Sundance Institute Selects 2020 Native Filmmakers Lab Fellows

Posted by Larry Gleeson                                                  June 30,2020

Los Angeles, CA — Five Indigenous filmmakers have been chosen to participate in the 2020 Sundance Institute Native Filmmakers Lab, reimagined and expressed digitally this year on Sundance Co//ab. The Lab is at the core of the Institute’s commitment to supporting Indigenous storytellers since its founding.

At the Native Filmmakers Lab (June 29–July 10), Fellows will workshop scripts of their short films under the expert creative mentorship of Indigenous Program alumni and other established filmmaking professionals serving as Advisors along with the Sundance Indigenous Program staff, led by Indigenous Program Director N. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache). The Lab encourages Fellows to hone their storytelling and craft skills in a hands-on and supportive environment. Following the Lab, Fellows will receive a year-long continuum of support.


N Bird Runningwater, Sundance Institute Indigenous Program Director

“We are pleased to announce that we will be hosting our annual Native Filmmakers Lab in an exciting digital format on our Co//ab platform that allows for virtual participation by our Lab Fellows from where they are socially distancing,” said Runningwater. “Given this extremely challenging time as we struggle with the impact of Covid-19 in our homelands, it is important to organize a safe space for Indigenous storytellers to come together to develop and share their work.”

“The Indigenous Program will continue the tradition of providing mentorship and support to our Native Lab Fellows as they carry on with their work,” said Runningwater. “As Indigenous peoples our connection to each other and our communities is strong. Drawing upon our ancestral strengths of adaptation and resilience we plan to make this year’s Lab a great success and provide the inspiration and support that our Lab Fellows need to bring their films to fruition and to audiences around the world.”


The filmmakers serving as Creative Advisors for this year’s Native Lab include: Kerry Warkia (Papua New Guinean) (Vai, Waru, The Legend of Baron To’a), Rashaad Ernesto Green (Gun Hill Road, Premature), Elegance Bratton (Walk for Me, Pier Kids), Cherien Dabis (Amreeka, May in the Summer), Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers (Blackfoot/Sámi) (Bihttoš, The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open) and Joan Tewkesbury (Thieves Like Us, Nashville). Peer Advisors for this year’s Native Lab include Razelle Benally (Oglala Lakota/Diné Nations) (I am Thy Weapon, Raven), and Erica Tremblay (Seneca-Cayuga/Wynadotte Nations) (Little Chief).

Artists and projects selected for the 2020 Native Filmmakers Lab:

Rob Fatal (Mestiza/o/x, Ute, Rarámuri, Pueblo) / Can Digital Genizaros Remember the Taste of Churros?: In near future Oakland, California a new invention allows people to upload their consciousness to the Internet as a way to achieve immortality and pay off debt. In the societal panic that follows, 2, Two Spirit best friends debate whether or not to follow thousands of people into the digital unknown in this philosophical, sci-fi dramedy.
Rob Fatal [they/them] is a Two Spirit Mestiza/o/x filmmaker, new media artist and storyteller exploring decolonial aesthetics. Working in multiple analog and digital mediums allows Fatal to reimagine their own multi-lineage indigenous storytelling tradition for our current time which Fatal refers to as the “indigenous post-apocalypse”. Fatal is often drawn to mediums like filmmaking and performance which bring together community and people to achieve a desired vision or work. Fatal finds community and culture to be their greatest artistic inspiration. To create with the collective minds of unique individuals is a practice that brings to them a great spiritual catharsis; a feeling of joy and power tied to the realization of what people working together can accomplish when in harmony: a home, a shared reality, justice, and healing. Fatal’s work has been screened internationally at the British Film Institute Flare Festival, Fringe! Queer Film & Art Festival in London, Vancouver Antimatter Media Arts Festival, Frameline SF LGBTQ Film Festival, Outsider Fest Austin, Institute of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, and the Broad Museum. Fatal’s films are distributed by Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Center.

Keanu Jones (Navajo) / Ownership: An oppressed silversmith enters the ruthless business world to unveil the bitter reality of the Native American jewelry markets in the surrounding border-towns.

Keanu Jones is Mexican Clan born for Big Water Clan and is from Grand Falls, Arizona. He is a member of the Navajo Nation. Surrounded by family and the way of living on the Navajo Nation, his artistic identity has been greatly informed by his upbringing. This will continue to be reflected in the narratives he wants to explore.

In 2015, he was recognized with 15 other young filmmakers at the Student White House Film Festival. Then in 2018, he was recognized for his short film at the Navajo Film Festival. Keanu graduated from Navajo Technical University with a bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing and New Media.

Amanda Strong (Métis/Michif) / Wheetago War: In a world turned to ice, the People have survived the Wheetago for two lifetimes. Wheetago War is the story of Dove, a young gender shifter, who regains medicinal knowledge to defeat the Wheetago.

Amanda Strong is a Michif (Métis, Cree, Chippewa, Assiniboine, European and Polish Ancestry) interdisciplinary artist with a focus on filmmaking, stop motion animations and media art. She is currently living and working on unceded Coast Salish territories of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), səl̓ílwətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) Nations. Strong received a BAA in Interpretative Illustration and a Diploma in Applied Photography from the Sheridan Institute.  With a cross-discipline focus, common themes of her work are reclamation of Indigenous stories, lineage, language and culture.  Strong is the Owner/Director/Producer of Spotted Fawn Productions Inc. (SFP). Under her direction, SFP utilizes a multi-layered approach and unconventional methods that are centered in collaboration on all aspects of their work.

Strong’s work is fiercely process-driven and takes form in various mediums such as: stop-motion, 2D/3D animation, Virtual Reality, gallery/museum installations, published books and community-activated projects.

She was selected by renowned filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin to win the Clyde Gilmour Technicolour Award. In 2017 she won the Victor Martyn Lynch-Staunton Mid Career Artists award, the Vancouver Mayor’s Arts Award for Emerging Film and Media Artist in 2016 and, in 2013, Amanda was the recipient of K.M. Hunter Artist Award for Film and Video.  Her films have screened across the globe.

Fellowship for Indigenous Canadian film artist made possible with support from the Indigenous Screen Office.

Artists-in-Residence selected for the 2020 Native Filmmakers Lab:

Cole Forrest (Nipissing First Nation) is an Ojibwe artist based in Toronto, Ontario. Originally from Nipissing First Nation, he strives for compassion and acceptance within the arts. Cole trained and honed his craft at the “Big Medicine Studio” while working with the group Aanmitaagzi – and has written, directed, and acted in various student/independent short films, theatre pieces, and a musical. Cole’s films have been screened at various film festivals including ImagineNATIVE and Toronto Queer Film Festival, and he is a recipient of the Ken and Ann Watts Memorial Scholarship and of the James Bartleman Indigenous Youth Creative Writing Award. Cole is the 2019 recipient of the ImagineNATIVE + LIFT Film Mentorship, and a graduate of the Video Design and Production program at George Brown College – and is currently a Grants Assistant at the Toronto Arts Council. He is grateful to represent his community in all of his artistic pursuits.

