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Like gin rickeys, the Fort Reno concert series, and sweltering Metro cars with broken air conditioning, AFI DOCS—now in its 14th year—has become a staple of summers in D.C. For one long weekend every June, a large sampling of some of the best new documentaries from around the world come to the D.C. area, with screenings split between venues in D.C. and Silver Spring’s famed AFI Silver Theatre. And each year, it feels like the festival gets better. For this year’s festival, which takes place June 22 to 26, Washington City Paper previewed more than half of the features playing. This year’s lineup is another winner.

Unlike in years past, it’s hard to nail down any specific trends in the films playing this year: There’s a fair share of sociopolitical films that will certainly play well for a policy-oriented Washington audience (Care, Abortion: Stories Women Tell, Patient, Farewell Ferris Wheel); maddening and sometimes gut-wrenching environmental examinations (When Two Worlds Collide, The Islands and the Whales, Command and Control); and of course, the left-of-center delights (Obit, The Man Who Saw Too Much, Haveababy, Cinema, Mon Amour).

One recurring trend: the growing number of films directed or co-directed by women. This year, about half the feature films are by women directors, and often that perspective is reflected in their choice of topic (Abortion: Stories Women Tell, Hooligan Sparrow, Tempestad, Sonita, and All This Panic, just to name a few). In such a male-dominated industry, it’s a refreshing change of pace to see in a film festival. Let’s hope that trend keeps growing in AFI DOCS’ lineup for years to come. —Matt Cohen


Directed by Vanessa Gould

Obituary writers are reporters, too. That’s one of the eye-opening takeaways from Obit, which gets inside the eponymous desk at The New York Times to reveal how these writers manage to produce career- and life-spanning announcements of the dead. Unlike with smaller papers, you gotta be somebody to get your passing into the Times. (And they will not say “passed.” It’s “died” or “dies,” period.) If the writers are lucky, someone will kick it around 9 a.m., maximizing the amount of time writers have to research what exactly makes the deceseased newsworthy. One of the writers says that the pressure to achieve command of a stranger’s life makes her “fight down panic every day.” All find that the work is engrossing and, naturally, invites self-reflection. The nuts-and-bolts of the process—How many words does this guy get? Where will it be placed in the paper?—is as fascinating as the obituaries highlighted or flashed here. (Including that of onetime City Paper Editor David Carr; he’s among the flashed.) The histories unearthed often bring smiles to the writers’ faces, true to the notion that obituaries celebrate lives. Thus Obit’s finale is apt: a rapid montage of faces and famous creations set to an accelerating score of keys, strings, and percussion. It’s an unexpected and brilliant sendoff, just like the ones crafted at the Times—Tricia Olszewski

Thurs., June 23, 11:30 a.m., AFI Silver; Sat., June 25, 6 p.m., E Street Cinema


Directed by Ellen Martinez, Steph Ching

Zaatari, a refugee camp in Jordan, was built in 2012, a year after war broke out in Syria. It now houses most of Syria’s refugees—about 80,000 residents, more than half of whom are children. Ellen Martinez and Steph Ching’s documentary After Spring, executive produced by Jon Stewart, offers a look at life inside the tent-filled refugee camp. After Spring, unlike some other documentaries about Zaatari, doesn’t romanticize the amenities of it (various shops, cell phones, and restaurants are a part of the camp). In fact, it underlines the bittersweet reality: For some refugees, Zaatari has existed for so long that life in the refugee camp has become life as usual, not some temporary limbo they must pass through and endure. Education and childcare are hard to come by, not because Zaatari is badly mismanaged, but because Zaatari relies on the largesse of the World Food Program and other donors for its services. After Spring offers a look at life of precarity, uncertainty, and struggle—sadly, the closest semblance to normalcy and home for millions of people. —Toni Tileva

Thurs., June 23, 1 p.m., E Street Cinema; Fri., June 24, 4:15 p.m., AFI Silver Theatre


