AFI FEST 2019 presented by Audi will take place in Hollywood, CA, from November 14–21, 2019. Entries are now being accepted and filmmakers are invited to submit feature, documentary, experimental, animated and short films at AFI.com/AFIFEST or through FilmFreeway.
AFI FEST submission deadlines — early, official and final — are for fiction shorts (under 30 minutes), nonfiction shorts (under 40 minutes) and feature films. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recognizes AFI FEST as a qualifying festival for the Live Action and Animated Short Film categories for the annual Academy Awards®
FEATURES AND SHORTS
Early Deadline – March 29
Official Deadline – May 3 Final Deadline – July 12
Audi will return as the exclusive Presenting Sponsor of AFI FEST, enabling the festival to host the very best of world cinema in Hollywood. Audi and their visionary support reflect a continuing commitment to create opportunities for equality in film and television. At AFI FEST 2018, Audi showcased a custom installation spotlighting women filmmakers on the facade of The Hollywood Roosevelt. In 2017, Audi created the Audi Fellowship for Women to support one female director and her entire two-year AFI Conservatory enrollment.
Filmmakers can email programming@AFI.com or call 866.AFI.FEST for more information about the submissions process.
This year’s competitive Short Films slate included a voting jury comprised of film producer Dolly Turner, documentary filmmaker Gabriella Garcia-Pardo and The Washington Post’s pop culture writer Elahe Izadi. The Grand Jury Prize for Short Films went to IN THE ABSENCE, directed by Yi Seung-Jun. The jury said of IN THE ABSENCE: “…a sweeping account that stuns. Through an exhaustive sourcing of content, the filmmaker precisely and chillingly weaves together a haunting tapestry that calls into question the trust we place in authority.”
The jury also awarded an honorable mention to A LOVE SONG FOR LATASHA, directed by Sophia Nahli Allison, whom the jury called “an emerging artist.” The jury described the film as “[a] relevant and intimate portrait depicting the trauma that stems from America’s insidious racism and how that lingers beyond a single violent moment.” An honorable mention also went to SCENES FROM A DRY CITY, “an eerily crafted dystopian snapshot that both underscores the privilege of water and the United Nations’ recent exhortation for ‘rapid and unprecedented action’ to mitigate climate change,” directed by Francois Verster and Simon Wood.
With 72 films from 17 countries, the 17th edition of AFI DOCS presented stories taking place as close as 17 blocks from the capital and as far as the moon, with subjects varying from a family-run ambulance service in Mexico to the surrogate pregnancy boom in Idaho to reforms needed in the criminal justice system. Among the attendees were filmmakers and notables including former Attorney General Eric Holder, Missouri State Representative Bruce Franks, Jr., National Council members Anthony R. Jimenez and Stephanie Hunt, the Equal Justice Initiative’s Bryan Stevenson, Lilly Lynn Ledbetter, Grace Guggenheim, Thomas Allen Harris, Liz Garbus, Morgan Neville, Freida Lee Mock, Terry Sanders, Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman, Martha Shane and Irene Taylor Brodsky.
This year’s festival included a number of panels featuring engaging discussions between filmmakers, film subjects and audience members —with conversation and examination of issues led by some of the nation’s top journalists: NBC News’ Morgan Radford;” NBC News’ “Meet the Press” moderator and NBC News Political Director Chuck Todd; NBC News’ Chief White House Correspondent Hallie Jackson; Roll Call editor Jason Dick; and The Washington Post’s chief film critic Ann Hornaday, senior correspondent Kevin Sullivan, national correspondent Wesley Lowery, media reporter Paul Farhi, national security reporter Greg Miller, senior video editor Thomas LeGro, corporate accountability reporter Douglas MacMillan, entertainment reporter Emily Yahr and feature reporter Roxanne Roberts.
The AFI DOCS Forum explored unique topics with keynote presentations, conversations, panel discussions, micro-meetings and a day-long convening of local film communities. Programming for the Forum was made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, NBC News’ “Meet the Press” and The Washington Post.
The fifth edition of the AFI DOCS Impact Lab provided participating filmmakers with professional development in preparation for presenting their causes to key audiences to advance their messages and included meetings with advocates and industry and policy leaders.
