Taking part in the AFI DOCS Festival was one of the best surprises of the summer thus far! I started the week sitting in on the Docs In Progress Peer Pitch, which is a day that filmmakers can screen their documentaries and receive feedback from fellow filmmakers and observers. The next few days I participated in AFI DOCS events and screenings in Washington DC and Silver Spring. It was first time at any film festival and I learned so much about filmmaking and developed a greater appreciation for documentaries. On the third day of the festival I spent the whole day at the AFI theatre in Silver Spring watching films.
White/Black Boy is a documentary by Danish filmmaker Camilla Magid that follows Shida, a young albino boy, in his first year at a private boarding school in Tanzania. In Tanzania many albinos are killed or hunted by witch doctors that believe the blood or body parts of albinos can be used for medicine. The Tanzanian government sends some of the children to private boarding schools such as this one to be safe. Shida is a shy nine-year-old student and learns to adjust to school despite what he’s overcome.
Overall it was a very cinematic and emotional film that captured the delicate moments of childhood as well as the difficult experience many albinos face in Tanzania. In a Q&A session with Camilla Magid after the screening, Magid stated that she was wary about making the documentary a film about victims. She wanted to also capture the everyday moments a child faces when enrolling in a new school – such as making new friends and doing well in class. At first, it was very hard for the students to open up to Camilla Magid and the cinematographer, due to the fact that they spent most of their lives living in fear. However, Magid spent a lot of time off camera playing with the kids and she worked with a cinematographer (who was half Danish and Tanzanian) throughout the film who was able to communicate with the children who did not speak English in Swahili.
The last movie I watched at the festival was The Crash Reel. This film by Lucy Walker follows professional snowboarder Kevin Pearce’s recovery from a fatal accident that occurred at the height of his career. Walker’s film address several different issues including the dangers of the sport, the rivalry between Pearce and professional snowboarder, Shawn White, and the dynamics of Pearce’s family members before and after the accident. One of the most interesting aspects of the film is the relationship between the Pearce family and Kevin as he struggles with his desire to snowboard again against his doctors and family’s wishes. Walker blends archival footage, interviews with snowboarders and Kevin’s family and friends to create a memorable documentary about the consequences of participating in an extreme sport.
During the Q&A session after The Crash Reel screening, Lucy Walker admitted that although she was aware about the dangers of snowboarding as well as Kevin’s injury, she was not initially interest in making a movie about the sport or Kevin. However, she developed the idea for the film once she attended an X Games event and realized how sensationalized the sport is, the multitude of cameras surrounding the young athletes, and how “the X Games were like the Hunger Games” despite Kevin’s very public accident. Pearce was extremely interested in making to show the reality of how life changing the sport can be once you get an injury on your health and your family.
Overall, AFI DOCS was a great festival and I wish I got to see all the films! Meeting Lucy Walker and Camilla Magid were the two best surprises of the week. Additionally, meeting all of the aspiring and established filmmakers at the Peer Pitch was really encouraging. The week of the festival reminded me of the importance of being able to share your story as well as others. I look forward to the festival next year!