Directed by Vitaly Mansky

Vitaly Mansky thought he had struck gold when North Korea’s government granted the Russian filmmaker unprecedented access to follow a young girl as she prepares to celebrate the Day of the Shining Star—the birthday of former supreme leader Kim Jong-il—as a newly inducted member of the Korean Children’s Union. But when every scene is scripted and government agents review all the footage, access instead becomes approval. In response, Mansky’s manipulation of access produces something far more revealing. He left his camera rolling between takes, and it’s in these small moments that the film shines. As the young girl Zin-mi, her parents, and others are repeatedly coached to exude patriotic zeal, Under the Sun captures the machine that keeps this relentless propaganda churning. The film’s slow boil can feel tedious at times, but the rare footage—both intended and unintended—is fascinating and offers understated glimpses into the regime’s psychological toll on its citizens. —Shilpa Jindia

Thurs., June 23, 2 p.m., AFI Silver Theatre; Sun., June 26, 7:45 p.m., E Street Cinema


Directed by Zhang Zanbo

To Western audiences, Zhang Zanbo’s film The Road must seem remarkable. By focusing on a seemingly simple task—the construction of a highway in Hunan province—Zhang explores the trickle-down nature of some of modern China’s most pressing problems. The film looks at displaced locals, unfair labor practices, and the highway as a propaganda tool. There’s minimal commentary, allowing the viewer to make up his or her mind about who is sincere, and who is corrupt. The clash between citizens and institutions is nothing new, but the inevitable triumph of the state means that China diminishes individuality in ways that are cruel but at times even grimly funny. A televised highway trivia game is baffling, as are the ordinary folks who compete in a contest over who has the best song about China’s exceptionalism. The Road ends with shots of the completed highways, anonymous and impressive, and it’s to Zhang’s credit that he gets audiences thinking about the environmental and human costs below it. —Alan Zilberman

Thurs., June 23, 2:15 p.m., AFI Silver Theatre; Sat., June 25, 5 p.m., E Street Cinema


Directed by Deirdre Fishel

Among the reasons so few of us have servants: It’s an expensive practice. But old age and disease don’t spare the 99 percent, and those who end up needing round-the-clock care are often forced to find a way to hire a homecare worker. Some families go bankrupt paying for even the lowest-paid aides, while the deplorable wages mean that the workers face their own struggles to survive. Deirdre Fishel’s documentary Care shows both sides of the failing system. Comfortably middle-class families face financial ruin; one homecare worker resorts to living in a women’s shelter where her young son isn’t allowed because she can’t afford anything else. The situation is bleak, though it is uplifting to see the intimate bonds that form as caregivers do everything from bathing their clients to providing companionship in their final years. If the title is read as an instruction, the film makes sure the audience follows it. —Zach Rausnitz

Thurs., June 23, 3:45 p.m., E Street Cinema; Sun., June 26, 10:30 a.m., E Street Cinema


Directed by Tracy Droz Tragos

Hope Clinic for Women, the Illinois abortion clinic at the center of Tracy Droz Tragos’ film Abortion: Stories Women Tell, looks like a feminist’s dream vision of a safe abortion care facility. Within its walls, female doctors, nurses, and security guards care for patients with compassion and create a safe place for women to terminate their pregnancies. The clinic is just a few miles from Missouri, where laws have limited women’s access to healthcare. The film’s subtitle is its mission statement. Hearing women explain why they visit the clinic or volunteer their time or decide to become single parents is incredibly powerful. Unlike many talk-heavy docs that push subjects to answer questions, the women in this film speak openly, ready to tell their stories despite the stigma they face. In an effort to appear balanced, Tragos also interviews pro-life activists of all ages, but their references to murder seem at odds with the honest statements from the staff and patients of Hope Clinic. —Caroline Jones

Thurs., June 23, 4:15 p.m., AFI Silver Theatre; Fri., June 24, 1:30 p.m., E Street Cinema


Directed by Michael Collins

In 2013, two Wisconsin-based veterans of the Iraq War took off on foot to complete a journey from Milwaukee to Los Angeles. They recorded every step, meal, and blister for director Michael Collins’ documentary Almost Sunrise. But while the trek of Anthony Anderson and Tom Voss and all the sites they see make up the majority of the documentary, the film is predominantly about the psychological wounds of war and how veterans recover (or don’t). Post-traumatic stress disorder seems to be an obvious diagnosis, but Voss and Anderson regularly speak about moral injury, defined as “perpetrating, failing to prevent, bearing witness to, or learning about acts that transgress deeply held moral beliefs and expectations.” Their walk is meant to help them heal, and over the course of 2,700 miles, the withdrawn men seem to reawaken, whether they’re talking to a Native American elder at Colorado Springs’ Garden of the Gods or attending a picnic with an Abraham Lincoln impersonator in Illinois. After the walk ends, their work to help their fellow veterans continues, making the film as inspirational as it is educational. —Caroline Jones