Five films with AFI Conservatory alumni credits were included in this year’s festival: THE AMAZING JOHNATHAN DOCUMENTARY (Director of Photography Dan Adlerstein); DAVID CROSBY: REMEMBER MY NAME (Director of Photography Edd Lukas); MOONLIGHT SONATA: DEAFNESS IN THREE MOVEMENTS (Executive Producer Sara Bernstein); RUTH — JUSTICE GINSBURG IN HER OWN WORDS (Screenwriter/Editor Mike Aguilar); and TONI MORRISON: THE PIECES I AM (Director Timothy Greenfield Sanders).
MORE ABOUT THE AWARD-WINNING FILMS:
AUDIENCE AWARD: FEATURE
CHASING THE MOON
DIR: Robert Stone. 50 years after Neil Armstrong’s “one small step,” CHASING THE MOON chronicles America’s audacious and difficult race to the moon. Using exclusively archival footage — with much never before seen in public — this exceptional series re-contextualizes the social and historical importance of the Space Age and the sheer wonder of the moon landing itself. After the Soviets launched their Sputnik satellite, what was once thought as science fiction became reality. Fascinating stories told by those involved reveal how America’s space race fused scientific innovation, political drama and media spectacle into one profound achievement.
AUDIENCE AWARD: SHORT
ST. LOUIS SUPERMAN
DIRS: Smriti Mundhra, Sami Khan. Bruce Franks, Jr., is a 33-year-old battle rapper, Ferguson activist and state representative from St. Louis who has overcome unspeakable loss to become one of the most exciting and unapologetic young leaders in the country today.
SHORT FILM GRAND JURY PRIZE
IN THE ABSENCE
DIR: Yi Seung-Jun. When the passenger ferry MV Sewol sank off the coast of South Korea in 2014, more than 300 people lost their lives, most of them schoolchildren. Years later, the victims’ families and survivors are still demanding justice from national authorities.
Honorable Mention: A LOVE SONG FOR LATASHA
DIR: Sophia Nahli Allison. Latasha Harlins was 15-years-old when she was killed by Soon Ja Du at Empire Liquor in South Central Los Angeles on March 16, 1991. This dreamlike, hybrid documentary reimagines a more nuanced narrative of Latasha’s life.
Honorable Mention: SCENES FROM A DRY CITY
DIR: Francois Verster and Simon Wood. In South Africa, an impending water crisis grips an entire nation.
AT&T returns for its sixth year as the Presenting Sponsor of AFI DOCS. The Official Sponsor for the 2019 festival is the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Primary Media sponsors include Meet the Press with Chuck Todd and the Washington Post. Screen Sponsors are Audi, HBO, Netflix and Showtime Documentary Films.Official Media Sponsors include Here TV, Variety and WHUT-TV.CuriosityStream; the DC Office of Cable Television, Film, Music and Entertainment; 202Creates; IMDbPro; and Maryland Film Office returned this year as Major Sponsors, joined by the National Endowment for the Arts and Participant Media. The Contributing Sponsors are Filmmaker Magazine International Documentary Association.This year’s Supporting Sponsors are Downtown Silver Spring, the Greater Silver Spring Chamber of Commerce, and Insight Property Group.Cultural and Community Sponsors are DC Filmmakers, Docs in Progress, the Embassy of Australia, the Mexican Cultural Institute, Producers Guild of America, TIVA-DC, The Video Consortium and Women in Film & Video. Support from individual underwriters was provided by Nancy Blachman, Grace Guggenheim, Stephanie and Hunter Hunt, John and Rachel King, Bryan O’Keefe and Alexandra and Sean Parker.
About AFI DOCS
AFI DOCS is the American Film Institute’s annual documentary festival 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, D A Pennebaker and Frederick Wiseman. Now in its 17th year, the festival took place June 19-23, 2019, in landmark Washington, DC, venues, Landmark Theatres E Street Cinema and at the historic AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring, MD. Visit AFI.com/AFIDOCS and connect on twitter.com/AFIDOCS, facebook.com/AFIDOCS, youtube.com/AFI and instagram.com/AmericanFilmInstitute.
