While the possibility of hosting at least some screenings at the AFI Silver Theater parallels the reopening of theaters in general, this year’s festival reflects continued caution and deference to health and safety. The selections themselves are more about “personal stories and personal thoughts,” in the words of Sarah Harris, AFI Docs’ director of programming, at a time when people are just rediscovering the human connection.
“A lot of what the country needs is healing,” said Harris. “We are coming out of the pandemic, coming out of a lot of political trauma in Washington. We seek to achieve this healing through this art form. “
The event features 77 films from 23 countries, in addition to programming that includes pre-recorded filmmaker Q&A, conversations and panels.
The festival will open with the world premiere on Tuesday of Naomi Osaka, about tennis superstar sailing under the pressure of fame, followed by a question-and-answer session with director Garrett Bradley led by NBC News correspondent Morgan Radford. The screening was announced before Osaka withdrew from Roland Garros and made his statement, Harris said.
Sunday’s closing screening will be Cusp, capturing teenage experiences through the eyes of three teenage girls in a small town in Texas. Filmmakers Parker Kill and Isabel Bethencourt will then have a conversation with the Post’s Ann Hornaday.
The Annual Charles Guggenheim Symposium will honor Dawn Porter, who will participate in a conversation on Wednesday with Variety‘s Clayton Davis and include a screening of his most recent project, Rise Again: Tulsa and the Red Summer.
A total of 22 films will be screened in person at the AFI Silver Theater in Silver Spring, MD, including the concert film Questlove. the summer of the soul; Slow agitation, on the Baltimore Police Corruption Scandal; and The one and only Dick Gregory, about the political activist and the comedian.
My name is Pauli Murray focuses on the civil rights activist who has been largely overlooked in historical records, as Murray led sit-ins in Washington years before those in the Deep South. She later became the first black woman ordained Episcopal priest. Directors Julie West and Betsy Cohen and producer Talleah Bridges McMahon will give a question-and-answer session hosted by festival programmer Malin Kan.
A security protocol will be in place for in-person screenings, with seating limits and masks required, as well as reservations. The selections will also be available virtually.
Other highlights include the world premiere of Netflix and Higher Ground Productions We the people, with presents a mix of styles and songs to help people rethink civics classes. The Washington Post’s Krissah Thompson will host Thursday’s event.
Another event on Saturday is a panel called The story came out of the closet: digging into queer stories for the screen, linked to pride month. It will be hosted by Madeleine Lim, Executive Artistic Director of the Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project.
Other events will examine the making of Philly DA, the Independent Lens series, and there will be panels on making investigative documentaries and making the production process accessible to all audiences, among other topics.
AFI Docs also hosts one-on-one meetings on Tuesdays and Thursdays for filmmakers and industry pass holders, with the aim of virtually replicating some of the networking events that were a highlight of the festival.
The festival will also feature a handful of series, including the first three episodes of 9/11: One day in America, available from Thursday, in which survivors share their experiences on that day as the 20th anniversary approaches. Producer Caroline Marsden, executive producer TJ Martin and some of the project’s subjects will have a question-and-answer session with Peter Finn of the Washington Post.
Overall, said Harris, the slate reflects “just the human connection that we may have missed in this 40s, that kind of personal storytelling triumph.”