food, using KING CORN clips and
footage from Getty Images. Participants uploaded their own clips as
well, and mixed it all up with the Eyespot online editing tool.

And without further adieu… the Filmocracy contest winners are:

Grand Prize
“Corn King Takes Over the World” by Kylee Darcy

Highest Rated
“The Politics of Food” by Brandon Savoie

Most Popular
“And So It Is” by Ananta

Watch at:

Grand prizewinner Kylee Darcy won $1,000 and her stop-motion animated
short, “Corn King Takes Over the World,” will be screened throughout
the country at Indie Lens Community Cinema events this fall. She also
gets a KING CORN DVD, soundtrack and other fabulous corn-free prizes!
The most popular and highest rated videos get cool prizes too.

Darcy, age 19, is a health conscious sophomore at UC Berkeley who is
passionate about food politics. She came across the Filmocracy
contest while conducting research about the relationship between
nutrition and exercise with mental health. For her entry, Darcy
created her own hand-drawn animation and mixed it up with KING CORN
clips and archival images to make a bold and colorful statement about
the politics of food.

The KING CORN filmmakers chose the grand prizewinner, and Eyespot
viewers gave the highest ratings to “The Politics of Food” by Brandon
Savoie. Savoie, a 22-year-old student and forklift operator from
Louisiana, has “a passion for indie filmmaking,” and entered the
contest to comment on the fast food controversy he had read about on
the Internet. “Even if I didn’t win,” he said, “I thought it would be
a good opportunity to help inform others of the irresponsibility of
the major fast food companies.” The winner of Most Popular
designation, “And So It Is” by Ananta, has not responded to our email

Watch the Independent Lens Filmocracy contest shorts winners (all
under 3 minutes) at:

Awsomely Powerful and Well Done Documentary Film

The English Surgeon - A Film By Geoffrey Smith.
I saw this film tonight at SilverDocs. It was fantastic. I also got to speak with the Director and the surgeon himself.

The English Surgeon - A Film By Geoffrey Smith.


What is it like to have God like surgical powers, yet to struggle against your own humanity? What is it like to try and save a life, and yet to fail? This film follows brain surgeon Henry Marsh as he openly confronts the dilemmas of the doctor patient relationship on his latest mission to the Ukraine.

Henry is one of London’s foremost brain surgeons, but despite being a pioneer in his field he stills rides an old pushbike to work and worries himself sick about the damage he can inflict on his patients. “When push comes to shove we can afford to lose an arm or a leg, but I am operating on people’s thoughts and feelings…and if something goes wrong I can destroy that person’s character ……forever”.