About the American Film Institute
Established in 1967, the American Film Institute is the nation’s nonprofit 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 AFI.com and follow us on social media at Facebook.com/AmericanFilmInstitute, youtube.com/AFI, twitter.com/AmericanFilm and Instagram.com/AmericanFilmInstitute.
AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T) is a diversified, global leader in telecommunications, media and entertainment, and technology. It executes in the market under four operating units. WarnerMedia’s HBO, Turner and Warner Bros. divisions are world leaders in creating premium content, operate one of the world’s largest TV and film studios, and own a world-class library of entertainment. AT&T Communications provides more than 100 million U.S. consumers with entertainment and communications experiences across TV, mobile and broadband services. Plus, it serves nearly 3 million business customers with high-speed, highly secure connectivity and smart solutions. AT&T Latin America provides pay-TV services across 11 countries and territories in Latin America and the Caribbean, and is the fastest growing wireless provider in Mexico, serving consumers and businesses. Xandr provides marketers with innovative and relevant advertising solutions for consumers around premium video content and digital advertising through its AppNexus platform.
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 www.cpb.org, follow us on Twitter @CPBmedia, Facebook 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 www.wapo.st/pressfreedom.
About MEET THE PRESS WITH CHUCK TODD
Meet the Press with Chuck Todd is where newsmakers come to make 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 2017-2018 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 1947: The Meet the Press Podcast. 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.
Directors Jake Lefferman and Emily Taguchi discuss their powerful new documentary, AFTER PARKLAND, at a post-screening Q&A. AFTER PARKLAND probes the collateral damage and fallout from the the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.
AFTER PARKLAND a film about victims, but rather, a heartfelt portrayal of people using their grief and anger as the fuel to move forward, heal themselves and, for some, fight to change the world. The 2018 shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School left a community in shock, searching for the balance between wanting to be left alone, and needing the world to pay attention and take action. These brave Floridians start movements, lobby their politicians, play basketball and search for normalcy in the wake of extreme tragedy. The close relationships built between filmmakers and survivors allow for an intimate view of how families and friends navigate their new realities — both in the blaring limelight as well as the soft light of home. –Eric Moore
Screening tonight, MADE IN BOISE tells the story of a community of women risking their own health for humanity’s sake and the emotional complications that come with the journey of surrogacy.
Four women find purpose carrying babies for strangers in the conservative heartland of Boise, Idaho — the unregulated and unofficial “surrogacy capital” of the United States. As the surrogacy industry booms globally, MADE IN BOISE tells the story of a community of women risking their own health for humanity’s sake and the emotional complications that come with the journey of surrogacy. AFI spoke with director Beth Aala about her new film.
MADE IN BOISE plays as part of the Spectrum program at AFI DOCS at the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring, MD on Sunday, June 23. Buy tickets to the screening here.
AFI: What led you to pursue documentary filmmaking?
I’ve always loved movies as a kid — musicals, classics, big blockbuster hits. When I moved to New York after college, I was awed by the incredibly diverse communities and interesting backgrounds of all the people around me. It was then that I realized that real stories are what truly captivate me.
AFI: How did you become interested in this story? What inspired you to tell it?
My best friend from college was having fertility issues, and, after five failed IVF attempts and three painful miscarriages, she asked if I would carry her child for her. Paid surrogacy is illegal in New York, and she couldn’t pay someone to do it. Instead, she had to turn to her family and friends, and she asked me. Thankfully, she eventually got pregnant and successfully carried, so that I didn’t have to do it. But that was my first real encounter with surrogacy, when I witnessed such a painful period around infertility — of someone very close to me.
AFI: How did you find and connect with the subjects in MADE IN BOISE?
A childhood friend is a labor and delivery nurse at Boise’s local hospital, St. Luke’s Boise Medical Center. She shared how common it was for the staff to do surrogacy, so I was immediately fascinated. When I visited Boise for the first time, I really got a sense that there was in fact a whole community around the practice, and I began filming on the spot.
AFI: What kinds of obstacles did you face while making the film?
Surrogacy is very misunderstood and still very much stigmatized. Those who do know about surrogacy might presume the women are being exploitive or have presumptions of why a person chose this path. There were frustrating moments trying to get people to understand that it’s almost always a last resort for people who want to have children and that it’s incredibly complex.
AFI: What do you want audiences to walk away with after watching the film?
