The American Film Institute's AFI Docs presented by Audi is a documentary film festival that celebrates excellence in filmmaking and storytelling on topics including education, immigration, politics, survival and triumph.
Parents of a little boy diagnosed with a rare and fatal disease who fight to keep him alive, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who outs himself as an illegal immigrant, a killer whale who earned his name when he killed his trainer and the grief-stricken people who sent Jackie Kennedy condolence letters after her husband, President John F. Kennedy, was assassinated, are just some of the extraordinary documentary subjects at the festival this year.
Formerly Silverdocs, the AFI Docs will return for its 11th edition June 19-23 and showings will be held across Washington, D.C., including on the National Mall. Filmmakers and influential leaders will also participate in open forums to spark thoughtful discussions about some of the films.
AFI was born out of President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act in 1967, and the film festival has made a big push this year to get back to its roots in the nation's capital.
For a complete screening schedule, registration information and programming, visit AFIDocs.com.
Browse through summaries of several documentaries that will be shown at the festival to get a sneak peek of this year's line-up.
|"The Act of Killing"|
This is a film that turns a hero's story on its head.
In 1965, a military coup in Indonesia led to a widespread anti-Communist purge campaign. The army, aided by local villagers, swept through the countryside and killed people suspected of being Communists. In the end, roughly one million people died.
Today, the former members of Indonesia's death squads are still celebrated as heroes. In "The Act of Killing," filmmakers challenge the mass-murderers to dramatize their role in genocide.
Decades after Roe v. Wade, the war over a woman's right to choose still rages on.
"After Tiller" follows the professional and private lives of four late-term abortion doctors -- the only four in the United States who continue to perform third-trimester abortions -- as they endure anti-abortion protesters outside of their clinics and personal emotional struggles with their patients.
The film is named for Dr. George Tiller, a third-trimester abortion doctor in Wichita, Kan., who was shot and killed in May 2009 while attending church.
Grace Lee Boggs, a 97-year-old Chinese American philosopher and activist in her adopted hometown of Detroit, has been involved in major U.S. social movements of the last century.
Born before women could vote, Boggs built grassroots movements from within the African-American community though over 70 years of transition in Detroit. Through advocacy, Boggs tackles labor and civil rights, Black Power, feminism and other hot-button social issues.
"American Revolutionary" retraces Boggs' life and philosophies on community and new beginnings.
On Oct. 11, 1991, a young female law professor stunned the country when she testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, alleging that a U.S. Supreme Court justice nominee had made sexual harassing statements to her when she worked for him.
That woman was Anita Hill. The Supreme Court nominee was Clarence Thomas.
Despite Hill's testimony, Thomas was confirmed to the bench, but her allegations blew the lid off the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace.
"Anita" follows Hill and her advocates through that history-defining moment, retracing her feelings from that point and through the aftermath.
|"Best Kept Secret"|
John F. Kennedy School in Newark, N.J., is a public middle-secondary special education school, exclusively for special needs kids.
But in the state of New Jersey, once the kids turn 21, they are pushed out of the school system.
"Best Kept Secret" tells the story of a JFK School teacher's crusade to find a comfortable next-step place for her students with autism before they graduate and age out of the system.
"We need S-O to respond for a dead person at SeaWorld. A whale has eaten one of the trainers."
That is a part of a 911 tape recording from SeaWorld Orlando to the Orange County Sheriff's Office on Feb. 24, 2010 after an orca named Tilikum pulled his trainer Dawn Brancheau into his tank during a show and viciously killed her.
Tilikum, who was born in the wild, has been connected to two other deaths while in captivity. He remains a main attraction at SeaWorld Orlando today.
The documentary "Blackfish," which focuses on Tilikum with never-before-seen footage, examines how killer whales are treated in captivity and claims the experience traumatizes the 8,000-pound mammals.
Eight candidates. Ninety-nine counties. One winner.
