It’s the weekend. You have no excuse for skipping AFI Docs. Here’s what you should go see.
Mistaken for Strangers
While Mistaken for Strangers is technically a documentary about indie-rock luminaries The National, its music is largely beside the point. The band takes a backseat to the relationship between another pair of siblings: The National’s moody, debonair lead singer Matt Berninger and his earnest, schlubby younger brother Tom, who directed this film. If we hate it when our friends become successful, Mistaken for Strangers wonderfully captures the competing impulses of pride and envy when success hits even closer to home. Read more >>> (Matt Siblo) 10 p.m. at AFI Silver; also shows noon Sunday at National Portrait Gallery
Gideon’s Army, named for Clarence Gideon, the Florida man whose Supreme Court case led to the decision that trained lawyers must be provided to all defendants even if they can’t pay, follows three defenders in the Deep South. Public defenders play an incredibly important role in our justice system, defending the majority of the 12 million Americans who are arrested every year. Seeing these people give all of themselves to their jobs because they’re so committed is devastating, but the brief moments of joy—when a client is released from jail or acquitted—makes their suffering almost worth it. Read more >>> (Caroline Jones) 5 p.m. at the National Portrait Gallery and 11 a.m. Saturday at AFI Silver
Remote Area Medical
Remote Area Medical, directed by Jeff Reichert and Farihah Zaman, tells the story of a weekend encampment at the Bristol Motor Speedway in eastern Tennessee in April 2012 by Remote Area Medical, a nonprofit group founded in 1985 that provides care for impoverished residents of far-flung countries around the globe. RAM now makes 60 percent of its expeditions in the U.S., allowing people without insurance or money to pay for check-ups a rare chance to get medical help.The matter-of-fact approach the film takes is far more powerful than Michael Moore-style bombast would be. Read more>>> (Mike Madden) 3 p.m. Saturday at AFI Silver
Rent a Family Inc.
Ryuichi is an entrepreneur with an unusual business: He rents himself and his staff out to play the role of friends and family for people who are in need of some for an event. Ryuichi’s odd job is the basis for Danish director Kaspar Astrup Schröder’s gorgeously shot documentary about an unusual calling, but Rent a Family Inc. winds up a thoroughly depressing look at the emotional repression the film posits is rampant in Japanese culture. Read more >>> (Ian Buckwalter) 12:45 p.m. Saturday at the AFI Silver
Life According to Sam
Academy Award-winning D.C. filmmakers Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine direct this stunning documentary about Sam Berns, a 13 year-old with progeria—-a one in 4 million genetic disorder that accelerates aging at an aggressive pace. Most die in their teens. The movie debuted at Sundance and airs on HBO this fall. More than a mere medical drama, the film is also a heart-tugging reminder of how hardship can be morphed into a blessing. Read more >>> (Jen Chaney) Saturday at 11 a.m. at Goethe-Institut and Sunday at 1:15 p.m. at AFI Silver
Get your Nixon fix with director Penny Lane’s documentary, cobbled together with clips from Richard Nixon chief of staff H.R. Haldeman, domestic affairs adviser John Ehrlichman, and special assistant Dwight Chapin, who compulsively filmed their personal and professional lives before they were thrown in jail during the Watergate scandal. The film provides a glimpse into the careless ebullience with which the young Nixon administration began, and the paranoid cynicism with which it collapsed. Read more >>> (Aaron Wiener) Saturday at 12:15 p.m. at National Archives and Sunday at 5 p.m. at National Portrait Gallery
I Learn America
Jean-Michel Dissard and Gitte Peng’s documentary follows several students at Brooklyn’s International High School, which teaches students who have limited language skills and have lived in the U.S. for less than four years. The documentary inspires but doesn’t sugarcoat the reality that for some of its female subjects, life in America isn’t much freer than life back home. Most heartbreaking of all is the story of Itrat, a girl from Pakistan who dreams of graduating high school and going to college but instead faces an impending arranged marriage. Read more >>> (Caroline Jones) Noon on Saturday at the National Portrait Gallery and 11:30 a.m. Sunday at the American History Museum
The Trials of Muhammad Ali
It’s the simplest take on The Greatest that winds up packing the biggest punch. Director Bill Siegel (The Weather Underground) profiles the struggles Ali faced after joining the Nation of Islam in 1964, tracking the fighter from his conversion and name change through the Supreme Court battle he fought after declaring himself a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War. Read more>>> (Andrew Lapin) 2:45 pm Sunday at the Newseum
Anita: Speaking Truth to Power
The unseemly proceedings surrounding the testimony of Anita Hill regarding Clarence Thomas’ sexual harrassment—a full-blown media circus involving protracted discussions of pubic hair, big-breasted women, and Long Dong Silver by sweaty, condescending senators—is faithfully retold in Freida Mock’s documentary. Hill’s testimony ignited a nationwide conversation about sexual harassment, and she has since emerged as an icon for women’s rights in the workplace. The film will likely incense younger viewers, and provides a comprehensive overview to an already well-documented drama. Read more >>> (Matt Siblo) 7:30 p.m. Sunday at the National Portrait Gallery
Also on Sunday: shorts!
Shorts Showcase 1 (including Not Anymore: A Story of Revolution, Outlawed in Pakistan, and Straight with You) shows at 10 a.m. at the Newseum; Showcase 2 (includingSlomo, The Other Dave, Vultures of Tibet, We Will Live Again, and When the Song Dies) shows at 3:45 p.m. at Goethe-Institut.