AFI DOCS: Festival Recap


Here at UTG we had the opportunity to attend AFI Docs, one of the premiere documentary film festivals in the country. While we could not see every single film, we had the opportunity to catch a lot of really fantastic stories that talked of social change and gave insight into topics that we may not normally get to see. Some films were better than others, but the general consensus is that AFI Docs was not a festival to miss this year.

Today we have a bunch of reviews of the different films we saw, and we hope that you take the time to read through them and check out the films as they roll out into cinemas in the coming year. We also have longer reviews of other films, which will come out soon.

Click through the break to see the highlights of AFI Docs, but make sure you let us know in the comments which films you are excited to see!

Baltimore has gotten a bad rap over the years for how violent and depressing it is (and don’t get me wrong, this has some factual basis), but 12 O’Clock Boys shows the Charm City in a new light, by telling the story of a kid named Pug who is trying to become a member of the group known as the 12 O’Clock Boys. A story as much about the bikers as about growing up in a rough city, this film had really great cinematography, slick editing, and had a large variety of memorable characters. With every different person you meet in the story you will really start to connect, which is due in part to their great personalities and the way the filmmaker framed them within the context of his story. 12 O’Clock Boys was one of my favorites at the festival, because it took the opportunity to show positive lifestyles in an area that is generally known for its rough living conditions.


Caucus tells the story from the beginning to the end of the different Republican campaigns towards the Iowa Caucus. Everyone gets their time throughout the film, but Santorum definitely has more of a focus, and becomes a character you can sympathize with. Admittedly, the pacing was very slow throughout the film, and there definitely could have been some more creative choices in terms of editing the film to shave off the time frame, but overall Caucus was an interesting look into what goes into running for the Republican candidacy for President. I also want to mention that this film can be enjoyed by all, no matter what your political leanings are, as it is more a documentary about campaigning rather than the politics of the Republican party.


I got the pleasure of attending the world premiere of Documented, the story of the undocumented immigrant Jose Antonio Vargas. Vargas is the director of this film, and also a Pulitzer Prize Winning journalist. The documentary told his story, from his beginnings as a kid in a new country to his present day struggles to help give a voice to undocumented immigrants in the US. The storytelling of Documented was very compelling, and while it didn’t provide a ton of concrete solutions to the immigration problem, it told a story of how immigration reform affects Americans all across the country. Filmmaking wise, some of the cinematography and editing was kind of spotty, but as a first time filmmaker, it doesn’t depreciate the quality of the film. Overall, Documented is a great story, which I know is in large part due to great writing by Vargas, and this should definitely be checked out by anyone interested in the intricacies of immigration.


Probably the most inspirational film I watched at AFI Docs, Life According to Sam tells of a family’s fight to keep their son, Sam, alive while he struggles with a rare disease known as Progeria. This fatal disease causes a kid’s body to age at a rapid rate, killing them around the age of 13. Life According to Sam tells the story of not just Sam and how he lives with his disease, but more so about how his parents, Dr. Leslie Gordon and Dr. Scott Berns, are searching and researching for a cure to help their son. This film is a testament to the human will, and is incredibly humbling. Life According to Sam manages to take a relatively bleak subject matter and presents it in a very positive manner, without making light of Sam’s situation. There wasn’t a dry eye in the theater as the credits started to roll, and that’s due in large part to a great story and sharp filmmaking.

Life According to Sam is being released by HBO Documentaries this Fall.


Another world premiere at AFI Docs, Lost for Life is a portrait of juvenile delinquents who are serving life in prison for crimes that they committed when they were minors. This was one of the heavier films of the festival, as it delved into the lives of these prisoners, showing a wide variety of mindsets in the wake of their sentencing. Lost for Life beat a dead horse at times by solely focusing on the delinquents, and could have benefited from going into more of the solutions to this problem, to break up the heavy stories. The film was definitely going for a certain tone, and that was evident, but when you tackle a subject such as life imprisonment of minors, I feel like you need to show more sides of the story than just that of the prisoners. Lost for Life touched on that very briefly, and I feel like it could be expanded upon. The film was a very interesting viewing, and it takes on a complex question without providing any guidance to a solution or having any sort of call to action.


War photography is generally a topic you think of in the context of what you see in your history books, but in McCullin, we get to learn about the photography of battle through the eyes of one of the most famous and influential photographers still alive, Don McCullin. McCullin is definitely about taking photos during wartime, but it also goes in deeper to talk of the emotional tolls and strain that has set in on McCullin over the years. The film could have benefited from more actual footage of McCullin around his home (some of the most memorable and beautiful moments were of McCullin shooting in nature), due to the fact the onslaught of really tough images became increasingly more tiring as the film progressed. The breaks in the photos were some of my favorites, because it made McCullin feel like more of a film and not just a slideshow. Often times when discussing war photography, we contextualize the photos in terms of if war is necessary, but in McCullin we get a different perspective that talks of the importance of photography, and the price photographers have to pay to bring these powerful images to the masses.


A portrait of what it’s like to be fighting on the ground in Syria, Not Anymore is a great short documentary that tells the story that it wants to without wasting anytime. The film is intense, but isn’t afraid to show you the hard truth. While the film has some problems production wise (focus problems and inconsistent audio), the subject matter is all that really matters as it boldly tells America that Syria is in trouble, and that they need our help. Like the title suggests, Not Anymore at its essence is a story of revolution, and how the fight for equality and freedom comes at a price.


Running From Crazy is about Mariel Hemingway and her famous family (she is the granddaughter of the late Ernest Hemingway), and how she has coped with the mental illness that has plagued her family for years. While this film had a lot of potential, I feel as though the filmmaker has a hard time figuring out who she wanted the subject of the film to be — the family, or Mariel. A lot of times I was wondering why certain scenes were left in the film instead of some heavy subject matter that was glossed over. Running From Crazy had its poignant moments, and definitely showed how mental illness can affect a family, but it could have been edited better so that it felt a bit more cohesive. Simply, Running From Crazy had the potential to be a very interesting and relevant portrait of a well-known family’s troubled past, but instead shoots itself in the foot by opening too many doors.



Written By: Tyler Osborne

Tyler Osborne

Live in DC, grew up in PA. I specialize in writing, filming and taking pictures about punk, pop-punk, and hardcore music, and I also have a huge background in film as well. When not on the site, i'm running my own internet radio show, ToZ's Edge Radio ( I also love stage diving and goldfish.
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