By all accounts, it appears to be a milestone year for the 8th annual American Documentary Film Festival (AmDocs). Nearly 200 films, approximately 50 percent of them World or Northern American premieres, enliven this year’s fest, which runs March 29 through April 4.
When the theater lights dim and imaginations will brighten. But what stands out the most this year? Material and events that revolve around Native Americans, their culture, and even cuisine.
The opening night film, for instance, is Sacheen. It tells the story of Sacheen Littlefeather, whose 1973 Oscar appearance is now the stuff of legend (see below). Littlefeather will also be in attendance.
“The subject matters are fascinating to people,” says festival director Teddy Grouya of the growing allure of the festival, in general. “We’re into great movies. That’s our mission, and if the film is well done, rather than saying, ‘I just watched a documentary,’ you walk away saying, ‘I just saw a great movie.’”
Grouya is candid, too, about how AmDocs is a “mainstream event, but not everybody considers documentaries mainstream.”
Other standouts include a closing night grand opus. RBJ (7 p.m. April 4), the multiple award-winning documentary about cultural phenomenon Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, is timely and arrives at a juncture when awareness of women empowerment is at an all-time high.
“I thought with everything that has happened over the last year, that this film would be a great way to finish off the festival,” Grouya says.
There’s more cinema to surf through. Palm Springs Life dissects this year’s outing for the following mini go-to guide to help audiences maneuver their way through the festival. Take a peek.
Robust films and a special guest appearance enliven the festival on March 29. So does food. An “Opening Night Spectacular” finds author/speaker/James Beard award-winning chef Sean Sherman of The Sioux Chef doing what he does best: Reintroducing Native food as a dining and healthy food option.
On the film front, the entire day is full. Noteworthy docs include In The Land of Our Ancestors (2 p.m., USA, 9 minutes), which sheds light on The Ohlone people, who are not federally recognized as indigenous nations in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The California premiere of Moments of Truth (7 p.m. USA, 10 minutes) offers audiences a short montage/documentary with more than 125 moments from noteworthy documentaries from the last 100 years, including Roger and Me, The War Room, and Grey Gardens.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY AMDOCS
Author/speaker/James Beard award-winning chef Sean Sherman of The Sioux Chef.
Sacheen (7 p.m. USA, 25 minutes) is expected to turn heads. The doc zeroes in on Sacheen Littlefeather and the “real story” behind the first woman to actually make a bold political statement at the Academy Awards. Littlefeather had the unique role of speaking on actor Marlon Brando’s behalf — live on television — after the film legend received a Best Actor win for The Godfather in 1973.
Brando, who had been a stalwart advocate of Native American rights, refused to accept the Oscar if he won. Littlefeather’s speech, which strongly touched on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, is now the stuff of legend and the doc provokes thought on the event and the issue in interviews with Littlefeather and other activists from Black Lives Matter, Time’s Up, and Standing Rock, all of whom weigh in on Littlefeather’s legacy.
DOCS TO CONSIDER
True, it’s challenging to pinpoint which docs are the best as most of this year’s crop of films is solid and often soul-stirring in theme and style. Still, there are a few that truly stand out.
Almost Liam (North American Premiere, Israel, 28 minutes, 2 p.m. April 2) seems destined to inspire audiences as it delves into how one soul, Liam, ponders his previous female identity before he undergoes irreversible surgery.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY AMDOCS
In Almost Liam, Liam ponders his female identity before undergoing irreversible surgery.
A Tribute To James Joyce, Shout In The Street (World Premiere, 59 minutes, 11 a.m. April 4) takes on James Joyce (“Ulysses), the revered literary titan. Actress Anjelica Huston deconstructs the man and the legend through the lens of his influence on her own family, childhood, and creative world.
Deportation Nation (World Premiere, 17 minutes, 2:30 p.m. March 30) is timely, especially in an era of contentious politics.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY AMDOCS
1500 Miles in 23 Days refers to a bike trek across China.
1500 Miles in 23 Days (China, California Premiere, 5 p.m. April 1) traces what happens when a young Chinese artist partakes in a 1500-mile bike trek across China in an effort to spark inspiration. Deep life insights are uncovered along the way.
The Frank Capra Story (West Coast Premiere, 4 p.m. March 31) seems like an ideal fit for local audiences. In unraveling the master filmmaker, audiences are given something rare: Many never-before-seen production stills of Capra’s work from the 1930s and ’40s alongside archived interviews with the man. We learn, among other things, that actor Jimmy Stewart was unemployed and — wait for it — flying kites with Henry Fonda when Capra asked him to play George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life.
If you appreciate hearing wise filmmakers banter, take note: Panels are located at the Upstairs Lounge of Camelot Theaters. Seating is limited. Arrive on time.
9:45 a.m. March 30: Scratching your head over whether your film is a short or feature? Festival guests toss in their two cents.
11:30 a.m. March 30: It’s “Everything Legal” with AmDocs advisory Board Member/Attorney at Law /filmmaker, Paul Szynol.
9:45 a.m. March 31: Ready to chat up editing and the three-act structure? Festival guests lead the way.
11:30 a.m. March 31: Self-sell or traditional distribution? Festival guests weigh all of the options.
The 8th Annual American Documentary Film Festival (AmDocs) runs March 29 through April 4 at Camelot Theaters, 2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs. For tickets and additional information on all documentaries, visit americandocumentaryfilmfestival.com.