Double Exposure: Investigative Film Festival shines dual spotlight in DC

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews the Investigative Film Festival (Jason Fraley)

WASHINGTON — Do you dig detectives shining a spotlight on dark corners of society?

Check out the fourth annual Double Exposure: Investigative Film Fest, combining investigative journalism and documentary filmmaking for a powerful slate of films Wednesday through Sunday at the National Portrait Gallery, National Union Building and Naval Heritage Center.

“We’ve gone from three days to five and have a slate of 15 films this year,” co-founder Diana Jean Schemo told WTOP. “We anticipated what is happening in terms of the role of the press being beleaguered and needing public support. That was the animating principle behind Double Exposure. The events of the past year have made that more obvious than ever.”

Rather than put out a wide open call for submissions, the curators handpicked the slate.

“We solicit a lot of films and travel to different festivals,” co-founder Sky Sidney said. “We have established great relationships with filmmakers and the journalist community. … We’re always interested, because of the nature of Double Exposure, in films that take their starting point in print, and then what the filmmaker feels will be advanced by bringing it to the visual realm.”

It all kicks off Wednesday night with the first two hours of “Watergate,” an upcoming four-episode series on A&E and the History Channel. The screening will be followed by a Q&A with director Charles Ferguson, who previously won an Academy Award for “Inside Job” (2010).

“It’s taking this iconic story that really galvanized a generation of people into reporting, but actually breaking it down for a new generation,” Schemo said. “It’s taking the archival footage and secret recordings that Nixon made in the Oval Office and using that as the spine to tell a story that’s being reenacted by actors on screen. … That’s interspersed with interviews by Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, John Dean, Lesley Stahl and other major players from that era.”

This year’s centerpiece film is the documentary “Ghost Fleet” by filmmaker Shannon Service, who uncovers a shocking case of modern-day slavery off the coast of Thailand and Cambodia.

“Young workers are brought on fishing vessels thousands and thousands of miles out to sea, presumably for long stints of work, but then are kept there for decades at a time, imprisoned and enslaved,” Sitney said. “This is even happening in the United States, remarkably. The film follows investigative journalists, particularly through the lens of an extraordinary activist who goes out with an intrepid group to find these vessels and to liberate some of the enslaved.”

Saturday brings the closing night documentary “Divide & Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes.”

“[He] built up Fox News and was the power behind a number of important political figures,” Schemo said. “His last major project to get somebody elected was Donald Trump. It happens that the day Trump was being nominated to represent his party in the election was the same day that Ailes was forced to leave Fox News [during #MeToo]. His whole empire crumbled.”

Which areas of Ailes’ life and career are explored?

“It’s about the building of the network, it’s about Roger Ailes’ own personal story, what drove him to be motivated,” Sitney said. “It begins early in his own life … then it does indeed spend some time in the #MeToo movement because that was such a critical factor in his demise.”

After that, Sunday brings a bonus day of films, including Alex Winter’s “The Panama Papers.”

“It uncovered millions of hidden assets through a company called Mossack Fonseca,” Schemo said. “This was the project of a wonderful investigative reporting organization called the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, [a] network of hundreds of newspapers, news organizations and reporters working across the world to get this story out. … It brought down a prime minister in Iceland and it’s leading to prison sentences and changes in laws.”

All of these films carry a common throughline of bringing important issues to light, just like the festival’s inaugural film “Spotlight” (2015), which went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture.

“That’s exactly why we created Double Exposure,” Schemo said. “The work of investigative journalists is all around us. It’s in what you hear, what you see, in films, in late-night comedy, it’s everywhere. But a lot of people don’t actually connect the product with the people who are producing it or with the laws that protect it. … This festival is aiming to do exactly that.”

It’s also your chance to brush elbows with the very folks doing this vital work.

“Not all of these films are made by people who identify as investigative journalists; many are made by people who staunchly identify as documentary filmmakers,” Sitney said. “What we really enjoy is creating a space where we can both celebrate and investigate ourselves, this sort of dual constituencies that are producing this critical work for us to see and respond to.”

Find out more on the festival website. Listen to our full conversation with the founders below:

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Diana Schemo & Sky Sitney (Full Interview) (Jason Fraley)

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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