After getting quite a bit of feedback on our post Reserving Judgment on AFI DOCS (including it being linked to in a Washington Post article on Festival Director Sky Sitney), the Docs In Progress crew was out in force at this year's festival to check out the films and what had changed with the festival. We were especially excited that two of our summer interns, Samantha Ammons and Hannah Myers had a chance to attend, and we asked them to write a little about their experiences which we'll be sharing in the coming days. First up: Hannah.
was an unprecedented opportunity that I’m so thankful to Docs in Progress for giving me. Overall, the experience opened my eyes to the innovative world of documentary; the Catalyst Sessions I listened to and the documentaries I viewed were on topics I’d never really heard much about. They were both engaging and thoroughly educational, while enticing me to see more.
The two Catalyst Sessions I attended were titled “What is Intellectual Property?” and “What is the Role of Humor in Politics?” In the first session, I learned an immense amount of information about intellectual property: practically everything is copyrighted, how copyright affects documentary filmmakers who struggle to make sure they have the rights to everything they use, and about the doctrine of fair use, which permits limited use of copyrighted material without acquiring permission from the rights holders. The political humor session focused on Herblock: The Black and the White by well-known filmmaker George Stevens Jr. about editorial cartoonist Herbert Block. This platform allowed for a discussion about the influential role of comedy when it comes to the national outlook on politics. The Catalyst Sessions helped change up the rhythm of constant documentary screenings by providing a discussion panel format in which to educate myself about the world of documentary film.
After I’d had a proper introduction to documentaries through discussion, I was able toappreciate more thoroughly the two documentaries I viewed during the festival. The first film I saw, Running From Crazy, explored the legacy of the illustrious Hemingway family. Beginning with Ernest Hemingway, the famous American author who tragically committed suicide at 61 years old, his descendants struggle with the stigma of “crazy,” since mental illness, suicide, and substance abuse were unfortunately too common in their family.
[caption id="attachment_2958" align="alignright" width="300"] A scene from RUNNING FROM CRAZY.[/caption]
Mariel Hemingway, on whom the film focused, spoke freely throughout the film about her relationships with her family members. The film made me empathize with Mariel, and I wanted to applaud her for staying strong and raising her daughters well despite having to manage her infamous family. The film also invited much psychoanalysis of the family members—the filmmaker Barbara Kopple asked during the Q&A session if any psychiatrists in the audience felt like they could comment on that aspect of the film. Overall, the film delved under the surface of a family whose surface had only been scratched, allowing for a deeper understanding of their struggles and successes.
[caption id="attachment_2927" align="alignleft" width="257"] A scene from BEST KEPT SECRET[/caption]
The second documentary I viewed discussed a quite significant topic in society today: how can we help create and properly utilize resources for the special needs citizens of our country? Best Kept Secret told the story of the 2012 graduating class of John F. Kennedy High School, a school in Newark, NJ for students with special needs, and their teacher Janet Mino, a woman with indefatigable patience and enthusiasm.
During the course of the documentary, Ms. Mino does all she possibly can to help her graduating students continue living competently post-graduation, for they are all 21 years of age and phasing out of the public education system. Ms. Mino strives to find the best place for her students after they graduate, despite a severe lack of funds and proper daytime activity centers for adults with special needs. I sympathized with Ms. Mino’s struggle, for she went out of her way several times to help her students become constructive members of society instead of allowing them to get lost in an institutional system that cares not for the individual.
My experience during the AFI DOCS Film Festival educated me about subjects of which I would have never known more than a peripheral (if not nonexistent) understanding. Sometimes truth is more entertaining than fiction.