I am a proud sponsor of Washington’s magnificent annual documentary festival and this year’s list of films is outstanding. I’m delighted that director Steve James will be there with his documentary about Roger Ebert, “Life Itself.”
112 WEDDINGS: DIR Doug Block. USA. Filmmaker Doug Block (THE KIDS GROW UP) started filming people’s wedding videos 20 years ago as a way to make extra money. Whatever became of those hopeful brides and grooms? In this funny and often touching film, Block tracks down several of them to find out if marriage was everything they dreamed it would be.
1971: DIR Johanna Hamilton. USA. In March of 1971, a break-in occurred at an FBI field office outside of Philadelphia, PA, that resulted in the theft of every single document contained within it. The true nature of what was discovered within those files would soon prove to be more shocking than the crime itself.
ACTRESS: DIR Robert Greene. USA. After landing a part on THE WIRE, actress Brandy Burre’s career was rising fast, but she gave it up for the real life role of wife and mother in upstate New York. Now, Burre is eager to find her way back into acting, but at what cost to her family?
THE AGREEMENT: DIR Karen Stokkendal Poulsen. Denmark. Some international skirmishes happen far from battlefields; they take place in quiet negotiating rooms. Yet no matter how unassuming those spaces may be, the players can be just as immovable as their armed equivalents. THE AGREEMENT takes viewers into one such discussion – the high-stakes Serbia-Kosovo negotiations to make Serbia’s EU candidacy possible. East Coast Premiere.
ALFRED & JAKOBINE: DIRS Jonathan Howells, Tom Roberts. UK/Canada. In 1955, passionate newlyweds Alfred and Jakobine bought a beat-up old taxi cab and embarked on a memorable trip around the world. When Alfred abruptly left the marriage, it left Jakobine heartbroken. Forty years later, Alfred decides to restore their old taxi and deliver it to Jakobine as a surprise. U.S. Premiere.
ALIVE INSIDE: A STORY OF MUSIC & MEMORY: DIR Michael Rossato-Bennett. USA. Millions of elderly Americans suffer from the debilitating effects of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. In this moving film, social worker Dan Cohen experiments with a music-based program to help these patients unlock deeply buried memories and emotions that had long been forgotten. The results will astound you.
AN HONEST LIAR: DIRS Justin Weinstein, Tyler Measom. USA. James “The Amazing” Randi has been mastering the art of illusion and sleight of hand to entertain audiences for over half a century. When he sees magicians’ tricks of the trade being used by con artists like faith healers and psychics to bilk the masses, however, Randi dedicates himself to exposing them.
APOLLONIAN STORY: DIRS Ilan Moskovitch, Dan Bronfield. Israel. For over 40 years, Nissim has been chipping away at a seaside limestone cliff just north of Tel Aviv. Though continually under construction, the intricate home he has built for himself is truly incredible. When his son comes to help for the summer, eccentricities arise that surely predate his work of passion.
ART AND CRAFT: DIRS Sam Cullman, Jennifer Grausman; co-directed by Mark Becker. USA. For 30 years, Mark Landis, one of the most skilled art forgers in U.S. history, has used his astonishing talent to duplicate the work of famous artists and dupe museum curators nationwide. Diagnosed with schizophrenia, this eccentric forger isn’t in it for the money – he prefers to donate his work.
BACK ON BOARD: DIR Cheryl Furjanic. USA. In 1988, Greg Louganis became the first male athlete in history to sweep the diving events in consecutive Olympic games. Despite his success, Louganis’ real challenges were still to come. Director Cheryl Furjanic’s (SYNC OR SWIM) film gives us an intimate glimpse into the life of one of the world’s greatest champions. World Premiere.
BRONX OBAMA: DIR Ryan Murdock. USA. Louis Ortiz was an unemployed single father from the Bronx in 2008 when people noticed that he bore an uncanny resemblance to presidential hopeful Barack Obama. With Obama’s victory, Ortiz transformed himself into a professional lookalike, joined a motley group of political impersonators and began to chase an unlikely version of the American dream.