Petyr Xyst (Laguna Pueblo) is an Emmy-nominated American human from Albuquerque, NM whose work focuses on themes of class, institutional failures and the people who cope with them, and the strangeness of coming of age in the 21st century. His work spans genres and formats, exploring comedy, drama, and experimental forms in short film, music video, and new media. He’s been featured at the National Film Festival for Talented Youth, NATAS NW, AAHSFF, on PBS, and others. In his quarantine time, he likes to read non-fiction and stare at the wall for an indefinite period. He’s also a Sundance Institute Full Circle alum and a third-year student at the University of New Mexico.

Sundance Institute’s Indigenous Program
The Indigenous Program champions Indigenous independent storytelling artists through residency Labs, Fellowships, public programming, and a year-round continuum of creative, financial, and tactical support. The Program conducts outreach and education to identify a new generation of Indigenous voices, connecting them with opportunities to develop their storytelling projects, and bringing them and their work back to Indigenous lands. At its core, the Program seeks to inspire self-determination among Indigenous filmmakers and communities by centering Indigenous people in telling their own stories.

The Sundance Institute Indigenous Program is supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Oneida Indian Nation, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Nia Tero Foundation, SAGindie, Indigenous Screen Office, New Zealand Film Commission, Jenifer and Jeffrey Westphal, Indigenous Media Initiatives, Felix Culpa, Sarah Luther, Susan Shilliday, and an anonymous donor.

Sundance Institute
Founded in 1981 by Robert Redford, Sundance Institute is a nonprofit organization that provides and preserves the space for artists in film, theatre, and media to create and thrive. The Institute’s signature Labs, granting, and mentorship programs, dedicated to developing new work, take place throughout the year in the U.S. and internationally. Sundance Co//ab, a digital community platform, brings artists together to learn from each other and Sundance Advisors and connect in a creative space, developing and sharing works in progress. The Sundance Film Festival and other public programs connect audiences and artists to ignite new ideas, discover original voices, and build a community dedicated to independent storytelling. Sundance Institute has supported such projects as The Farewell, Late Night, The Souvenir, The Infiltrators, Sorry to Bother You, Eighth Grade, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Hereditary, RBG, Call Me By Your Name, Get Out, The Big Sick, Top of the Lake, Winter’s Bone, Dear White People, Little Miss Sunshine, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Fruitvale Station, State of the Union, Indecent, Spring Awakening, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder and Fun Home. Join Sundance Institute on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

(Source: Sundance Press Release)


AFI DOCS Film Review: Maria Finitzo’s Cliteracy-exploring DILEMMA OF DESIRE Shouts For More

Posted by Larry Gleeson                                                                                      June 29, 2020

Watching the opening scene of the cliteracy-exploring documentary, The  Dilemma of Desire, I was intrigued watching a woman, neuroscientist Stacey Dutton, Ph. D., in an office present-day, walking across the screen and opening a Gray’s Anatomy Textbook, while a voice-over narration informs the viewer. What happens next befuddled me. I could not believe my eyes. Here is a woman in 2020 with an anatomy book that has no picture or information on the female clitoris. Unbelievable right? Well, apparently, the edition being discussed was published in 1858. A sleight of hand so to say. The intent is crystal clear in today’s protest language, “Let’s get emotional people! This is pussy power were dealing with here!!!”

But, the best was yet to come as the film’s most intriguing characters were introduced. One, a Brooklyn-based artist, Sophia Wallace, has a routine of going to the gym listening to “work-out” music then taking lyrics and reframing them with the clitoris in mind. From there, prints are created celebrating the “clit,” and the hundred laws of cliteracy. To accentuate, a revealing text title poses the question with dramatic flair, “Can you draw a clit?” Pulsating music accompanies the next segment, Womanhood: The Clitoris Chapter, introducing “Critical Thinking – The Best Work of Sophia Wallace” – a very thought-provoking art exhibit celebrating the female “joy button.” More importantly, Wallace is a compelling force on the screen as she shares her experience, strength, and hope in navigating desire as she expresses her truth as Director Maria Finitzo captures mush of it in Verite’ style.

In today’s world, we often hear somewhat crude and vulgar terms such as “bumping uglies” or “doing the nasty.” Wallace’s phrases, in juxtaposition, are framed in glitteringly gold letters – a beautiful and highly respectful manner and miles away from “bumping uglies” or “doing the nasty.” After Wallace’s whirlwind world, Finitzo goes on to highlight Linda Diamond, PH. D., Professor of Psychology and Gender Studies, a monthly newsletter for women interested in “pleasure in a practical everyday sense,” an industrial engineer manufacturing elegant female vibrators as well as a stunning Chicagoan woman, Coriama, who proudly postulates she has the will to negotiate for what she needs sexually.

Interestingly, Finitzo, a Peabody Award-winning director, spouts themes from Audrey Lourde’s feminist-leaning essay, Uses of the Erotic, that women have been suppressed from power and information by the male world. To prove her point, Finitzo adds a black and white still photograph of a woman suffering from what Dr. Sigmund Freud referred to as hysteria. Today, “hysterical” women in Decatur, Georgia, have formed a female support group. Here women create a sacred, safe space to explore the bounds of their sexuality. Adeptly, Finitzo managed to score footage from a meeting of the “mine’s.” as the women from Decatur openly share intimate feelings about their clitorises.

Nevertheless, “the little man in the boat” remains the misunderstood, “shuntive” part of the female anatomy, keeping women suppressed, as they are systematically warned against the dangers of eroticism and the resulting information. In one especially memorable scene, Finitzo mixes a driving, non-diegetic musical score culminating in a crescendo with a voice-over narration describing the clitoris as a powerful provocative force, a replenishing force. Some top-notch burlesque sequences, both archival performances as well as current-day performers, add an exquisite, erotic vibe.

The Dilemma of Desire, executively produced by Academy Award-winning Barbara Kopple, is an exceptionally well-executed film advocating that women are sexual beings with the right to live fully in the expression of their desires. The craftsmanship in gathering footage, in editing, informative narrative voice-overs, and musical score support and add timely emotionality in underscoring Finitzo’s sharply-pointed direction. My hat comes off to the cast and crew.

Probably most surprising was Finitzo’s ability to add tongue-in-cheek scenic elements underscoring the buffoonery surrounding the massive dismissal of the “devil’s doorbell” – in my opinion, a very serious oversight. But in the end, though the coverage seemed somewhat excessive, I found it wholly conceivable to view the clitoris as a replenishing, provocative force after viewing The Dilemma of Desire. A bit long, however, with a runtime of 109 minutes. Highly recommended.




AFI DOCS FILM REVIEW: Ron Howard’s Gripping “Rebuilding Paradise” Uplifts and Inspires

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Academy Award-winning filmmaker Ron Howard’s Rebuilding Paradise, a blistering Verite-style, National Geographic documentary, captures the devastation of the 2018 Camp Fire and the resiliency of Paradise, Calif., residents in the fire’s aftermath. Howard, one of Hollywood’s most popular directors, also directed the 1991 fire drama Backdraft. Other Howard films include the Oscar-winning dramas A Beautiful Mind and Apollo 13, the hit comedies Parenthood and Splash, and the critically-acclaimed documentaries Pavarotti and The Beatles: Eight Days A Week – The Touring Years. Following the Rebuilding Paradise screening, Howard and Paradise residents, Michelle John and Woody Culleton, participated in a Q & A moderated by broadcast journalist Katy Tur, an NBC correspondent and anchor for MSNBC Live. Howard confided Rebuilding Paradise was his first venture into Verite-style filmmaking while the residents echoed the unimaginable magnitude of the fire’s devastation and that the images don’t reflect the fire’s “uncomprehendable” nature.