Thurs., June 23, 4 p.m., E Street Cinema; Fri., June 24, 6:45 p.m., AFI Silver Theatre


Directed by Nanfu Wang

The disturbing 2013 sexual abuse case in China’s southern province of Hainan, in which a school principal sexually abused six elementary school girls in a hotel, is the focus of Hooligan Sparrow, director Nanfu Wang’s feature-length debut. The young Chinese-American filmmaker travels with controversial women’s rights activist, Ye Haiyan, known by many as Hooligan Sparrow, and her team of fellow activists (mostly women), as they travel to the Hainan province to protest the government’s handling of the case. Haiyan’s social-media-savvy form of activism sparks an international outcry about the case, and others like it, which of course makes her the target of appalling government-sanctioned harassment. Wang bravely chronicles it all, even as she becomes a target of harassment herself. Hooligan Sparrow artistically soars as a passionate piece of guerrilla filmmaking that’s unwavering in its insistence on being seen and heard. —Jerome Langston 

Thurs., June 23, 6:45 p.m., E Street Cinema; Sun., June 26, 8:30 p.m., AFI Silver Theatre


Directed by Trisha Ziff

the proliferation of social media allows the public’s attention to become siloed, in turn making it easier to ignore (or become numb to) the most gruesome photos of human tragedy, even as they appear incessantly on newsfeeds and blogs. But for decades, a press photographer in Mexico City made tragic, everyday moments—of car crashes, fires, and freak accidents, for example—matter, shooting thousands of photos for local newspapers. The story of Enrique Metinides and the longstanding traditions of the Mexican press are documented in Trisha Ziff’s The Man Who Saw Too Much. The film traces Metinides’ career and idiosyncrasies as his work and legacy are placed firmly in the context of both tabloid journalism and art photography. The best scenes in the film are when Metinides revisits the locations of his most provocative photos and explains the context and difficulties of the situation that produced each shot. One of many harrowing stories is told by a butcher, who can be seen in the back of one of Metinides’ pictures of a girl whose hand got caught in a meat grinder. The resulting documentary, while often difficult to stomach, is a stimulating look at an artist working to transmute public tragedy and spectacle into something logical and disturbingly beautiful. —Quinn Myers

Thurs., June 23, 9 p.m., E Street Cinema; Fri., June 24, 2 p.m., AFI Silver Theatre


Directed by Heidi Brandenburg and Mathew Orzel

When Two Worlds Collide begins with gorgeous shots of Peru’s Amazon rainforest, resplendent in its exotic wildlife and greenery, but the film is ultimately a story about people. We soon see Alberto Pizango, president of AIDESEP, the premier indigenous rights organization in Peru, navigating the water and land, while jokingly describing himself as Tarzan. The documentary chronicles Pizango’s mission to protect the rights of the country’s indigenous minority from the political ambition of Peru’s then-president, Alan García, during their 2009 violent conflict over mining rights. The government of Peru wanted to extract potentially lucrative natural resources from lands that were constitutionally protected and occupied by native Peruvians. New laws were hastily enacted to facilitate extraction, which lead to protests and other controversial actions by both sides of the conflict. It makes for an engaging film, though its political earnestness sometimes lends it an unfortunate heavy-handedness. —Jerome Langston

Thurs., June 23, 9:45 p.m., AFI Silver Theatre; Sun., June 26, 12 p.m., E Street Cinema