BUTTERFLY GIRL: DIR Cary Bell. USA. Abbie Evans’ coming-of-age struggle is complicated by a rare life-threatening skin disorder, epidermolysis bullosa, which makes her body as fragile as butterfly wings. Alternately snarky and self-deprecating, optimistic and reckless, Evans is ready to assert her independence and break free from her stalwart parents in this unsentimental yet moving portrait.
DANGEROUS ACTS STARRING THE UNSTABLE ELEMENTS OF BELARUS: DIR Madeleine Sackler. USA. Go behind the scenes of the Belarus Free Theatre, an award-winning troupe of underground performers who dare to tackle dangerous topics that can easily put them behind bars. In the midst of an unstable political climate, these brave performers are constantly torn between fighting artistic censorship and worrying about their families’ safety.
DINOSAUR 13: DIR Todd Miller. USA. In 1990, a team of scientists from South Dakota’s Black Hills Institute stumbled onto a spectacular discovery – the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus rex specimen ever found. Nicknamed “Sue,” the T. rex soon became the center of a messy custody battle involving landowners and the federal government. East Coast Premiere.
DIOR AND I: DIR Frédéric Tcheng. France. Much is afoot in the iconic House of Dior, as newly hired artistic director Raf Simons has only eight weeks to present his first haute couture collection. The unconventional Simons collaborates with Dior’s unflagging and enchanting veteran atelier seamstresses, marking the auspicious arrival of a formidable fashion persona.
THE DOG: DIRS Allison Berg, Frank Keraudren. USA. Based on true events, the classic film DOG DAY AFTERNOON tells the story of a bank robbery gone awry. Combining present-day interviews and archival footage, THE DOG introduces us to John Wojtowicz – the real-life inspiration for Al Pacino’s character – while presenting a fascinating snapshot of New York City’s LGBT liberation movement of the 1970s. East Coast Premiere.
THE FIX: DIR Laura Naylor. USA. After years of heroin addiction, a young father from the Bronx tries to turn his life around. With the support of former junkies in his community, he works towards creating effective solutions to help empower those fighting the deadly grasp of drug addiction.
THE HAND THAT FEEDS: DIRS Rachel Lears, Robin Blotnick. USA. This inspiring film focuses on a group of employees at a popular New York City eatery, many of whom are undocumented and vulnerable to being exploited. When they stand up to management to fight for better wages and working conditions, they learn how to empower themselves and emerge as leaders.
HAPPY VALLEY: DIR Amir Bar-Lev. USA. During the Penn State scandal, the media focused on the accused and the university. They missed the private tragedies – the community questioning its perceived identity, the Paternos watching their reputation slide and Jerry Sandusky’s adopted son losing his family. Bridging the public and private dramas, HAPPY VALLEY reexamines the scandal and its aftermath.
HEAVEN ADORES YOU: DIR Nickolas Rossi. USA. When singer/songwriter Elliott Smith died in 2003, it devastated the indie rock community. Smith, best known for the Academy Award®-nominated song, “Miss Misery,” was a trailblazer for Portland’s indie scene in the ’90s. Through interviews with friends and archival footage, Nickolas Rossi’s film proves a heartfelt tribute to Smith’s legacy and music. East Coast Premiere.
THE HOMESTRETCH: DIRS Anne de Mare, Kirsten Kelly. USA. High school can be tough under any circumstances, but what if there is the added burden of having no consistent place to call home? This powerful film follows three homeless teens – Kasey, Anthony and Roque – as they share their struggles and victories while navigating their way through the Chicago Public School system. U.S. Premiere. Catalyst Screening.
HOW I GOT OVER: DIR Nicole Boxer. USA. Fifteen formerly homeless women in the Washington, DC, area come together to share their harrowing life stories, bravely setting out on the path to addiction recovery. Collaborating on an original play that they will perform at the Kennedy Center, these strong and courageous women tap into artistic talents they never knew they had. World Premiere.
I AM BIG BIRD: THE CAROLL SPINNEY STORY: DIRS Chad Walker, Dave LaMattina. USA. Big Bird has been an iconic and beloved figure to all since SESAME STREET first aired in 1969. But who is the man in the Big Bird suit? This delightful film tells the story of Caroll Spinney, the amiable Muppeteer who has filled Big Bird’s huge orange feet for over 40 years. U.S. Premiere.