Rebuilding Paradise opens in dramatic fashion with narrative voice-over providing a weather update informing the viewer of a windy day and PG&E contemplating a pre-emptive decision to shut down the area’s power grid. Large, fast-moving fire breaks out in the Feather River Canyon with four dozers, two water tenders, and four strike teams are deployed. Emergency calls are heard. School and hospital evacuations are taking place. Audible prayers are heard. And then, dashcam footage of a vehicle racing through the haze and fiery embers with diegetic radio communications juxtaposed against footage of a raging, massive wildfire (imagine Lord of the Rings Mountain of Fire) fueled by dry timber and blustering forty mile-per-hour winds reveal the genesis of a perfect firestorm. Non-diegetic music from the master composer, Hans Zimmer accompanies haunting, apocalyptic slow-motion frames of horses seeking freedom or at least a free-range amidst a claustrophobic smoke and death-seeking fire patches. The scene closes tinged in hope as a family escapes the area in their vehicle with exclamatory verbiage.

For me, this opening scene captured the essence of Rebuilding Paradise. As devastating as the fire and the footage were, the family breaks out and into blue skies with a redemptive foreshadowing. Howard latches on to a group of Paradise residents who have a deeply rooted sense of place and home as they take the journey to rebuild Paradise one day at a time. There were plenty of setbacks and details of electrical equipment dating to 1921 still in use were trying and quite frustrating as the lawyers for PG&E managed to beat down a wrongful death case to manslaughter with a 3.5 million dollar fine for the lives of 85 Paradise residents who perished in the massive fire. Adeptly, Howard captures the real Erin Brockovich speaking to a group of Paradise residents. Brockovich was the subject of a 2000 bio-drama directed by Steven Soderbergh, starring Julia Roberts that dramatized Brockovich’s relentless and successful pursuit of justice for families who were victims of PG&E polluting their water supply.

Interestingly, Howard chose to tell the story in linear segments beginning with one month, then to three months, six months, culminating with nine months. On top of the eighty-five deaths, fifty thousand lives were displaced. One of the film’s most compelling characters turned out to be the school psychologist, Carly Ingersoll, a young thirty-something, married woman who had decided to start a family with her husband. But due to contaminants being absorbed into the groundwater, she and her husband were advised by their physician not to have a baby. In her professional capacity, she was fully engaged in trauma counseling with students and despite having nearly perished in the fire herself managed to see beyond the devastation and find a sense of hope for the future.

Rebuilding Paradise is a gripping, well-executed film with top-notch photography, driving musical score and inspirational, narrative story-telling and it covers the trials and tribulations of a community facing an assured annihilation who turn their devastation into a mythic Phoenix as their town rises from its ashes in warm and hopeful tones. Very highly recommended.


AFI DOCS FILM REVIEW: Jimmy Carter, Rock & Roll President Brings Down The Curtain for 2020 With Hope And Love

Posted by Larry Gleeson

The Virtual World Premiere of the 2020 Virtual AFI DOCS Closing Night Film, Jimmy Carter, Rock & Roll President, directed by Mary Wharton, provided an artistic view into the influence of music on Jimmy Carter’s upbringing and its influence on the Carter Presidency. The work also provides an intimate look inside the former United States President who made peace, human rights, and healing the nation a priority after the Vietnam War and the Watergate debacle. Director Wharton also won the 2004 Grammy Award for Best Music Film for her documentary feature Sam Cooke: Legend. Other feature film credits include Joan Baez: How Sweet The Sound, the platinum-selling concert film Phish: It and Farrah Fawcett Forever.

Jimmy Carter, Rock & Roll President featured testimonial interviews, poetry readings, and archival performances from musical legends Bob Dylan, Nile Rodgers, Roseanne Cash, Chuck Leavell, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Dizzie Gillespie, Sarah Vaughn, Ray Charles, Mihaela Jackson, Tom T. Hall, Jimmy Buffet, Bono, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Trisha Yearwood, Garth Brooks, Charlie Daniels, and Gregg Allman and the Allman Brothers Band. Moreover, Ambassadors to the United Nations, Madeline Albright and Andrew Young, as well as Special Assistants to the President, Jim Free and Tom Beard, shared their respect and admiration for President Carter with direct interviews. Chip Carter, son and Presidential driver, added verisimilitude to the film’s revelatory narrative.

Following the screening, Wharton and Producer Chris Farrell participated in a Q & A moderated by Ken Jacobson and with President Carter calling in from his home in Plains, Georgia. Unfortunately, due to low bandwidth, the call was mostly inaudible. Nevertheless, the Q & A proved enlightening. While Farrell was researching and gathering artifacts for an Allman Brothers documentary, he was referred to a “bunch of guys” who began sharing stories of Gregg Allman and Jimmy Carter. Then Bob Dylan. Then Willie Nelson. And so it went. Ad Infinitum. Interestingly, Allman was the first guest of President Carter to dine in the White House. The two had become friends during Carter’s years as the Governor of the State of Georgia. In an archival interview, a clean and sober Allman tells the story of Jimmy coming out and claiming the Presidency was his for the winning. Mr. Allman claims the pronouncement came as the two heavyweights put a large dent in a bottle of J & B Scotch Whiskey. Carter contested Allman’s claim as Jimmy limits himself to one drink a day at most!

But, Jimmy Carter did become President. The road wasn’t easy. He struggled immensely until musicians like the Allman Brothers and Jimmy Buffet put on concerts in Rhode Island and Oregon respectively, galvanizing the youth vote. Even gonzo journalist Hunter Thompson was impressed with Jimmy Carter. Thompson was covering Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy’s national campaign for the Democratic Party nomination when he witnessed the verve of Carter. Carter would go on to win the nomination and the election. Kennedy would go on to have one of the longest and most influential careers in the history of the United States Senate championing a wide-range of legislative issues including the civil rights of the disabled, immigration, education, and health care reform and would bear the moniker, Lion of the Senate, for his Senatorial prowess,

Once Jimmy Carter became President, White House Lawn gatherings became regular events organized by the First Lady Rosalynn Carter. And Wharton provides spot-on footage, voice-overs, and montages of stills photographs to perfection. Yet, all was not perfect in the Camelot of the South. The longtime U.S. friend and ally, the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, had been facing opposition demonstrations and civil resistance when he fled the country leaving the opposition party’s Prime Minister in charge. The Shah had cancer and sought exile and treatment in the United States. This would become the defining moment of the Carter Administration. Carter, the humanitarian, allowed the Shah into the U.S. for treatment. The Iranian government fell and was taken over by the religious Grand Ayatollah Khomeini. The country quickly became an Islamic republic with a theocratic-republican constitution while student radicals took 52 American hostages at the US Embassy in Tehran. Former President Richard Nixon and Republican foreign policy hawks wanted swift military action against Iran. President Carter chose peace and dialogue in negotiating a release.