Surrogacy is not what many people think it is, and it’s an incredibly emotional and logistically complicated process.
AFI: Why do you think documentary films are important today?
Documentaries can transport you into a world you otherwise wouldn’t know anything about. Most people who have seen this film (or early versions of it) always tell me how surprised or moved they were or that they had no idea this was happening in our country, particularly in Boise. I too lacked the knowledge about it when I started making the film. So documentaries can build empathy in a way that’s really powerful and effective because you are immersed in someone’s life. For a short amount of time you can walk in their shoes — or at least walk beside them and experience intimately what they are going through.
Among the thousands of documentaries made every year, this one stands out as something special, unlike anything you have ever seen before.
THE AMAZING JOHNATHAN DOCUMENTARY
Director Ben Berman in attendance
An aging magician is dying. A young filmmaker flies to Vegas to follow him around, intending to create his debut feature film. A few weeks into production, it’s revealed there is another documentary crew also making a film about this dying magician, at the same time, with the same access. This hilarious, meta-referential film is a singular work of nonfiction, filled with surprising twists and turns along the way. Among the thousands of documentaries made every year, this one stands out as something special, unlike anything you have ever seen before. Operating on multiple levels of reality, this transcendent film explores filmmaker culpability, the potential traps and rewards of filmmaking and the nature of illusion. –Lane Kneedler
Today is the last chance to catch encore screenings of music docs such as THE APOLLO, LINDA RONSTADT: THE SOUND OF MY VOICE and DAVID CROSBY: REMEMBER MY NAME; Idaho portrait MADE IN BOISE; and tonight’s closing night screening of RAISE HELL: THE LIFE & TIMES OF MOLLY IVINS.
Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative at the world premiere of HBO’s TRUE JUSTICE: BRYAN STEVENSON’S FIGHT FOR EQUALITY.
The subject of the world-premiere 2019 AFI DOCS Opening Night Film talks about taking more courageous approaches to telling stories of racial injustice in this thought-provoking Q&A clip.Stevenson talks about taking more courageous approaches to telling stories of racial injustice in this thought-provoking Q&A clip from AFI DOCS 2019.
As a lawyer defending the rights of condemned prisoners on death row, Bryan Stevenson has argued many cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. Each time, he takes a moment to read the words etched on the building: “Equal Justice Under Law.” Stevenson says, “I have to believe that, to make sense out of what I do.”
Fighting for equal justice within a system that has allowed slavery, lynching, segregation, and, now, mass incarceration, is Stevenson’s life work. He founded the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama to provide legal services for the poor and is the driving force behind a new national lynching memorial. TRUE JUSTICE makes the case that Stevenson is among the rarest of storytellers, one whose words are every bit as moving as what’s written on the Supreme Court building. –Ken Jacobson
Screening tonight at 6 p.m., AUTONOMY explores the history of automated cars and the impact this technology will have on our society. As the value of our time has changed, it is unavoidable that automation affects the economics of our everyday life.
Executive-produced by Malcolm Gladwell, AUTONOMY asks questions about who will benefit most from this technology, and about the liability and safety concerns of self-driving cars. Futurist thinkers, engineers and researchers share stories of innovation and how new design will shape our experience of traveling by car. By reflecting on the automotive industry’s past, AUTONOMY prompts an important discussion of how Silicon Valley approaches this issue and the policies we should consider during this mobility revolution. –Sarah Harris
SPECIAL SCREENING – National Geographic Grosvenor Auditorium
SEA OF SHADOWS – Screened today at 2 p.m. Followed by a National Geographic reception. This environmental thriller was every bit as gripping and nail-biting as any pulp novel but with real world consequences for the Sea of Cortez. Trapped in nets used to catch the totoaba — a large fish whose bladders are highly prized in China for their supposed anti-aging properties — the vaquita gets tossed aside as collateral damage. While Mexican drug cartels seek to capitalize on this lucrative, illegal market, the Mexican government, conservationists and a famous TV reporter fight to save the vaquita. But with fewer than 10 vaquita left in the world, time is running out. Winner of the Audience Award in the Sundance World Cinema Documentary Competition. –Ken Jacobson
Director: Richard Ladkani
Producers: Walter Köhler, Wolfgang Knöpfler
Executive Producers: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Davisson, Phillip Watson, Scott Z. Burns
Each year, the AFI DOCS Charles Guggenheim Symposium honors a master of documentary film. This year AFI recognizes the exceptional career of filmmaker Freida Lee Mock as the 2019 Guggenheim honoree.