The stump speeches, the taunting, the rallies, the president-bashing -- Nothing kick-offs election year chaos like the Iowa Caucuses.
"Caucus" goes behind the scenes with Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum in the GOP's battle to win Iowa during the 2012 election.
|"The Crash Reel"|
While training to compete against longtime rival, Shawn White, in the 2010 Winter Olympics, professional snowboarder Kevin Pearce suffered a traumatic brain injury.
Pearce, then 22, was practicing a complex stunt on a Utah half-pipe in 2009, when he hit his head, eventually falling into a coma. At the time, it was unclear whether he would ever ride his board again.
"The Crash Reel" follows Pearce, now 25, and his Vermont family as they begin the intense rehabilitation process. The documentary also takes a thoughtful look at the dangerous trend of extreme athletes pushing the boundaries of their sports.
|"Cutie and the Boxer"|
"Cutie and the Boxer" follows the 40-year-long relationship between Ushio and Noriko Shinohara, two Japanese artists who met and got married in New York City in the 1970s.
Ushio, now 80 years old, is famous for his "boxing" paintings, in which he dons boxing gloves with paint-coated sponges wrapped around the knuckles and "boxes" the canvas. His wife, Noriko, moved to New York when she was 19 years old to study art, fell in love with Ushio, became pregnant and put her artist dreams on hold to take care of her family.
The documentary follows the couple's complex relationship as Noriko returns to art and battles her resentment of her husband for treating her like a "free assistant," as she called it, for decades.
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and activist Jose Antonio Vargas sent shock waves through the country two years ago when he revealed in a New York Times Magazine essay that he was an undocumented immigrant.
In 1993, Vargas said he left the Philippines at age 12 to live with his grandparents in the San Francisco Bay Area, and had been living in the U.S. illegally ever since.
In his biopic, "Documented," Vargas talks about the struggles and fear he faced growing up in the U.S., his decision to "out" himself as an undocumented immigrant and the national immigration discussion.
ABC's Jim Avila will lead a panel discussion with Vargas and immigration reform experts to discuss and debate immigration policy in the United States. The session, called "What Is an American?", will take place on June 20 at 10 a.m. For more information, visit the film's profile on AFIDocs.com.
What if it was your job to defend people charged with crimes, and try to keep them out of jail, while taking in a small salary? Would you do it?
All defendants facing imprisonment have a right to a lawyer. But every year, millions of accused Americans facing trial rely on fewer than 15,000 public defenders.
"Gideon's Army" follows the daily struggles facing a group of public defenders in Georgia, while highlighting what filmmakers say is a justice system crisis in this country.
|"If You Build It"|
In North Carolina's rural Bertie County, the most educated and qualified people leave for bigger opportunities.
Most don't come back. But Emily Pilloton and Matt Miller hope to change that.
The duo teamed up to teach the fundamentals of modern architecture, design and construction to a class of high school juniors with the idea to complete projects that will benefit their community -- from playgrounds to chicken houses.
The documentary "If You Build It" covers one year in the life of Pilloton, Matt and their students as they work in one of America's most innovative classrooms.
|"Inequality For All"|
"Inequality For All" examines the widening income inequality in the U.S.
The film's main character is Robert Reich, a former Secretary of Labor under President Bill Clinton and currently a UC Berkeley professor. Reich has argued for years that income inequality threatens our nation's economy and democracy.
Through a variety of topics, including capital markets, globalization and election politics, with Reich as the guide, filmmakers argue that the "American dream" is becoming increasingly unattainable for the middle class.
|"Letters to Jackie"|
On Nov. 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy arrived in Dallas to give what was supposed to be a scheduled speech. In order to have maximum exposure through welcoming crowds, Kennedy rode through town in an uncovered limousine.
Sitting by his side was his wife, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy.
In an instant, a moment of celebration turned bloody when President Kennedy was fatally shot.