THE INTERNET’S OWN BOY: DIR Brian Knappenberger. USA. At 13, Aaron Swartz co-authored the Web’s RSS format. His passion to liberate information ended tragically when a disconsolate Swartz killed himself at 26 while facing federal charges regarding his attempt to replicate a proprietary database. Swartz’s inspiring life saga celebrates extraordinary accomplishment and laments the stinging absence of an unswerving visionary. East Coast Premiere. Catalyst Screening.
IVORY TOWER: DIR Andrew Rossi. USA. Over the past 30 years, the cost of higher education has increased at an alarming rate along with the mounting burden of student loan debt needed to fund a traditional college experience. Filmmaker Andrew Rossi (PAGE ONE: INSIDE THE NEW YORK TIMES) probes the future of higher education and investigates alternatives to the traditional four-year university. Catalyst Screening.
KEEP ON KEEPIN’ ON: DIR Alan Hicks. USA. Jazz trumpet legend Clark Terry has performed with such greats as Count Basie and Duke Ellington and acted as mentor to Miles Davis and Quincy Jones. When he meets blind piano prodigy Justin Kauflin, Terry works with him to pass on some of his musical gift and help Kauflin find his own voice.
LAST DAYS IN VIETNAM: DIR Rory Kennedy. USA. As the war in Vietnam draws to its inevitable close, the North Vietnamese army swiftly rolls toward Saigon. At the city’s U.S. Embassy, a small but dedicated crew of Americans must make some hard decisions in its attempts to protect the South Vietnamese allies it has been told to leave behind.
MISCONCEPTION: DIR Jessica Yu. USA. From Academy Award®-winning filmmaker Jessica Yu (BREATHING LESSON: THE LIFE AND WORK OF MARK O’BRIEN) comes this intriguing look at the attitudes surrounding population growth in different areas of the world. Tied together by the fascinating observations of statistics expert Hans Rosling, the film follows three individuals who have a personal stake in population growth within their homelands.
MUDBLOODS: DIR Farzad Sangari. USA. In the whimsical world of her wildly successful Harry Potter books, author J. K. Rowling invented the thrilling – but imaginary – sport of Quidditch. With Potter fans reaching adulthood, Quidditch has turned into a real sport that has taken college campuses by storm thanks to some creative minds and entrepreneurial spirit. World Premiere.
THE NEWBURGH STING: DIRS Kate Davis, David Heilbroner. USA. In 2009, the FBI uncovered a Muslim terror cell plotting to attack a synagogue and U.S. military aircraft. Closer analysis, including FBI hidden-camera footage, raises substantive doubts: Were these four men tenacious terrorists or merely hapless targets of entrapment caught up in a post-9/11 hunt for “red meat” to mollify a traumatized nation? Catalyst Screening.
THE OVERNIGHTERS: DIR Jesse Moss. USA. Each day busloads of men arrive in the towns of North Dakota in search of jobs. They find scarce housing, employment hassles and a hostile citizenry. Trying to practice the compassion he preaches, Jay Reinke uses his church as a home for these men while his parishioners and neighbors grow frustrated with him.
POINT AND SHOOT: DIR Marshall Curry. USA. Matthew VanDyke, a young man from the suburbs of Baltimore, dreamed about a life of adventure that seemed outside his grasp. When VanDyke decided to turn his fantasies into reality, he soon found his life heading toward a winding path that led to the front lines of the 2011 Libyan Revolution.
THE POSSIBILITIES ARE ENDLESS: DIRS Edward Lovelace, James Hall. UK. In 2005, gifted Scottish musician Edwyn Collins suffered two devastating cerebral hemorrhages that left him with large gaps in his memory and trouble with the most basic language. This inventive film artfully puts the viewer inside Collins’ experience as he fights back from the brink of death. East Coast Premiere.
THE SEARCH FOR GENERAL TSO: DIR Ian Cheney. USA. One of the most popular dishes in Chinese restaurants in America is the deep fried, slightly spicy dish known as General Tso’s chicken. But who exactly is General Tso, and why is this menu item named after him? Filmmaker Ian Cheney (THE CITY DARK) takes us on a mouth-watering journey to the root of this amusing mystery.
