“Sisters with Transistors”, “Belushi” join AFI Fest’s documentary line-up

The American Film Institute has revealed the slate of works selected for its Documentary section today (Oct. 6), with Lisa Rovner’s Sisters with Transistors and R.J. Cutler’s Belushi among the projects screening at the 34th annual AFI ...
October 7, 2020

The American Film Institute has revealed the slate of works selected for its Documentary section today (Oct. 6), with Lisa Rovner’s Sisters with Transistors and R.J. Cutler’s Belushi among the projects screening at the 34th annual AFI Fest.

The complete festival program includes 124 titles in total, with 54 features, three episodic series and 67 shorts across all categories, representing 35 countries. Women directed 53% of the selected titles, while 39% are directed by BIPOC and 17% are directed by LBGTQ+.

“AFI Fest is committed to supporting diverse perspectives and new voices in cinema and this year is no different,” said Sarah Harris, director of programming at AFI Festivals, in a statement. “While we wish we were able to be together in Hollywood, this year’s festival is an opportunity to celebrate the many great films yet to be discovered by audiences across the nation.”

The 15 projects featured in Documentary category include Cutler’s Belushi (pictured), which uses previously unheard audiotapes to examine the life and career of late comedian John Belushi; Rovner’s Sisters with Transistors, about the women who helped shape the electronic music genre; Gianfranco Rosi’s Notturno, which follows the stories of individuals attempting to resume their lives while living in war zones and conflict flash points; and Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering’s On the Record, which spotlighs the stories of several women who have made allegations of sexual misconduct against music mogul Russell Simmons.

The 2020 AFI Fest will take place online Oct. 15-22. 

Below is a list of the 2020 AFI Fest documentary slate, with descriptions provided by the festival. To see a full list of films, visit AFI’s website.

40 Years A Prisoner
In this timely documentary, Tommy Oliver revisits the 1978 confrontation between the Black liberation group MOVE and the Philadelphia Police Department and follows Michael Davis Africa, Jr. on his quest for justice. DIR Tommy Oliver. USA

76 Days
January 23, 2020: Wuhan, China, a city of 11 million, goes on complete lockdown to combat COVID-19. Filming inside Wuhan’s hospitals, 76 Days provides a look at a city’s fight for survival. DIR Hao Wu, Weixi Chen, Anonymous. China

The American Sector
The fall of the Berlin Wall marked the end of the Cold War. Thirty years later, two filmmakers comb the U.S. in search of fragments of the wall and what it represents. DIR Courtney Stephens, Pacho Velez. USA

Using previously unheard audiotapes from friends, family and collaborators, documentary filmmaker R.J. Cutler captures the spirit of an American icon in this portrait of the too-short life of John Belushi. DIR R.J. Cutler.

The Big Scary “S” Word
A fascinating blend of historical and contemporary documentary storytelling, The Big Scary “S” Word re-examines socialism in a U.S. context. DIR Yael Bridge. USA

Citizen Penn
Avoiding the pitfalls of the celebrity-as-savior portrait, this documentary focuses on Sean Penn’s nonprofit Community Organized Relief Effort (CORE) and its multi-year relief work in Haiti following the country’s devastating 2010 earthquake. DIR Don Hardy. USA

Collective (Collectiv)
When a fire at the Colectiv nightclub in Bucharest, Romania, killed 27 people in 2015, the tragedy was just beginning. This documentary uncovers the truth behind the deadly government scandals that followed. DIR Alexander Nanau. Romania, Luxembourg

Downstream To Kinshasa
Filmmaker Dieudo Hamadi follows a group of severely injured survivors of Congo’s Six-Day War on a harrowing journey down the Congo River to the capital as they seek government compensation for their injuries. DIR Dieudo Hamadi. Democratic Republic of the Congo, France, Belgium

The camera follows Jacinta, mid-twenties, everywhere – in prison, at the sober house and in the car looking to score. DIR Jessica Earnshaw. USA

The New Corporation: The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel
The filmmakers behind 2003′s penetrating documentary The Corporation return with a timely sequel that lays bare the psychosis of the corporation and what can be done about it. DIR Joel Bakan, Jennifer Abbott.

No Ordinary Man
In 1989, Jazz musician Billy died and his family discovered that Tipton was born a woman and passing to them all as a man. But biology is just part of the story. DIR Aisling Chin-Yee, Chase Joynt. Canada

Gianfranco Rosi follows up his Academy Award-nominated Fire At Sea with this film, the culmination of a three-year cinematic journey through war-torn Iraq, Kurdistan, Syria and Lebanon. DIR Gianfranco Rosi. Italy, France, Germany

On The Record
Presented in association with AFI FEST’s tribute to Kirby Dick, this free showing of the documentary On the Record gives voice to former A&R executive Drew Dixon, who alleges sexual abuse by hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons. DIR Kirby Dick, Amy Ziering. USA

Sisters With Transistors
A glorious ode to the women who helped shape electronic music and the contemporary soundscape as we know it, using poetic narration and archival footage to trace the unsung history of electronic music. DIR Lisa Rovner. USA, UK.  World Premiere

In the 1980s and ’90s, Marika Gerrard and Zoey Tur (known then as Bob) flew high above Los Angeles in their own news helicopter, redefining “action” journalism but at a huge personal cost. DIR Matt Yoka. USA

About The Author