Directed by Maciej Adamek

Two Worlds’ Laura is a teen going on 30. The only child of deaf Polish parents, Laura is responsible for helping her mother and father interact with the world, whether they’re buying a cellphone, applying for a loan, or interviewing for a job. “I’m afraid of being an adult,” she says, because unlike most of her classmates, she knows exactly how difficult it can be. Maciej Adamek’s documentary is especically engrossing as we hear Laura’s confessions about how she would get angry as a toddler when her parents would respond to her verbal communication with their fingers and later felt ashamed of them. The film at times becomes extremely self-conscious, however, with conversations that are too obviously staged, such as when Laura’s friend asks her rapid-fire questions about her parents, like a new acquaintance might. A normal teenager would probably tell the girl to STFU already. But Laura’s early-life anger about her ’rents has subsided, and she says she’s learned that “it’s important that I just have them.” —Tricia Olszewski 

Fri., June 24, 12:30 p.m., E Street Cinema; Sun., June 26, 5:45 p.m., AFI Silver Theatre 


Directed by Tatiana Huezo

“Here we call you pagadores: people who pay for other people’s crimes.” This line provides the frame for Tempestad (storm), a gorgeous, haunting film that stuns with transformative documentary storytelling. Director Tatiana Huezo uses two women’s experiences of violence, corruption, and impunity in Mexico to give voice to the thousands of faceless victims of the country’s organized criminal violence. Huezo tracks Miriam’s long journey to return to her son after being held in a cartel-run prison on false charges of human trafficking, while exploring the effects of disappearance with Adela, a clown in a traveling circus whose daughter was kidnapped years earlier. While the story’s structure itself is compelling, it’s Huezo’s use of moody, saturated imagery that gives a meditative and almost otherworldly form to the emotion of their stories. It’s apropos of life lived at the whim of a lawless, rotted system—and the fear required to sustain it. —Shilpa Jindia

Fri., June 24, 4 p.m., E Street Cinema; Sat., June 25, 4:15 p.m., AFI Silver Theatre


Directed by Amanda Micheli

Haveababy follows hopeful patients as they spend large sums out of pocket on the chance to become pregnant at a fertility clinic in Las Vegas. If that gambling analogy weren’t enough, each year the clinic gives one lucky winner a free round of IVF. It’s like Wonka’s Golden Ticket, except thousands of women and couples clamor to put out their show-stopping, heart-wrenching best pleas on YouTube, where a panel of judges will decide the winner. Amanda Micheli’s film works on two levels: It exposes the entrepreneurial model of American medicine at the root of our deeply flawed healthcare system, and ponders our reality TV–obsessed culture that debases our most private misfortunes to a contest. Be prepared to have your sympathy evoked and your judgments realigned, as well as the myth of the American dream deflated just a little more. —Erin Devine 

Fri., June 24, 6:30 p.m. E Street Cinema; Sat., June 25, 11:30 a.m., AFI Silver Theatre


Directed by Deborah S. Esquenazi

“If people only knew how little truth and justice have to do with the way the legal system works, they’d probably amass at the courthouse with lighted torches.” That’s a statement from a director of the Innocence Project of Texas, and it has a couple of issues. One, you imagine that most people are aware of how much injustice takes place in this country every day. And two, considering he said this regarding the case featured in Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four—a case in which the prosecution was based on allegations of Satanic ritual and resembled a literal witch hunt—perhaps he should have left the “lighted torches” part out. In general, though, the documentary is another riveting and heartbreaking examination of four women—all friends, all Latina, all lesbians—effectively determined guilty until proven innocent. Two toddler nieces of one of the women accused them of molestation, likely at the provocation of a man who was angry about their aunt’s romantic rejection. Despite glaringly obvious weaknesses in the case against them, racial and gay bias prevailed, and the women went to prison. The four delineate their experiences, which grow increasingly awful. And though there’s hope at the end, you’ll still be pissed even if the women are able to forgive. —Tricia Olszewski 

Fri., June 24, 8:45 p.m., E Street Cinema; Sat., June 25, 12:30 p.m., E Street Cinema


Directed by Alexandru Belc

There are few genuinely quixotic people around nowadays, but those few tend to see smartphones as their primary foe. Such is the case with Victor Purice, the subject of Cinema, Mon Amour. He owns a movie house in Romania, a country that’s reduced its number of theaters from 400 to around 30. The film documents his efforts—discount tickets, complimentary tea—to get asses in seats. lacking any funds for modern film prints, he burns DVDs from torrents online. The cinema is impressive despite its state of disrepair, and Director Alexandru Belc films Purice and his employees with evident affection, making the action primarily about Purice’s quirks and force of personality. Scenes start to get repetitive—there are only so many compelling shots of an empty movie house—and yet his cinephilia is ultimately infectious. You end up wanting to root for the guy. —Alan Zilberman

