AFI Docs Film Festival presents films on Naomi Osaka, Tom Petty, Anthony Bourdain

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews AFI Docs (Part 1)

The nation’s top documentary film festival is back with a special hybrid event.

The 19th annual AFI Docs Film Festival returns this Tuesday through Sunday.

“It’s crazy it’s been 19 years of the festival already,” Director of Programming Sarah Harris told WTOP. “We’ve got 77 films as a part of the event this year in our hybrid version both in person and online. The majority of the festival is virtual. … We are going to have some in-person screenings at the AFI Silver in Silver Spring, Maryland.”

Here’s a day-by-day roundup of this year’s highlights:

Tuesday, June 22

The festival kicks off opening night with the sports docuseries “Naomi Osaka.”

“She has been in the news a little bit,” Harris said. “This is a really striking documentary in three parts. It is directed by Garrett Bradley, who was nominated for an Oscar last year for her film ‘Time.’ It’s an intimate look inside her life and the complexities of athletes of her generation. … What shapes her as a global superstar, the world of elite athletes and the pressures that brings.”

Wednesday, June 23

Wednesday brings the annual Guggenheim Symposium, this year honoring Dawn Porter with a screening of her newest film “Rise Again: Tulsa and the Red Summer.”

“She is a fantastic filmmaker who has been working very hard,” Harris said. “She had two films last year, ‘John Lewis: Good Trouble’ and ‘The Way I See It’ about White House photographer Pete Souza. This is a really good conversation between her and Variety Film Awards Editor Clayton Davis to talk about her career. She was a lawyer for a long time before she became a filmmaker.”

You can also see “The Slow Hustle,” the second film by “The Wire” alum Sonja Sohn.

“She has a great passion for Baltimore stories of inequality, healing and resilience,” Harris said. “She follows the city and the Baltimore police department after the killing of a veteran homicide detective. The police department there is notorious for its corruption and the film unravels the scandal, cover-ups and how this tragedy becomes this breaking point that threatens what is already a strained relationship with law enforcement.”

Thursday, June 24

The festival continues Thursday with “Tom Petty, Somewhere You Feel Free.”

“After Tom Petty’s death, there was this collection of 16 millimeter footage that was shot during the recording of his album ‘Wildflowers,’ which is one of my favorite albums of all time,” Harris said. “This footage was discovered by his family and that becomes the foundation of this film that reflects on the making of this album, how special it was and this time capsule of this moment.”

You can also enjoy the free world premiere of “We the People.”

“This new project from Higher Ground, which is Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company,” Harris said. “It’s a conversation around the expansion of nonfiction filmmaking through this mixture of civics and cinema. Think like a modern ‘Schoolhouse Rock,’ a conversation with one of the creators, Chris Nee, known from ‘Doc McStuffins.'”

Friday, June 25

Friday brings “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain.”

“It’s one of my favorite films,” Harris said. “I obviously loved Anthony Bourdain and this is a really lovely portrait of a complex person. It’s not all rosy. I just think it’s a really special film and it’s on Bourdain Day, what would have been his birthday.”

You’ll also see the North American premiere of “Courtroom 3H.”

“This is an observational documentary about the Tallahassee Florida Unified Family Court,” Harris said. “It’s part of the justice system in Tallahassee where cases of abuse or abandonment are brought up with the goal being to reunite families as quickly and safely as possible. If you’re a fan of the Fred Wiseman kind of films that are very observational just in the room, this is for you.”

Saturday, June 26

As we head into the weekend, check out “Daughter of a Lost Bird.”

“It’s something a little bit smaller, but it’s a really beautiful film about a woman who was adopted as a young child,” Harris said. “It’s her journey to discover more about her native family roots, the search for her birth mother, and how the Indian Child Welfare Act and the Indian Adoption Project affected both her life and her mother’s, all while she herself is becoming a mother.”

Sunday, June 27

The festival wraps on Sunday with the closing night screening of “Cusp.”

“It premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival and this is the second stop,” Harris said. “It’s this complex portrait of young womanhood and how young women and teenage girls navigate consent and sexual violence in this small Texas town over the course of one summer. … It’s kind of like ‘Friday Night Lights’ meets ‘Girlhood.'”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews AFI Docs (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

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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