The U.S. economy had inflation, exorbitant interest rates, and gasoline shortages that resulted in huge lines at the pumps when gas was available. The country was in a spiritual malaise. Carter would lose his re-election bid in a landslide to Ronald Reagan, the movie actor, and Governor of California. Carter states on camera if he had it all to do over again, he’d do it the same way. The day Reagan was sworn in all the hostages were released after being held captive for 444 days. Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter said their goodbyes, boarded Air Force One (where they received word of the hostages leaving Iranian airspace) and returned to small-town life in Plains, Georgia. The Carter Administration had significant foreign policy and domestic achievements with the Camp David Accords, the Panama Canal Treaties, humanitarian work around the world and new energy policies at home, environmental protection, and major educational programs under the new Department of Education.

Jimmy Carter, the Naval Officer, author, poet, a nuclear physicist, and a peanut farmer from small-town Plains, Georgia, would go on to lead a life of service negotiating peace deals (winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002), advocating for voter rights, and building homes for the less fortunate. He continues to this day with the love of his life, Rosalynn. Jimmy Carter, Rock & Roll President is one of the most fascinating biographical documentaries, I have ever seen. While many might feel compelled to say, “I like Jimmy Carter, the man, but not Jimmy Carter, the President.” I say, “Well…you need to watch Jimmy Carter, Rock & Roll President.” Highly recommended!

JIMMY CARTER Rocks the 2020 Virtual AFI DOCS to a Resounding Close

Posted by Larry Gleeson

AFI DOCS Wraps Up its First-Ever Virtual Film Festival


The 2020 AFI DOCS went virtual for the first time ever. The scheduled Opening Night Film, BOYS STATE, an up-close and personal look inside the American Legion’s annual political summer camp, was postponed for me due to technical issues. Consequently, A Thousand Cuts became the first film I viewed. I was able to circle back with an extended Boys State viewing window thanks to AFI DOCS. In the words of former President of the United States, Jimmy Carter, in the Closing Night Film, Jimmy Carter, Rock & Roll President, “If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

The AFI DOCS offerings for its 2020 edition featured 59 films from 11 countries and 12 virtual World Premieres, with 61% of the films directed by women, 25% by POC directors, and 14% by LGBTQ directors. AT&T returned as Presenting Sponsor. Eventive provided the virtual space for viewings.

Rebuilding Paradise
Rebuilding Paradise


Some of my favorite films and events included: the Closing Night Film, Jimmy Carter, Rock and Roll President, an artistic view into the influence of music on the Carter Presidency featuring musical legends Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Dizzie Gillespie, Jimmy Buffet, Trisha Yearwood, Garth Brooks, and Gregg Allman while providing an intimate look inside the former United States President who made peace, human rights, and healing a priority (highly recommended viewing); Ron Howard’s Rebuilding Paradise, a blistering Verite-style documentary capturing the devastation of the 2018 Camp Fire and the resiliency of a group of Paradise, Calif., residents in the aftermath; Sing Me A Song, a “beautiful observational portrait” on the influence technology has on a Bhutan monastery and the life of its monks; and, the Guggenheim Symposium with Lee Grant, a conversation moderated by Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday, that focused on Grant’s second career behind the camera after an Oscar-worthy acting career. Grant spoke of Barbara Kopple’s groundbreaking work, Harlan County, U.S.A., and the profound influence it had on her decision to make her 1986 Best Documentary Oscar-winning Down and Out in America – Grant’s exploration of homelessness, foreclosures, and food insecurity across the country during the Reagan-era recession.



Academy Award ® -winning actor and filmmaker Lee Grant, left, and the Washington Post’s Ann
Hornaday during the 2020 Guggenheim Symposium at AFI DOCS.

Truthfully, there were so many excellent films, presentations, panels, and forums, I’m somewhat dumbfounded virtually. A film deserving of special mention, however, is The Fight, produced by Elyse Steinberg, Josh Kriegman, Eli Despres, Maya Seidler, Peggy Wexler, and Kerry Washington, and tracked four American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) cases beginning with archival footage of a crowd of peaceful protesters outside the Brooklyn, New York, office building. The gathering came together following the newly inaugurated (seven days old) United States President’s public declaration on national television of Donald J. Trump’s Muslim ban. The Muslim ban’s third iteration was upheld by the United States Supreme Court. In the other three cases, the ACLU prevailed revealing military sex-orientation discriminatory policy, census misinformation perpetrated by the Commerce Department, and the denial of constitutionally granted reproductive rights by the Office of Refugee Resettlement. All three issues were strongly supported publicly by President Trump. An exceptionally well-constructed film. Essential viewing.

The Fight
The Fight

Congratulations to this year’s AFI DOCS Award Winners. The Audience Award for Best Feature went to TRANSHOOD, directed by Sharon Liese. The Audience Award for Best Short went to BLACKFEET BOXING: NOT INVISIBLE, directed by Kristen Lappas and Tom Rinaldi. The Grand Jury Prize for Short Films went to ABORTION HELPLINE, THIS IS LISA, directed by Barbara Attie, Janet Goldwater, and Mike Attie. The jury said of the selection, “For its simple yet profound approach to a polarizing political issue, we have selected a film which puts humanity ahead of an agenda.” The Shorts Grand Jury Prize is a qualifying award for Academy Award eligibility. The jury also awarded an honorable mention to DO NOT SPLIT, directed by Anders Hammer.

This year’s voting jury for the competitive Short Films slate was comprised of Opal H. Bennett, festival Programmer for DOC NYC and Athena Festival and Shorts Producer for POV; filmmaker and curator Cameron Yates; and Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Smriti Mundhra.

In addition to the films and the Guggenheim Symposium, AFI DOCS offered a plethora of panels featuring engaging discussions between filmmakers and film subjects, led by some of the nation’s top journalists: NBC News’ Meet the Press moderator and NBC News Political Director Chuck Todd; NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell; MSNBC correspondent Trymaine Lee; CNN anchor and correspondent Juan Carlos Arciniegas; NBC News correspondent and MSNBC anchor Katy Tur; NBC News correspondent Jacob Soboroff; NBC News’ Meet the Press senior producer Allie Sandza; CNN history correspondent Douglas Brinkley; author and journalist Lois Romano; activist and journalist Tre’vell Anderson; journalist Soledad O’Brien; and The Washington Post’s chief film critic Ann Hornaday, Global Opinions writer Jason Rezaian, on-air reporter Nicole Ellis and deputy editorial page editor Ruth Marcus.

Moreover, The AFI DOCS Forum explored unique topics with keynote presentations, conversations, panel discussions, and micro-meetings that covered developments affecting our world and documentary filmmaking. Programming for the Forum was made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Arts. NBC News’ Meet the Press and The Washington Post returned to host and moderate sessions, with Netflix and ITVS joining to host sessions as well.

Until next time, I look forward to seeing you at the movies!




Showcasing the best in documentary programming from the US and around the globe in the heart of the nation’s capital, AFI DOCS is the nation’s premier documentary film festival.