Fri., June 24, 9:15 p.m., AFI Silver Theatre; Sun., June 26, 5:45 p.m., E Street Cinema


Directed by Jenny Gage

Filmed over the course of three years, All this Panic follows Brooklyn-based teen sisters Ginger and Dusty through the angst-ridden transition from high school to early adulthood. Their friends, however, take center stage as they grapple with their family’s mental health issues and discovery of their sexual identity. It’s certainly an intimate portrait, but the film suffers from a lack of diversity: its subjects are all conspicuously white with the exception of Sage, who’s presumed to be unknown to the other girls. As one of a few black students in a Manhattan private school, and who recently lost her father and is trying to help her now-single mother, Sage’s storyline is woefully underdeveloped and a tad tokenizing. Filmed by husband-and-wife duo Jenny Gage and Tom Betterton, who are known for their moody fashion photography, the film is awash in bokeh, close focus, and minimalist piano music, which results in a distinctly forced sense of nostalgia. —Margaret Carrigan

Fri., June 24, 9:45 p.m., AFI Silver Theatre; Sat., June 25, 3:30 p.m., E Street Cinema


Directed by Mike Day

Thirty minutes into the otherwise quiet and uneventful The Islands and the Whales, a literal massacre takes place. Faroese people slaughter a swarm of pilot whales, the animals’ spilled blood turning the Atlantic Ocean’s blue into a fiery red. Though this scene documents a routine hunt for the individuals of the Faroe Islands (located between Norway and Iceland), there’s an underlying sense of anger to it all. That’s because their foodways and hunting traditions are suddenly in jeopardy—a local toxicologist has found dangerous amounts of mercury in the pilot whales, and the seabird population is quickly declining. If this all sounds like a harrowing, Werner Herzog–like piece of filmmaking, it is. With The Islands and the Whales, director Mike Day has made a terrifying movie about the give-and-take relationship between people and the environment. And from his perspective, the world’s outlook isn’t good. —Dean Essner

Sat., June 25, 11:30 a.m., AFI Silver Theatre; Sun., June 26, 8 p.m., E Street Cinema


Directed by Tamar Tal Anati

Many documentaries about the Holocaust relate its horrors by interviewing survivors and showing ghastly images of emaciated men, women, and children in concentration camps across Europe. Despite dealing directly with the Holocaust, director Tamar Tal Anati’s film Shalom Italia is the polar opposite of Shoah. It follows Bubi, Andrea, and Emmanuel, three Jewish-Italian brothers who, with their family, fled their home in Florence and hid in a cave in the hills of Tuscany to avoid persecution. Following the war, the family settled in Israel, but 70 years later, the brothers return to their ancestral home to search for the cave that sheltered them and to discuss their differing memories of the period. Anati carefully combines each brother’s recollections with candid moments of the aging trio squabbling over banalities like chores and directions. More than anything, the film is about the strength of families; the beautiful shots of the Italian countryside and food make it that much better. —Caroline Jones

Sat., June 25, 12 p.m., E Street Cinema; Sun., June 26, 6:15 p.m., AFI Silver Theatre


Directed by Margaret Byrne

Raising Bertie is the Boyhood of this year’s AFI DOCS, but with more of an urgent social subtext. The film, directed by Margaret Byrne, follows the lives of three African-American boys in rural North Carolina, chronicling their attempts to pass high school, stay away from crime, and overcome the poverty they’ve been born into. Similar to Richard Linklater’s groundbreaking 2014 movie, Raising Bertie dwells in the everyday minutiae of the boys’ lives. However, Byrne’s film stays away from being overly didactic. The movie may hint at bigger narratives regarding race and America’s wealth gap, but it also never stoops to suggesting that the documentary is anything more than a specific snapshot of three people’s lives. Its smallness is its greatest virtue. —Dean Essner

Sat., June 25, 1:45 p.m., AFI Silver Theatre; Sun., June 26, 3 p.m., E Street Cinema


