At AFI Docs, Timely Topics – Roll Call

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AFI Docs, the annual documentary film festival put on by the American Film Institute in Washington, has to plan months ahead to get its slate of nonfiction movies.

Nevertheless, festival organizers seem to have a knack for finding films that have political currency.

Take, for example, its scheduling of “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power,” the Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk-directed sequel to 2006’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” the Al Gore PowerPoint-fueled warning about the perils of climate change. It will screen coming on the heels of President Donald Trump pulling the United States out of the Paris Agreement, a global effort to combat climate change.

“We made all that happen. That was all our doing,” jokes Michael Lumpkin, director of AFI Docs.

In all seriousness, Lumpkin says that while he and his crew couldn’t predict what the biggest issues of the day would be following the contentious 2016 election, its aftermath did affect their decision-making.

“You start watching films through a different lens,” he says of the circumstances that led to Trump’s presidency.

Other films, such as Pacho Velez and Sierra Pettengill’s “The Reagan Show” and Ryan Scafuro’s “Election Night,” about the reaction to the U.S. election at a London pub, have relevance for the political junkies that make up so much of AFI Docs’ audience.

Lumpkin is also eager to point out that the dozens of films that make up the festival slate address many nonpolitical topics and provide a little something for everyone, whether it be Dustin Harrison-Atlas’ “New Chefs on the Block,” about two D.C.-area chefs’ ventures in this foodie-centric city, and John Dorsey’s “Year of the Scab,” about the 1987 NFL strike-shortened season.

“We want filmgoers to find their own films,” Lumpkin says, emphasizing that many of the movies are not political at all. “Everybody needs a bit of relief,” he says.

Festival organizers also are making an attempt to bridge what many documentarians see as a wide gap between nonfiction filmmakers on the left and right sides of the political spectrum with their “Look to the Right,” discussion on June 17 between Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday and filmmaker Michael Pack.

“We want to make sure we’re not missing anything in great documentary,” Lumpkin says, adding that they want to “bring together different parts of the documentary world.”

AFI Docs runs June 14-18 at theaters in Washington and Silver Spring, Md.

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