AFI DOCS offers a unique opportunity to connect audiences with inspiring documentarians, film subjects, national opinion leaders, public policy experts, and changemakers. With insightful screenings, industry panels, and creative workshops you won’t experience at any other film festival, the festival harnesses the power of this important art form and its potential to inspire social change.

Throughout the year, the AFI DOCS Film Series brings audiences in the nation’s capital the best in nonfiction filmmaking.

“The nation’s leading documentary film festival.” – The Washington Post

AFI DOCS Advisory Board

Ken Burns

Davis Guggenheim

Chris Hegedus

Werner Herzog

Rory Kennedy

Barbara Kopple

Spike Lee

Errol Morris

Stanley Nelson

Frederick Wiseman

* Featured photo: President Jimmy Carter, left, and musician Willie Nelson.




AFI DOCS 2020 FILM REVIEW: A THOUSAND CUTS A Prophetic Story of “The Last Days of Democracy”

Posted by Larry Gleeson

The virtual 2020 AFI DOCS, supported by presenting sponsor, AT & T, started off with a technical difficulty, unrecoverable on my end, for the Opening Night Film, Boys State. As a result, my opening film became Ramona Diaz’s A Thousand Cuts, a well-orchestrated feature documentary on the suppression of free speech, corruption, human rights violations, the impunity of the Presidency, and the proliferation of disinformation spread through government propaganda and social media sites after the 2016 Philippine election of a populist candidate, Rodrigo Duterte. A Thousand Cuts is being presented at the 2020 AFI DOCS by The Washington Post and Washington Post Press Freedom Partnership.

Diaz utilizes historical interview and news archives after the 2016 election of “strongman” Rodrigo Duterte and the culminating intersection of Maria Ressa’s Rappler, a news site run by Phillipino women speaking truth to power. Ressa, the Time Magazine 2018 Person of the Year, received a six-year sentence for cyber-libel four days ago for her stand on democracy and her vision for a Philippine society based in love and hope rather than in anger and fear. Amal Clooney, the wife of American Hollywood actor, George Clooney, both of whom appear in the film during some heady moments, provides representation to Ressa.

In addition, Diaz provides testimonials from a multitude of journalists and a celebrity political candidate, who becomes Duterte’s social media pawn, on the political situation in the streets and inside the Duterte government. Both direct cinema and cinema verite are woven into the film’s narrative adding substance and depth to the testimonials. In one capture, Ressa describes the global alternative news movement in the Philippines. Ressa uses graphs and a verbal explanation in revealing 25 bot-like sites, all following each other, to influence an immediate audience of three million while disseminating various untruths of misinformation. Ressa also explains to co-journalists how this messaging is then repeated millions of times with the end goal of creating doubt as to what facts are.

In archival footage following his election, Duterte begins calling traditional news outlets “fake news” and begins utilizing alt news sites to sow misinformation, creating a mob mentality as misogynistic comments to rape to death or to behead Ressa for her critical news reporting approach appear on social media. Vile and shocking screenshots of social media comments further substantiate Ressa’s journalistic claims and warrant further investigation. Martin Niemölle’s infamous “First they came:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

is reduced with dramatic and telling effect by another journalist with, “First they came for the journalist, then no one knows what happened next.”

Unmistakably, a correlation with the Trump government surfaces even though only one image of the President of the United States is shown. The typical sexist (misogynistic) “locker room” talk is shown at a rally where Duterte connects the smell of fish to the scent of a woman, manipulates a podium microphone to illustrate a weak phallus, and promulgates a war on drugs vocally saying he will kill drug dealers.

Unsurprisingly, three hours after Duterte’s election, the first dead body is found in the street. Pushing aside due process and the rule of law, the Duterte government has killed thousands upon thousands of individuals leaving the bodies in the streets devastating family members and disrupting the family dynamic, disrupted constitutional checks and balances with an unchecked abuse of executive authority, and suppressed freedom of the press with slut-shaming tactics such as labeling female journalists “presstitutes” – in my opinion, the least derogatory term Duterte uses throughout A Thousand Cuts to describe the media and the female journalists depicted.

The title of the film, A Thousand Cuts, refers to a small cut that doesn’t have much effect on the workings of democracy, yet when repeated over and over each small effect begins to damage the fabric of democracy until it becomes something else. An exceptionally well-made political documentary with a timely urgency and the soul democracy at its core. A “must-see” selection with a recorded Q & A following with Diaz and Ken Jacobson, an AFI Senior Documentary Film & Special Content Programmer.

PBS Distribution and Frontline will release A Thousand Cuts this August.

AFI DOCS continues through June 21st “exploring political and social issues in the US and across the globe, introducing us to the next generation of leaders and shedding new light on figures of the past.” For more information visit AFI DOCS.

Until next time, I look forward to seeing you at the movies!





Posted By Larry Gleeson


SANTA BARBARA, CA (June 17, 2020) – The Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF), presented by UGG®, today announced a shift in dates for the 36th annual event, which will now take place from March 31 – April 10, 2021.

The festival, which typically occurs in January, has adjusted its 2021 dates in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the concern for the health and well-being of the community. This shift from the previously announced dates (January 27 – February 6, 2021) recognizes the impact the global pandemic has had on the film community and beyond.

SBIFF Executive Director Roger Durling.

“Like so many other prestigious ceremonies and events, we’ve had to adjust our plans in this extremely unprecedented era,” said SBIFF Executive Director Roger Durling. “There has never been a more critical time to celebrate cinema and its ability to get us through extremely challenging circumstances, whether on a personal level or on a global scale, by keeping us entertained, informed and inspired.”

SBIFF will once again bring 200+ films featuring over 120 world and US premieres, industry panels, celebrity tributes, and educational and free community programs to Santa Barbara, with screenings and events held throughout the city, including the Arlington and Lobero Theatres.

Last year’s 35th annual festival included nightly tributes honoring artists including Brad Pitt, Renee Zellweger, Adam Driver, Lupita Nyong’o, Laura Dern, Bong Joon-ho, Aldis Hodge, George MacKay, Cynthia Erivo, Beanie Feldstein, Taron Egerton, Awkwafina, Florence Pugh, Taylor Russell, and more.

For more information and to purchase tickets, festival passes, and packages, please visit

*Featured photo: Writer/Director Vanessa Filho on the 34th Santa Barbara International Film Festival Red Carpet for the U.S. Premiere of Baby Face, starring Marion Cotillard and Ayline Aksoy-Etaix. (Photo credit: Larry Gleeson)

About the Santa Barbara International Film Festival

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit arts and educational organization dedicated to discovering and showcasing the best in independent and international cinema. Over the past 35 years, SBIFF has become one of the leading film festivals in the United States – attracting 100,000 attendees and offering 11 days of 200+ films, tributes and symposiums, fulfilling their mission to engage, enrich, and inspire the Santa Barbara community through film.

SBIFF continues its commitment to education and the community throughout many free educational programs and events. In 2016, SBIFF entered a new era with the acquisition of the historic and beloved Riviera Theatre. After a capital campaign and renovation, the theatre is now SBIFF’s new state-of-the-art, year-round home, showing new international and independent films every day. In 2019, SBIFF opened its own Education Center in downtown Santa Barbara on State Street to serve as a home for its many educational programs and a place for creativity and learning.