Directed by Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami

Like many teen girls, Sonita Alizadeh idolizes Rihanna and dreams of becoming a famous musician. But, as an Afghan living illegally in Iran, the path to stardom is littered with roadblocks. Director Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami closely watches the spirited ingenue as she scrambles to help her sister make rent, sings her politically-minded rap songs to recording studios, and—in keeping with some Afghan traditions—gets put up for sale as a bride by her family. Interestingly, Maghami doesn’t remain an impartial viewer: she forms a relationship with her subject and frequently steps in front of the lens to interact with Sonita. In fact, the production team pays a portion of Sonita’s bride price in order to keep her from a forced marriage a bit longer, presumably for her own good but consequently for the good of the film. Financial ties and journalistic ethics are completely blurred by the end of the film as Maghami helps Sonita get a passport and scholarship to a school in the U.S., where hopefully, a better life awaits her. —Margaret Carrigan

Sat., June 25, 2:30 p.m., E Street Cinema; Sun., June 26, 8:15 p.m., AFI Silver Theatre


Directed by Robert Kenner

It might seem like common sense that when it comes to working on a nuclear weapon, one does not improvise. Yet on Sept. 18, 1980, that’s what one man did while tending to an eight-story-high missile in Arkansas, using a ratchet instead of the torque wrench specified in protocol. When a socket fell as a result, it busted a hole in the missile’s fuel tank, leading to an explosion. In Command and Control, director Robert Kenner masterfully re-creates that heart-pounding event through commentary from the men who worked on the Titan II, mixing their stories with footage to yield something of a documentary thriller. The missile, when viewed from its bottom upward, was admittedly a majestic thing. But this doc is meant to serve as a chilling cautionary tale about the 7,000 nuclear weapons still in the United States’ possession. Its point isn’t the danger of a wrong choice of tool, but that a falling piece of hardware shouldn’t be able to cause such damage to a WMD in the first place. —Tricia Olszewski 

Sat., June 25, 3 p.m., E Street Cinema


Directed by Jamie Sisley and Miguel M.i.G. Martinez

“The carnival, literally, is an emotional rollercoaster,” an owner of a small traveling carnival in Maryland says toward the end of Farewell Ferris Wheel. And so is co-directors Jamie Sisley and Miguel M.i.G. Martinez’s thorough and even-handed documentary. It’s a portrait of migrant workers from Mexico who come to the U.S. to work at seasonal carnivals through the controversial H-2B visas, and all the hardships that come with it. At the center of the film is Jim Judkins, an employment recruiter who’s responsible for more than 80 percent of the H-2B visas for migrant carnival workers. At first, the film paints him as a hero of sorts—a cherished figure who helps Mexican workers come to the U.S. legally to make good money to send back home. But soon, the film reveals how the H-2B visa really helps Judkins and the carnival employers more than employees, with migrants subjected to low wages and poor working conditions. With Sisley and Martinez’s sly cinéma vérité–like approach, the drama and emotion at the heart of Farewell Ferris Wheel unfolds quite like a rollercoaster. —Matt Cohen

Sat., June 25, 5:30 p.m., E Street Cinema; Sun., June 26, 11 a.m., AFI Silver Theatre


Directed by Nicole Lucas Haimes

One imagines that the director of Chicken People did not intend to mock the world of competitive chicken-breeding. Yet Nicole Lucas Haimes’ choice of opening scene makes you wonder: Brian C., a relatively young chicken enthusiast, confesses that he sings standards such as “The Way You Look Tonight” to his hen house. Then there’s middle-aged Brian K. saying, “I wouldn’t give up anything I’m doing to have a relationship.” But just when the doc starts feeling a little Toddlers & Tiaras, each of the featured competitors loosens up, and we see other sides of their personalities that prove they’re indeed more than mere poultry obsessives. There’s a lightheartedness to the competitions—no shade thrown here—and, dare I say, you begin to see the beauty in each breed. And though a few do eat their chickens, most of them regard their flock with the affection everybody shows their pets. “Animals enrich people’s life,” Brian C. says. “Period.” —Tricia Olszewski 

Sat., June 25, 7 p.m., AFI Silver Theatre; Sun., June 26, 2:45 p.m., E Street Cinema 


