“Boys State”, “The Fight” to screen at AFI Docs ’20

Washington DC’s American Film Institute has unveiled the full slate of films being presented digitally at the 2020 edition of AFI Docs. The 18th annual edition of the documentary festival and conference was re-imagined ...
June 8, 2020

Washington DC’s American Film Institute has unveiled the full slate of films being presented digitally at the 2020 edition of AFI Docs.

The 18th annual edition of the documentary festival and conference was re-imagined in May as a global, online film festival in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Featured in the 2020 lineup will be 59 films from 11 countries and 12 virtual world premieres. The lineup is also bolstered by directors who identify as women (61%), people of color (25%) and LGBTQ (14%) across its Special Presentations, Feature Films, Cinema’s Legacy, Episodic and Short Film sections.

The five-day documentary festival will present its lineup of non-fiction fare digitally from June 17 to 21 on

As previously announced, the festival will open with Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine’s Boys State (pictured), which follows a group of teenage boys at an annual civic program hosted by the American Legion in Austin, Texas.

Closing the festival will be Mary Wharton’s Jimmy Carter Rock & Roll President, which charts the mostly forgotten story of how Carter forged a tight bond with musicians such as Willie Nelson, the Allman Brothers, Bob Dylan, Dolly Parton and others.

Elyse Steinberg, Josh Kriegman and Eli Despres’ The Fight, meanwhile, will serve as AFI Docs’ centerpiece screening. The 96-minute film, which world premiered at Sundance ’20, offers an in-depth look at how civil liberties battles are fought and the ACLU lawyers on the front lines of an increasingly polarized legal landscape.

Also included in the Special Screenings section are Elizabeth Barret and Wendy Ewald’s Portraits and Dreams and Ron Howard’s Rebuilding Paradise.

“Now more than ever, it is important to expand our perspectives and listen to voices that may differ from our own, and this year’s festival includes a diverse range of insights and experiences for audiences to share in,” said Michael Lumpkin, director of AFI Festivals, in a statement. “These films explore political and social issues in the U.S. and across the globe, introducing us to the next generation of leaders and shedding new light on figures of the past.”

The Features program, meanwhile, will explore themes and subjects ranging from the intersectionality of race, gender and violence in the Minneapolis police department (Deirdre Fishel’s Women In Blue); the effects of immigration policies under the current administration (Sebastian Junger and Nick Quested’s Blood on the Wall); the importance of reclaiming female sexuality (Maria Finitzo’s Dilemma of Desire); and Asian Americans’ experience gaining full participation in the American political process (Yi Chen’s First Vote).

Elsewhere, Academy Award winners Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar will return to AFI Docs with their latest film, 9to5: The Story of A Movement, which chronicles the 1970s movement for gender equality in the workplace.

Now in its second year, the Cinema’s Legacy program will screen three classic documentaries that focus on the fight for access to America’s political system. Featured films include Connie Field and Marilyn Mulford’s Freedom on My Mind (1994), William Greaves’ Nationtime – Gary (1972), and Cynthia Salzman Mondell and Allen Mondell’sSisters of ’77 (2005).

Audience Awards will be handed out to a feature and short film based on votes cast by digital attendees. Winners for Best Feature and Best Short will be announced on June 22.

The film that picks up AFI Docs’ Shorts Grand Jury Prize will also qualify for Academy Award eligibility.

Finally, AFI Docs will honor Oscar-winning actor and filmmaker Lee Grant with the 2020 Guggenheim Symposium. This year’s virtual Symposium will also include a screening of Grant’s 1986 Oscar-winning Down and Out in America, followed by an in-depth conversation with Grant on June 19 moderated by author and Washington Post chief film critic Ann Hornaday.

Past Guggenheim Symposium honorees include Charles Guggenheim (2003), Barbara Kopple (2004), Martin Scorsese (2006), Jonathan Demme (2007), Spike Lee (2008), Albert Maysles (2009), Frederick Wiseman (2010), Chris Hegedus and D. A. Pennebaker (2011), Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky (2012), Errol Morris (2013), Alex Gibney (2014), Stanley Nelson (2015), Werner Herzog (2016), Laura Poitras (2017), Steve James (2018) and Freida Lee Mock (2019).


Boys State – Opening Night Film
Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine

Jimmy Carter Rock & Roll President – Closing Night Film
Mary Wharton

The Fight – Centerpiece Screening
Elyse Steinberg, Josh Kriegman and Eli Despres

Portraits and Dreams
Elizabeth Barret and Wendy Ewald

Rebuilding Paradise
Ron Howard


9to5: The Story of A Movement
Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar

Blood on The Wall
Sebastian Junger and Nick Quested

Bully. Coward. Victim. The Story Of Roy Cohn
Ivy Meeropol

Coded Bias
Shalini Kantayya
USA, UK, China

Bryce Dallas Howard

Dilemma of Desire
Maria Finitzo

Down and Out in America (1986)
Lee Grant

First Vote
Yi Chen

Freedia Got A Gun
Chris McKim

The Letter
Maia Lekow and Christopher King

Miracle Fishing
Miles Hargrove and co-director Christopher Birge

One Life
Josh Turnbow

The Reason I Jump
Jerry Rothwell

Saudi Runaway
Susanne Regina Meures

Sing Me A Song
Thomas Balmès
France, Germany, Switzerland

Stockton on My Mind
Marc Levin

A Thousand Cuts
Ramona S. Diaz

Through the Night
Loira Limbal

Sharon Liese

Charlotte Mangin and Sandra Rattley

White Noise
Daniel Lombroso

Women in Blue
Deirdre Fishel


Freedom on My Mind (1994)
Connie Field and Marilyn Mulford

Nationtime – Gary (1972)
William Greaves

Sisters Of ’77 (2005)
Cynthia Salzman Mondell and Allen Mondell


And She Could Be Next
Grace Lee and Marjan Safinia

City So Real
Steve James

The Vote
Michelle Ferrari

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.