(Source: Press release provided by Blair Bender, Sunshine Sachs)

Today’s AFI Movie Club film: ALI (2001)

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Today I’m pleased to share the AFI Movie Club selection, Ali, starring Will Smith in the title role and featuring AFI Trustee Jada Pinkett Smith as Sonji Roi. Will and Jada have been key supporters of AFI through the Will & Jada Smith Family Foundation – with an emphasis on supporting and promoting female and nonbinary filmmakers through grants to AFI’s Directing Workshop for Women and Young Women in Film.

Growing up I was exposed to “The Mouth” Howard Cosell and a number of larger than life sporting personalities including Broadway Joe Namath, Evil Knievel, and the Harlem Globetrotters, to name just a few. But the greatest by name was Muhammad Ali. His banters with Cosell were must-see viewings as were his legendary boxing matches. Being the youngest of seven brothers and two sisters, I was all in when called to the television for an Ali match whether with Joe Frazier, Ken Norton, Jerry Quarry, or Mr. Cosell.

One year, our mom took a job that required a lot of traveling. And. as luck would have it, while she was walking through Chicago-O’Hare International Airport, so was Muhammad Ali. Mom didn’t know any strangers and was well familiar with Ali. So, as moms do, she asked The Champ for an autograph for her seven boys at home who were his biggest fans. Muhammad agreed but only if Mom accompanied him across the terminal. Mom did and The Champ rewarded her with an autograph repeated seven times on a piece of paper.  What does Mohammad Ali mean to you?

Here’s Screenwriter Randy McKinnon, AFI Class of 2017,  introducing the film for AFI and Director Micheal Mann in an exclusive AFI archive on making Ali:


The movie doesn’t end at the credits. Engage with your family, friends, and others like you who love the movies. Check out the AFI Movie Club Discussion Questions for this movie and post your responses in the comment section!


-What does Muhammad Ali mean to you?

-What made Muhammad Ali one of the most iconic boxers in history?

-Muhammad Ali lost his title, lost his boxing license and almost went to jail because of his principles. Do you think his beliefs would be received differently today?

-What is the significance of Muhammad Ali and Howard Cosell’s relationship?

-How did Will Smith’s extensive preparation enhance his performance in the film?

-Why does the film ALI continue to resonate nearly 20 years after it was released?

-How would you rate ALI?


Muhammad Ali’s boxing trainer Angelo Dundee served as a boxing technical advisor during the filming of the movie.

To become Howard Cosell in the movie, Jon Voight has said that he had to undergo six hours of makeup, often beginning at 3 a.m. Voight said if any of the prosthetics were put on incorrectly, it could take up to an hour to fix.

The film also features a number of professional boxers, including Michael Bentt as Sonny Liston, James Toney as Joe Frazier and Charles Shufford as George Foreman.

To make the fight sequences look as realistic as possible, the production used both high-definition and low-resolution VHS cameras and simultaneously shot both the left and right sides of the action.

Will Smith worked with a dialect coach and went through Islamic studies to fully immerse himself into the character of Muhammad Ali.

According to Will Smith, when learning to fight like Ali for the role, he met with a neurobiologist to explain the workings of the human brain to better recreate the motion of the legendary boxer. The neurobiologist had Smith watch different moves of Ali’s on a loop in a dark room for hours at a time so that each move would burn neuro passages in Smith’s brain.

With a year of preparation for the role, Will Smith added 35 pounds of muscle through workouts and weight training.

Will Smith also went to boxing school for the role. He spent six months learning to become a fighter and then six months specifically learning to fight like Muhammad Ali.

Originally, Will Smith did not want to take on the role of Muhammad Ali because he was concerned about not doing justice to the boxing legend. Muhammad Ali and his family even asked Smith to take the part, but the star was not convinced until director Michael Mann laid out a plan on how to tell the story and how to prepare Smith for the part.

About AFI Movie Club

I hope the AFI Movie Club brings some inspiration and entertainment during this uncertain time. AFI has created a global, virtual gathering of those who love the movies where each day’s film – announced by a special guest – is accompanied by fun facts, family-friendly discussion points and material from the AFI Archive to bring the viewing experience to life. As a non-profit, AFI Movie Club is a member-powered organization, dependent upon the support of its movie fans. To support AFI Movie Club please consider becoming a member or donating.

AFI Movie Club is a newly launched free program to raise the nation’s spirits by bringing artists and audiences together – even while we are apart. AFI shines a spotlight on an iconic movie each day, with special guests announcing the Movie of the Day. Audiences can “gather” at to find out how to watch the featured movie of the day with the use of their preexisting streaming service credentials. The daily film selections will be supported by fun facts, family discussion points and exclusive material from the AFI Archive to enrich the viewing experience.


(Source: AFI News Release)




Today’s AFI Movie Club Film: MILK

Posted by Larry Gleeson

A riveting portrayal from Sean Penn celebrating the life and legacy of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to public office in California. The film was honored with an AFI AWARD in 2008, recognizing it as one of the 10 outstanding films deemed culturally and artistically representative of the year’s most significant achievements in the art of the moving image.

Interesting Facts

MILK was shot on location in San Francisco, utilizing city hall and various locations in the Castro District, including recreating Milk’s Castro Camera shop.

Thousands of unpaid extras participated in the candlelight march scene to honor Harvey Milk.

The “Twinkie defense” was coined by Dan White’s lawyers who argued that his consumption of massive amounts of junk food prior to the shootings contributed to his mental instability. White was subsequently convicted of voluntary manslaughter, rather than first-degree murder, which led to the “White Night riots” across San Francisco as well as the state of California abolishing the diminished capacity criminal defense.

Some of Sean Penn‘s wardrobe in the film was borrowed from Gilbert Baker, a friend of the real Harvey Milk’s. Baker is also famous for being the creator of the Rainbow Flag, the symbol of the LGBTQ+ community.

MILK won two Academy Awards®. Sean Penn won Best Actor and Dustin Lance Black won Best Original Screenplay.

MILK was intentionally released two weeks before the state of California voted on Proposition 8, a referendum to overturn the legality of gay marriage. California passed the proposition, although it has since been overturned.

The real Harvey Milk’s last public appearance was attending the San Francisco Opera performance of Puccini’s opera “Tosca” on November 25, 1978 – two days before he was shot and killed. Not only is this event depicted in MILK, but it inspired the filmmakers to use “Tosca” for all the operatic music heard throughout the film.

Sean Penn’s cosmetic transformation in MILK included a prosthetic nose and teeth, contact lenses, and a redesigned hairline. His makeup was done by Oscar®-winner Stephan Dupuis.

Warner Brothers was developing another project about Harvey Milk called “The Mayor of Castro Street,” which was ultimately never made? Milk associate Cleve Jones noted that Van Sant was originally considered for the Castro project 18 years earlier.

Matt Damon was originally cast for the role of Dan White but had to back out due to scheduling conflicts. The part was played by Josh Brolin in the final film.

When Gus Van Sant was planning a biopic of Harvey Milk in the early ‘90s, he offered the part of Cleve Jones to River Phoenix, who he had just worked with on MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO. Van Sant had wanted Tom Cruise to play Dan White.