Directed by Dana Flor and Toby Oppenheimer

On weekends, the gay and trans members of D.C.’ Check It gang, based in Chinatown, pass their time promenading, shoplifting, and protecting each other from a hostile city. But when the curfew kicks in and the drama dissipates, many of them have to go home to drug-addled parents or K Street’s prostitution corridor. Check It starts after the gang has established themselves as the District’s premiere group of gay basher-bashers (there’s talk of forced bleach drinking for the gang’s foes). Now they want to move beyond that life, trading assault charges and prostitution raps for fashion or boxing. Along the way, Check It’s leaders—and the doc’s narrative—find themselves stuck in a frustrating cycle of big setbacks and too-small victories. One bittersweet scene finds a newly unemployed boxing coach singing to music in the car that has become his home, only to realize that he has run down the battery. —Will Sommer

Sat., June 25, 9 p.m., Newseum


Directed by Pieter-Jan de Pue

The Land of the Enlightened is a docu-fiction, a fairly unusual film format. Shot over seven years on 16mm film, it’s stirringly beautiful and fairytale-like. A band of children (who jokingly call themselves “brass bandits”) live in an old abandoned Soviet base in Afghanistan and survive by trading in opium, discarded shells, lapis lazuli, and any other wares they might chance upon during their caravan-robbing escapades. Director Pieter-Jan de Pue also offers footage from one of the last remaining U.S. military bases, while a narrator intersperses stories of a great king in Afghanistan’s history. One of the film’s most visceral scenes shows American soldiers shelling and shooting at a hill, where someone is hiding. The image of nature being blasted into smithereens by a relentless onslaught of firepower makes for unsurprisingly heavy emotional viewing and offers a unique take on what war actually looks like. The children are neither powerful nor powerless—they neither want your pity, nor can one forget that they never had a childhood. They drift through the wreckage of a war-ravaged reality, salvaging and scavenging. —Toni Tileva

Sat., June 25, 9:30, AFI Silver Theatre; Sun., June 26, E Street Cinema


Directed by Bill Ross and Turner Ross

Concert documentaries aren’t usually known for their innovation, but the David Byrne-affiliated Contemporary Color is an engaging exception. The film follows performances by ten color guards (groups of students and volunteers who choreograph routines based on military gun and flag ceremonies) from across the country, as they perform simultaneously with musicians like St. Vincent, Nelly Furtado, tUnE-yArDs, and Byrne himself at the Barclays Center in 2015. Though Byrne is the mastermind and curator of the performance, the film isn’t really about him. There are a few choice shots of him looking goofy and explaining his vision and discovery of color guard, but otherwise, directors Bill and Turner Ross focuses on the the color guards themselves. Similar to Stop Making Sense—the famous Talking Heads concert film—Contemporary Color acts as an extension of the live dance and flag- and gun twirling. Instead of lingering on a behind-the-scenes look at the production, the film works constantly to amplify the striking artistry of the color guard members. The brilliant camerawork gives each routine a sweeping intimacy, slowing down the masterful jumps and spins, and proving to the audience what Byrne and the filmmakers already know: color guard is a vibrant, compelling form of art and performance. —Quinn Myers

Sat., June 25, 9:45 p.m., E Street Cinema


Directed by Jorge Caballero

documentarian Jorge Caballero’s even-handed examination of Colombia’s often inept medical system is, at times, heartbreaking. His camera closely follows the middle-aged Nubia Martinez throughout a Colombian hospital as she bravely navigates her country’s frustrating medical bureaucracy on behalf of her cancer-stricken young adult daughter, Leidy. Nubia walks with a pronounced limp, which makes her constant back-and-forth trips from various medical facilities and healthcare agencies painful to watch. At times, the mother is searching for a rather elusive pain medication for Leidy, whose small voice we hear at times, but remains unseen throughout the film. It’s a peculiar narrative choice, but one that helps the film, allowing us to focus more on the ever-present Nubia, who emerges as a working class heroine fighting for the best possible care for her daughter. Patient remains gorgeously unsentimental, but it may provoke a couple of cleansing cries before its understated conclusion. —Jerome Langston

Sun., June 26, 1 p.m., E Street Cinema