"Letters to Jackie" will be the AFI Docs opening night screener. For more information, visit the film's profile on AFIDocs.com.
|"Let the Fire Burn"|
Almost 30 years ago, Philadelphia police dropped an incendiary explosive from a helicopter into a residential neighborhood, targeting members of the extremist African-American organization, MOVE.
The ensuing fire killed 11 people and destroyed 61 homes.
In his documentary, "Let the Fire Burn," filmmaker Jason Osder pieces together the events leading up to and during the 1985 stand-off between MOVE members and Philadelphia authorities.
|"Life According to Sam"|
Sam is a young teen, but he looks like he could be well into his 80s.
When he was just 2 years old, Sam was diagnosed with Progeria, an extremely rare and fatal disease that accelerates aging in the children who are afflicted with it. There is no treatment plan and no cure.
When Sam's parents Leslie Gordon and Scott Berns, both doctors, learned of their son's prognosis, they were told to enjoy the few years of his life they had left with their only son.
Instead, they quit their jobs and began a campaign to save Sam's life and the lives of other children with Progeria. The documentary, "Life According to Sam," tells their story.
|"Lost for Life"|
In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to sentence a juvenile to life in prison without parole if the crime committed was not murder.
"Lost for Life" highlights juvenile offenders, who were convicted of first degree murder and given life sentences without parole. Filmmakers argue that while killers should be punished, to take away the possibly of parole gives them little incentive to reform their ways and hope for a better life.
|"The Machine Which Makes Everything Disappear"|
When a filmmaker in the former Soviet republic of Georgia posted a casting call ad for local youths to appear in a new movie, people from all walks of life showed up for auditions.
The concept of the movie was about "The Machine Which Makes Everything Disappear."
What they didn't know was the audition was really part of a social experiment to capture the intimate moments of their lives.
The director filmed their auditions, as they opened up about their personal struggles, hopes and dreams. Their raw interviews provided a striking view of Georgian life.
In its heyday, Muscle Shoals, Ala., was the birthplace of some of the biggest names in music history.
Aretha Franklin, Willie Nelson, Percy Sledge, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Simon and Garfunkel are just some of the legends who cut their teeth at recording studios in the small town on the Tennessee River.
At the heart of the documentary, "Muscle Shoals," is recording producer Rick Hall, who brought white and black artists into his Fame Recording Studios to record together at a time of hostile racial tensions in the South.
Throughout Richard Nixon's presidency, three of his top aides obsessively filmed their experiences in the White House and on the road with the president with Super 8 home movie video cameras.
Little did they know that in just a few years they would all be in prison.
"Our Nixon" is a collaboration of archival footage shot by Nixon's Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman, his domestic affairs advisor John Ehrlichman and special assistant Dwight Chapin. The FBI seized the footage during the Watergate investigation and filed away. It was forgotten for almost 40 years -- until now.
|"Remote Area Medical"|
Over 40 million Americans do not have health insurance. Many cannot afford to get an x-ray, have a cavity filled, be fitted for a pair of glasses or even just get an annual check-up.
Remote Area Medical, a mobile clinic that provides free health care to rural areas across the country, hopes to help ease the burden of everyday medical costs.
The documentary, "Remote Area Medical," follows the medical team, made up of an all volunteer doctor, nurse and support staff, over three days as they set up shop in Bristol, Tenn. The volunteers deliver basic medical, dental and eye care to the hundreds of people who would otherwise not be able to afford it.
|"Rent a Family, Inc."|
"In Japan, hiding secrets can be a full time job."
"Rent a Family, Inc." is a documentary focused around a 44-year-old Japanese businessman named Ryuichi who keeps secrets for a living.
Ryuichi's small company, I Want To Cheer You Up Ltd., rents himself and hired actors out to people who need stand-ins as husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, bosses, brothers, wedding guests -- almost anything for almost any event.
But he has a secret of his own. The married father of two has never told his family about his profession.
For a complete screening schedule, registration information and programming, visit AFIDocs.com.