With more than 70 films screening at the 15th annual AFI Docs, which runs June 14 to 18, you’re going to need some help deciding which ones to see. Here’s our shortlist.
No Man’s Land
When a group of right-wing militants took over an Oregon nature reserve in the name of patriotism, there was a lot to be confused about. And the press statements and aerial footage of Malheur National Wildlife Reserve didn’t do much to clear that up.
Now David Byars’ documentary No Man’s Land looks at the 41 days of the occupation from the inside. Ammon Bundy and LaVoy Finicum loom large as organizers and voices of the occupying force. Byars had incredible access to both, and footage of the car chase and shootout that ended in Finicum’s death made it into the film.
While audiences with some familiarity with the story will find this first-hand account gripping, those who missed the news as it happened may need to study up a little. The film has a tendency to gloss over some of the details in order to make more time for its impressive cast of characters.
Year of the Scab
The ESPN 30 for 30 documentary Year of the Scab tells the story of the Redskins replacement players during the 1987 NFL players strike. When the starters went on strike, a ragtag group of replacement players—the “scabs,” as people called them—surprised everyone when they banded together and secured three unlikely victories, paving the way for the Redskins’ Superbowl win that year. But in an ultimate burn, the owners decided not to give the replacements rings.
Nearly 30 years later, the scabs still haven’t received the recognition they deserve. Year of the Scab catches up with the former replacement players, whose lives were forever changed by their three-week stint in the NFL—and not necessarily in a good way. “We like to say that they thought they were getting the golden ticket and they ended up with the scarlet letter,” says director John Dorsey. Instead of feeling proud of their contributions to a Superbowl-winning season, a lot of them carry shame and regret. It’s a darker, more complicated look at the NFL’s legacy in our society.
New Chefs on the Block
For anyone obsessed with DC’s food scene (so probably all of you) comes a documentary charting the genesis of two famed local establishments—Rose’s Luxury on Barracks Row and Kensington’s Frankly…Pizza!—from groundbreaking to opening night and beyond. Dustin Harrison-Atlas’s film gives a remarkably personal glimpse into the lives of the chef-owners at each establishment, as they face the perils of rising construction costs, unexpected delays, and the anxiety of their first reviews. With cameos from various dining luminaries, including a few rapturous segments with the recently deceased Michel Richard, New Chefs on the Block is a must-see tale of culinary passion in the face of overwhelming odds.
As compelling as it is unconventional, at its core The Work attempts to recalculate the standard for how we view the intersection of masculinity and self-perception. Co-directors Jairus McLeary and Gethin Aldous’s film, which garnered the top documentary prize at this year’s SXSW Film Festival, brings viewers inside an experimental group therapy retreat, where three everyday men join a collective of level-four convicts inside one of the nation’s most notorious maximum security prisons. The Work offers a revealing and humanizing portrayal of the stories from both beyond and within Folsom Prison’s walls, solidifying how the truth and what’s before us may not always be as clean-cut as it seems.