Investigative Film Festival celebrates fifth year of ‘Double Exposure’

October 7, 2019

February 5, 2023 | (Jason Fraley)

It predicted the eventual Best Picture winner “Spotlight” in its inaugural year.

Now, the fifth annual Double Exposure: Investigative Film Festival combines filmmaking and journalism this Thursday to Sunday at the National Archives, U.S. Naval Heritage Center and National Geographic Museum in the nation’s capital.

“It’s our fifth birthday, so it looks like we’re here to stay,” said Diana Schemo, who co-founded the event with Sky Sitney. “We started with a brave seed grant from the Knight Foundation [in] 2015 with the D.C. premiere of ‘Spotlight,’ so we were off to a very big start. … It tells us that there’s a real appetite and explosion of creativity in this intersection of investigative reporting and filmmaking.”

Opening night kicks off Thursday with Barbara Kopple’s “Desert One” at 7 p.m.

“”Desert One’ revisits the Iranian hostage rescue mission,” Schemo said. “These Americans were held hostage for 444 days. Jimmy Carter tried a rescue mission that went horribly wrong, ended it failure and it marked his presidency forever. … Kopple will be there and a full bevy of the film’s subjects, including the former hostages and Carter administration advisors … for a post-screening discussion.”

It continues Friday with Sundance Channel’s “The Preppy Murder” at 6 p.m.

“We’re going to show the first two episodes,” Schemo said. “This was a very famous case [where] Jennifer Levin was killed in Central Park. The guy who was convicted, Robert Chambers, seemed like a very unlikely suspect, portrayed as this all-American guy. … This case opened up the world that he came from to public scrutiny. Now the directors are going back and looking at that case again.”

Friday’s centerpiece film is “Citizen K” by Oscar-winner Alex Gibney at 8 p.m.

“It looks at Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was a Russian oligarch who cashed in on the big wave of privatization of Soviet state assets,” Schemo said. “His big prize was Yukos Oil. He was one of a handful of the most powerful, richest men in Russia until he criticized Vladimir Putin publicly. His life changed after that, they stripped the company of him, accused him of tax fraud and put him in prison for 10 years. … Alex Gibney will be on hand for the post-screening discussion.”

Saturday brings “Bellingcat: Truth in a Post-Truth World” at 12 p.m.

“How do you do journalism in a world of disinformation and distrust?” Schemo said. “The answer is you make it everybody’s business. Bellingcat is a new kind of … crowd-sourced investigative journalism, not necessarily by journalists even. Bellingcat’s model is to bring people with a strong sense of civi accountability and responsibility, but also very strong tech skills, mining open-source data, looking at social media, flight patterns, vessel movements and GPS satellite imagery.”

It also includes “Bully. Coward. Victim. The Story of Roy Cohn” at 2:15 p.m.

“Roy Cohn was a notorious figure,” Schemo said. “He prosecuted Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for selling atomic secrets to the Soviets. Thus, they were branded traitors and executed. The director, Ivy Meeropol, is actually the Rosenberg’s granddaughter. … She brings a very intimate knowledge … to her dogged insistence on getting to the bottom of their prosecution.”

Saturday wraps with Oscar-nominee Feras Fayyad’s “The Cave” at 7:30 p.m.

“It’s about an underground hospital led by a woman in Syria,” Schemo said. “The hospital is trying to save and treat people as hell is breaking loose above them. The war is raging on and the hospital is in the midst of everything, but it’s hidden because it’s in a cave underground. … It’s a fascinating portrait of these heroic people who are trying to treat people under unbelievably horrific conditions.”

Sunday brings Julien Elie’s epic documentary “Dark Suns” at 2 p.m.

“It is a masterpiece,” Schemo said. “It’s all in black-and-white. It’s a very deep look at violence and trauma in Mexico. It’s looking closely at the murders of women. That’s the prism for understanding the way violence crept in, the role of the military forces that are supposed to be there to protect people, but are actually permitting this and in some cases being involved in this tragic violence.”

Sunday continues with the Sundance documentary “Bedlam” at 5:30 p.m.

“It’s looking at the rise of the way that mental illness has stopped being something that government feels it has to deal with in a comprehensive way,” Schemo said. “There was the deinstitutionalization movement of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. That made mental illness more of a prison problem because people end up on the streets fending for themselves, becoming victimized and eventually getting locked up. The consequences of that have been tragic.”

The entire festival wraps with “Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator” at 8 p.m.

“Birkam Choudhury came from India preaching the virtues of hot yoga,” Schemo said. “He’s a bit of a flimflam artist. He made up stories about his background and created this huge following. It’s an intense workout, but he has a particular style that’s very personal. He has boundary issues and ends up abusing people.”

Through it all, the common theme is “Double Exposure.”

“The ‘Double Exposure’ name represents two different fields,” Schemo said. “We traditionally have investigative journalists, who take deep dives into important issues and write long-form stories, then you have filmmakers doing films that are investigative in nature. … What we’re seeing in journalism is an increasing turn toward visual storytelling. … And for filmmakers there’s a greater move toward what has traditionally been thought of as investigative journalism territory.”

The festival is hosted the investigative news organization 100 Reporters.

“100 Reporters saw Double Exposure as a way to make the public more aware of investigative reporting as not just essential for democracy to function and for the public to informed … but it’s a very vital element in our nation’s cultural life,” Schemo said. “That’s what Double Exposure really wants to highlight for people: What is the role of investigative journalism in empowering our cultural life?”

Find more details on the festival website. Hear our full chat with Schemo below:

February 5, 2023 | (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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