SILENCED: DIR James Spione. USA. The term “whistleblower” is usually attached to controversy, and those who expose misconduct within an organization often stand to lose everything. This film looks at the post-9/11 crackdown on those who attempt to lift the veil on U.S. national security practices and the devastating costs that come with telling the truth.
SLAYING THE BADGER: DIR John Dower. USA. Greg LeMond was the first American to win the prestigious Tour de France. This engaging story looks back at the 1986 Tour in which LeMond went neck and neck with teammate, mentor and fierce competitor Bernard Hinault – nicknamed “The Badger” – whose promise to help LeMond win was abandoned in the heat of competition.
SLINGSHOT: DIR Paul Lazarus. USA. Dean Kamen invented the Segway and lives in a house with secret passages and a heliport. His latest passion is the SlingShot water purification system created to obliterate half of human illness. Kamen reminisces about accepting dyslexia, foregoing parenthood and losing his brother to cancer, while lamenting he has only one lifetime for inventing.
SOFT VENGEANCE: ALBIE SACHS AND THE NEW SOUTH AFRICA: DIR Abby Ginzberg. USA/ South Africa. In 1955, the People’s Congress declared, “South Africa belongs to all who live in it.” SOFT VENGEANCE focuses on Albie Sachs, a leading member of the National Conference in South Africa who was forced into exile for many years. The film recounts Sachs’ story through personal interviews and historical footage.
THE SPECIAL NEED: DIR Carlo Zoratti. Italy/Germany. Enea is in his late twenties and longs to experience the pleasures of a sexual relationship. However, the challenges of autism make finding the right mate difficult. In this sensitive and charming film, Enea enlists the help of his two closest friends and embarks on a road trip to seek help from sex workers. East Coast Premiere.
THE SUPREME PRICE: DIR Joanna Lipper. USA/Nigeria. In 1993, Nigeria elected MKO Abiola as president, ending the reign of military leadership. Shortly after the presidential election, Abiola was imprisoned and his wife, Kudirat, became the leader of the Nigerian pro-democracy movement. THE SUPREME PRICE weaves the past and the present of the Abiola family through the eyes of their daughter, Hafsat Abiola.
UKRAINE IS NOT A BROTHEL: DIR Kitty Green. Australia/Ukraine. Ukraine’s feminist group FEMEN creates quite a stir when the women demonstrate topless across European borders to protest against the patriarchal regime in their native country. As the protests gain international attention, however, questions grow as to who is the real driving force behind these outspoken women and their campaign for change.
VIRUNGA: DIR Orlando von Einsiedel. USA. In the DRC exists Africa’s oldest national park containing the last natural habitat for endangered mountain gorillas. As civil unrest grows within the Congo, a British oil company pursues efforts to drill within the park. VIRUNGA highlights the small number of dedicated individuals fighting to secure the park’s borders.
WE ARE THE GIANT: DIR Greg Barker. USA/UK. The recent Arab Spring uprisings were often organized by young people who embraced the tools of social media to communicate and call for lasting change within their governments. This powerful and inspiring film talks to some of these young activists to discover what drives them forward despite great personal risk. East Coast Premiere.
WHEN THE GARDEN WAS EDEN: DIR Michael Rapaport. USA. The time was the late 1960s and the “Garden” was Madison Square Garden in this fond look back at the New York Knicks basketball team, which meant little to New Yorkers at the time. But with new coaching and a band of talented players with personality, the team turned the sport around for the city.
WHITEY: UNITED STATES V. JAMES J. BULGER: DIR Joe Berlinger. USA. For decades, legendary gangster James “Whitey” Bulger ruled South Boston with seemingly free reign. After spending 16 years in hiding, however, Bulger is finally put on trial to answer for his crimes. AFI DOCS 2012 Guggenheim honoree and acclaimed filmmaker Joe Berlinger (PARADISE LOST Trilogy) sheds new light on Bulger’s notorious history amid allegations of deep corruption within law enforcement.