Several associates of the real Harvey Milk appear in small roles in the film, including speechwriter and adviser Frank Robinson, politician Tom Ammiano, fellow board supervisor Carol Ruth Silver and LGBTQ activist Cleve Jones.

In the credits of MILK, Gus Van Sant acknowledges director Rob Epstein and his Academy Award®-winning 1984 documentary, THE TIMES OF HARVEY MILK, from which he used the footage.


The movie doesn’t end at the credits. Engage with your family, friends, and others like you who love movies. Check out the AFI Movie Club Discussion Questions for this movie and post your responses in the comment section!

-Did you know the story of Harvey Milk prior to seeing the film? If so, what did you think of Sean Penn’s performance and his transformation into the gay rights icon? 

-What was the Briggs initiative and how did Harvey Milk organize and fight against it? 

-What cinematic devices did director Gus Van Sant use in the film? Specifically, what did you think of him utilizing tape recordings made by Harvey Milk? 

-Harvey Milk is depicted as looking for allies outside the gay male community. How does he represent the qualities of an intersectional activist? What makes a good community organizer and coalition builder? 

-What is the significance of the Castro district for the LGBTQ community? Why is it important that the film was actually shot there? 

-Harvey is confronted with threats to his life throughout the film. Why do you think he persisted? 

-How were LGBTQ youth inspired by the appointment of Harvey Milk to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors? Why is it so important to have members of the LGBTQ community be visible and take part in politics? 

-Harvey Milk believed in the transformative power of “coming out of the closet” in terms of transparency furthering LGBTQ rights. Do you think “coming out” is important or do you think labels are not essential in modern culture? 

-Why do you think Dan White feared Harvey Milk and Mayor Moscone? What was your reaction to the verdict and the “Twinkie Defense”? 

-How has the LGBTQ community made strides in terms of gaining rights and protections in the U.S.? 

-Anita Bryant and John Briggs harnessed religion in their anti-gay campaigns. How are religions diverse and how can we reconcile spirituality with supporting civil rights for the LGBTQ community? 

-How would you rate MILK? 


About AFI Movie Club

I hope the AFI Movie Club brings some inspiration and entertainment during this uncertain time. AFI has created a global, virtual gathering of those who love the movies where each day’s film – announced by a special guest – is accompanied by fun facts, family-friendly discussion points and material from the AFI Archive to bring the viewing experience to life. As a non-profit, AFI Movie Club is a member-powered organization, dependent upon the support of its movie fans. To support AFI Movie Club please consider becoming a member or donating.

AFI Movie Club is a newly launched free program to raise the nation’s spirits by bringing artists and audiences together – even while we are apart. AFI shines a spotlight on an iconic movie each day, with special guests announcing the Movie of the Day. Audiences can “gather” at to find out how to watch the featured movie of the day with the use of their preexisting streaming service credentials. The daily film selections will be supported by fun facts, family discussion points and exclusive material from the AFI Archive to enrich the viewing experience.


(Source: AFI News Release)



Posted by Larry Gleeson

AFI DOCS Forum Will Feature Sessions In Response To Rapidly Changing World Events, Filmmaker Panels, Networking Opportunities And More

ON EMBARGO UNTIL 9 a.m. ET / 6 a.m. PT, June 10, 2020, WASHINGTON, DC — AFI DOCS — the American Film Institute’s five-day documentary film festival, supported by Presenting Sponsor AT&T — has announced its 2020 Forum. Open to all AFI DOCS pass holders and festival filmmakers, the five-day Forum will take place June 17-21, with live sessions streaming online.

The Forum presents a variety of networking and professional development events and discussions for filmmakers, industry professionals, and those with a passion for nonfiction storytelling. The AFI DOCS Forum is supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Arts. Primary Media Partners Meet the Press and The Washington Post are hosting and moderating sessions.


Marjan Safinia, Michael Lumpkin, Monica Lewinsky
Michael Lumpkin, Director of AFI Festivals

“The AFI DOCS Forum has always been a unique aspect of our festival, where filmmakers, industry leaders, and festival attendees can come together to engage in informative and thought-provoking discussions,” said Michael Lumpkin, Director of AFI Festivals. “This year, we are excited to connect Forum attendees though these online sessions and look forward to participating in the exciting conversations they inspire.”


Programming at this year’s Forum ranges from panels on the effects of the recent mass protest movements and COVID-19 on documentary filmmaking, to in-depth discussions exploring the many other aspects of our society that documentary films examine and expose, as well as sessions on the business of filmmaking.

The full AFI DOCS Forum schedule and tickets will be available at later today.

The 18th edition of AFI DOCS will run online June 17–21. AT&T’s continued support as Presenting Sponsor enables AFI DOCS to connect audiences, policymakers, and storytellers in the heart of our national government.

Wednesday, June 17:

  • Forum programming begins with “Distribution New Frontiers,” an up-to-the-minute panel discussion curated by ITVS featuring players from across the industry, moderated by ITVS Director of Distribution Jordana Meade, addressing how filmmakers can optimize their distribution strategies.
  • “Micro Meetings, Session 1,” intimate, one-on-one 15-minute micro meetings, in which Forum attendees have the opportunity to connect online with a national portfolio of industry personnel, funders, public media representatives, and veteran filmmakers.


Thursday, June 18:

  • Winner of the 2020 Sundance U.S. Documentary Audience Award, CRIP CAMP: A DISABILITY REVOLUTION is a rare combination of personal story, cultural milestone, and policy-focused documentary. Join us for this lively and highly informative demonstration and discussion of the team’s innovative, years-in-the-making Crip Camp Impact Campaign. The Campaign features innovative and creative experiences, all led virtually. These include a 16-week curated camp experience entitled “Crip Camp: The Official Virtual Experience,” a disabled creatives and activists emergency relief fund in response to the effects of the pandemic and a fellowship for emerging creatives within the disability community. Registration for the virtual camp alone reached over 7,000 globally within the first three weeks of launch. By connecting disability rights advocates with other progressive communities and empowering the next generation of activists, the Crip Camp Campaign seeks to nurture an ongoing revolution in disability rights and disability justice and inspire a fundamental cultural transformation.
  • “Be Safe: Navigating The Perils Of News Gathering And Documentary Production” From reporters covering street protests who run the risk of attack to documentary filmmakers struggling to get the protective gear necessary to shoot during COVID-19, newsgathering and documentary production in the U.S. have become fraught for those committed to telling the urgent stories of the moment. What are the disparate realities affecting those who are on the frontlines of telling these stories? How do filmmakers evaluate risk mitigation vs. unsafe conditions? What practices are being implemented? IDA Enterprise Fund Director Carrie Lozano moderates this of-the-moment conversation.
  • “Micro Meetings, Session 2,” will provide the second round of intimate, one-on-one 15-minute micro meetings between attendees, filmmakers and industry personnel.


