AFI Docs to open with “Letters to Jackie”

The documentary conference and festival, formerly known as Silverdocs, will present Bill Couturie's film at a gala event in Washington DC. (Pictured: festival director Sky Sitney)
April 22, 2013

Bill Couturié’s Letters to Jackie, which features assorted actors reading letters written to Jackie Kennedy in the aftermath of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, will be the opening night film of the AFI Docs conference and festival in June.

The film will be presented at the event by Discovery Communications net TLC and is coproduced by Amblin TV and The Couturie Co. It will air on TLC in November of 2013. The cast of actors reciting the letters includes Zooey Deschanel, Kirsten Dunst, Anne Hathaway, Allison Janney, John Krasinski, Melissa Leo, Laura Linney, Frances McDormand, Mark Ruffalo, Octavia Spencer, Channing Tatum, and Betty White among others.

Also making its world premiere at AFI Docs is Documented, written and directed by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas and co-directed by Ann Lupo. The film, which has been named the fest’s “Centerpiece” gala presentation, explores immigration in the United States through the story of Vargas, one of the country’s more prominent undocumented immigrants. The topic of immigration will be further explored through the festival’s AFI Catalyst Sessions: The Art of Moving Reality forum, which will bring together filmmakers, thought leaders and American policy-makers.

Formerly known as Silverdocs, the documentary event will feature a new presenting sponsor in its 11th year – automaker Audi. Discovery Channel, a founding sponsor of the original event with the American Film Institute, is not returning as a sponsor.

The new name, however, is not the only change for the event. This year, it will expand its reach beyond its usual headquarters of Silver Spring, Maryland, to host screenings and events in various locales in Washington, DC. The opening gala, for example, will take place at the Newseum, in Washington’s Penn Quarter. Smithsonian Museum theaters within the National Portrait Gallery and National Museum of American History will also host some festival programming, as will Silver Spring’s AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center.

The event’s advisory board reads like a who’s who of documentary cinema, featuring Ken Burns, Davis Guggenheim, Chris Hegedus, Werner Herzog, Barbara Kopple, Spike Lee, Albert Maysles, Errol Morris, DA Pennebaker and Frederick Wiseman.

“Some issues and emotions are so powerful that they must find expression in the public square and in our case, the National Mall and Pennsylvania Avenue,” said AFI president and CEO Bob Gazzale in a statement regarding the two announced premieres. “Letters to Jackie and Documented will prompt essential national conversations that are at the heart of AFI Docs.”

“We are honored to present these exceptional films as our opening night and Centerpiece screenings,” added festival director Sky Sitney. “Both touch deeply on the emotional core of our country’s identity – Letters to Jackie looks back at a pivotal time in our history, while Documented confronts a critical issue that could not be more timely and relevant.”

AFI Docs presented by Audi takes place from June 19-23. For more information, click here.

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