Demonstrating a remarkable range of subject matter, Freida Lee Mock has, for more than three decades, been one of America’s greatest cinematic biographers. From MAYA LIN: A STRONG CLEAR VISION (1994) and NEVER GIVE UP: THE 20TH CENTURY ODYSSEY OF HERBERT ZIPPER (1995) to WRESTLING WITH ANGELS: PLAYWRIGHT TONY KUSHNER (2006) and ANITA: SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER (2013), Mock has shown the uncanny ability to take intimate biographical detail and build larger-than-life narratives that reflect and illuminate the broader societal picture. For her extraordinary work, Mock received the 1995 Academy Award® for Best Documentary Feature and five total nominations; and a primetime Emmy® Award win from two nominations.
In her new film RUTH – JUSTICE GINSBURG IN HER OWN WORDS, Mock illuminates an intimate profile of Ginsburg with carefully culled archival footage and interviews, covering the full breadth of Ginsburg’s life, views and career.
The 2019 Guggenheim Symposium will pay tribute to this outstanding filmmaker with an onstage interview discussion of her career, film clips and a sneak preview of her fascinating new portrait of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, on Saturday, June 22.
AFI spoke with her about her career and new film, below.
AFI: Throughout your films, you take on these historical figures. What draws you to them and to Ruth Bader Ginsburg specifically?
FLM: In general, all have been living but they are steeped in history and have a major place in the historical-political aspect in the community, country and the world. They have a historical significance, whether it’s Anita Hill or Maya Lin, somehow the work that they’re drawn to lends itself to a major impact on sociopolitical aspects of our country and our life, and that’s what draws me to these characters and these people.
Anita Hill reluctantly talking about sexual harassment and putting that issue on the national consciousness; or Maya Lin dealing with issues of public art or censorship, a public sculpture honoring the dead. In the case of Justice Ginsburg, some executive producers asked if I would do a film about her. I knew little about the details, such as decades of the pioneering work on gender discrimination, advanced issues of equality for women and men.
AFI: How much research and preparation did you do before going into crafting a portrait of the Justice?
FLM: Every step along the way is very important. I hear the phrase, you “save the film in the editing room.” For me, I can’t do that. If you do the proper research and development in the first phase, I do a lot of research in terms of primary sources and secondary sources. We try to look at all the visuals, before planning what I call “production phase,” which is what needs to be filmed vs. what already existed. If the visual material doesn’t exist already, then I will film it or express it differently. For this film, we decided to use animation and illustration to deal with how to dramatize the court cases.
AFI: Was this your first time working in animation?
FLM: I had a psychology project years ago and I used animation. This was a great way to save myself visually — if I can’t figure it out visually, I thought, I’ll just illustrate it.
AFI: How much archival footage were you dealing with and how did you organize the material?
FLM: We had hundreds of hours of stock footage. The film SENNA [by Asif Kapadia], just by comparison, had 5,000 hours. [For my Ginsburg film], we had to sit days and weeks and months and look at all this footage. When she was nominated for Supreme Court, that’s most of the footage you begin to find. The challenge was finding material earlier than 1993, or anything when she’s not a Justice. How do you fill in the visuals when she’s a professor? Teaching was a critical stepping stone, as was volunteering for the ACLU in the ’70s and taking on these gender discrimination cases. Those stepping stones are really important. Is there any visual material? No, of course. That’s when we decided to take an animation approach.
AFI: What most surprised you about Ruth Bader Ginsburg?
FLM: I had no idea she had such a singular vision about gender. I had no idea that she was really the pioneer in the contemporary way we approach gender discrimination, equality and justice. A lot of it comes from her childhood, her jewish upbringing, being raised during WWII [and encountering] overt discrimination and violence toward Jews. So that was really fascinating to understand why she took this path.
The paths she took were a reaction to the outside world. She rose to the occasion, not being an outright feminist, but seeing that these issues were core to her own experience. The cases all deal with issues of injustice.