Friday, June 19:

  • The Washington Post Press Freedom Partnership returns to host “A Washington Post Press FreedomPartnership Conversation With Philippine Journalist Maria Ressa And Filmmaker Ramona Diaz (A THOUSAND CUTS).” In 2018, The Washington Post announced the Press Freedom Partnership, an ongoing initiative to highlight organizations working vigilantly to promote press freedom and raise awareness of the rights of journalists worldwide. The Partnership has now grown to eight partner organizations — the Committee to Protect Journalists, International Press Institute, International Women’s Media Foundation, James W. Foley Legacy Foundation, National Press Club, One Free Press Coalition, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and Reporters Without Borders. In this urgent and timely conversation, The Post’s Global Opinions writer Jason Rezaian sits down with internationally acclaimed Philippine journalist Maria Ressa, co-founder of the digital news outlet Rappler, and filmmaker Ramona Diaz, whose new film A THOUSAND CUTS profiles Ressa and documents Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s attempts to shut down Rappler and arrest Ressa.
  • In the session “Finding Common Ground: How Local Public Televisions and Filmmakers Can Work Together In a Time of Crisis,” participants will explore the question: With the world in crisis and the economy turned on its head, how can public television stations and independent filmmakers come together and work towards creative solutions that, through the course of the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, strengthen relationships and lead to mutually beneficial outcomes? This thought-provoking and timely panel brings together stations and filmmakers for an urgently needed conversation.
  • “A Conversation With the Filmmakers and Subjects of WOMEN IN BLUE and STOCKTON ON MY MIND,” hosted by MEET THE PRESS. Even before COVID-19, U.S. cities were facing intractable issues around policing, homelessness, education, and economic inequality. Now, with these issues taking on paramount importance, filmmakers and subjects from two films screening at AFI DOCS 2020 – WOMEN IN BLUE and the HBO Documentary Film STOCKTON ON MY MIND – join together in a thought-provoking conversation about current events; the opportunities for, as well as the limitations of, reform; and the potential for major structural changes that could transform institutions and people’s lives in the two cities featured in the films – Minneapolis, MN, and Stockton, CA –  and throughout the country.


Saturday, June 20:

  • In “Behind the Documentary Waterfall: Gaining a Better Understanding of Financing Structures, Investor Agreements and Profit Sharing,” Susan Margolin and Yael Melamede of the Documentary Producers Alliance (DPA) will cover financing basics, standard investor agreements and the overall picture of profit sharing/waterfall in documentary filmmaking, de-mystifying these critically important aspects of the documentary film business.

Saturday, June 21:

  • Forum programming will conclude with “Maximum Impact: When Documentary Filmmakers Team Up With Investigative Journalists.” How does a crime become a scandal? When a powerful organization like USA Gymnastics covers up a crime (in fact, dozens of crimes), the seeds of a massive scandal are planted. But not until those crimes are reported and exposed, does the true scope of the scandal come to light and the possibility exists for justice and reform. For their riveting new documentary ATHLETE A (premiering on Netflix on June 24), filmmakers Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk shine a light on the reporters and editors of the Indianapolis Star, who first broke the scandal of USA Gymnastics and its years-long coverup of the sexual assault crimes perpetrated by team physician Larry Nassar. Join us for this fascinating case study in collaboration and trust with filmmakers Cohen and Shenk, who will be joined by key subjects of the film including members of the Star investigative team and survivors who came forward to tell their stories.


AFI DOCS is the American Film Institute’s annual documentary festival historically held in Washington, DC.  Presenting the year’s best documentaries, AFI DOCS is the only festival in the U.S. dedicated to screenings and events that connect audiences, filmmakers, and policy leaders in the heart of our nation’s government. The AFI DOCS advisory board includes Ken Burns, Davis Guggenheim, Chris Hegedus, Werner Herzog, Barbara Kopple, Spike Lee, Errol Morris, Stanley Nelson and Frederick Wiseman.  Now in its 18th year, the festival will be held online June 17-21, 2020. Visit and connect on,,, and

About the American Film Institute (AFI)

Established in 1967, the American Film Institute is the nation’s non-profit organization dedicated to educating and inspiring artists and audiences through initiatives that champion the past, present, and future of the moving image. AFI’s pioneering programs include filmmaker training at the AFI Conservatory; year-round exhibition at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center and at AFI Festivals across the nation; workshops aimed at increasing diversity in the storytelling community; honoring today’s masters through the AFI Life Achievement Award and AFI AWARDS; and scholarly efforts such as the AFI Catalog of Feature Films that uphold film history for future generations. Read about all of these programs and more at and follow us on social media at,,, and


About AT&T Communications

We help family, friends and neighbors connect in meaningful ways every day. From the first phone call 140+ years ago to mobile video streaming, we innovate to improve lives. We have the nation’s fastest wireless network.** And according to America’s biggest test, we have the nation’s best wireless network.*** We’re building FirstNet just for first responders and creating next-generation mobile 5G. With a range of TV and video products, we deliver entertainment people love to talk about. Our smart, highly secure solutions serve nearly 3 million global businesses – nearly all of the Fortune 1000. And worldwide, our spirit of service drives employees to give back to their communities. AT&T Communications is part of AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T). Learn more at

AT&T products and services are provided or offered by subsidiaries and affiliates of AT&T Inc. under the AT&T brand and not by AT&T Inc. Additional information about AT&T products and services is available at Follow our news on Twitter at @ATT, on Facebook at and on YouTube at

© 2020 AT&T Intellectual Property. All rights reserved. AT&T, the Globe logo and other marks are trademarks and service marks of AT&T Intellectual Property and/or AT&T affiliated companies. All other marks contained herein are the property of their respective owners.

**Based on analysis by Ookla® of Speedtest Intelligence® data average download speeds for Q4 2019. Ookla trademarks used under license and reprinted with permission.

***GWS OneScore, September 2019.

About the Corporation for Public Broadcasting
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), a private, nonprofit corporation created by Congress in 1967, is the steward of the federal government’s investment in public broadcasting. It helps support the operations of more than 1,500 locally owned and operated public television and radio stations nationwide. CPB is also the largest single source of funding for research, technology, and program development for public radio, television, and related online services. For more information, visit and follow us on Twitter @CPBmediaFacebook and LinkedIn, and subscribe for email updates.

About The Washington Post and Washington Post Press Freedom Partnership

The Washington Post is an award-winning news leader whose mission is to connect, inform, and enlighten local, national and global readers with trustworthy reporting, in-depth analysis, and engaging opinions. It combines world-class journalism with the latest technology and tools so readers can interact with The Post anytime, anywhere.

The Washington Post Press Freedom Partnership is an ongoing initiative that aims to highlight organizations working vigilantly to promote press freedom and raise awareness of the rights of journalists worldwide. Learn more at [].

About Meet the Press with Chuck Todd

Meet the Press with Chuck Todd is where newsmakers come to make the news — setting the political agenda and spotlighting the impact Washington decision-making has on Americans across the country. It is the #1 most-watched Sunday public affairs show for the 2018-2019 season, reaching more than three million viewers every Sunday and millions more through social, digital and on-demand platforms. Meet the Press brings its authority and influencer interviews to MSNBC with MTP Daily weekdays at 5 p.m. ET and to The Chuck ToddCast. It’s the longest-running show in television history, recently expanding its brand to include a political short-documentary film festival in collaboration with the American Film Institute. Chuck Todd is the political director of NBC News and the moderator of Meet the Press; John Reiss is the executive producer.


(Source: AFI DOCS press release)