AFI Docs unveils full lineup for 2021 festival

The full slate of films for this year’s AFI Docs festival will boast 77 films from 23 countries, and four world premieres. The AFI says 52% of the films that will ...
May 26, 2021

The full slate of films for this year’s AFI Docs festival will boast 77 films from 23 countries, and four world premieres.

The AFI says 52% of the films that will be shown at the 19th edition of AFI Docs were directed by women, 40% are made by BIPOC directors and 18% by LGBTQ directors.

“We are living in the Golden Age of documentary film,” said Sarah Harris, AFI Festivals director of programming in a release on Wednesday (May 26).

“At AFI Docs, we are proud to celebrate excellence in the films of 2021 – connecting audiences across the nation, engaging them in lively conversation and inspiring them with both the unprecedented challenges and the breathtaking beauty of the world around us.”

The hybrid event will run from June 22 to 27 and include films that are available to watch on the festival’s website, along with in-person screenings at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center in Silver Spring, MD.

As AFI previously announced, Naomi Osaka will premiere on the festival’s opening night, following two years in the career of the Japanese tennis star. The festival’s closing night film will be Cusp, a coming-of-age documentary about three teenage girls in a small Texas town. And AFI DOCS’ centerpiece screening will be Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain on June 25, in commemoration of what would have been the American chef and author’s (pictured) 65th birthday.

Included in this year’s Features section at the festival is White Coat Rebels, the world premiere of a documentary about the medical community’s growing efforts to push back against big pharma. The section will also feature the world premiere of The Slow Hustle, which examines a corruption scandal in the Baltimore police department; the North American premiere of Courtroom 3H, covering the emotional complexities of family court trials; and the U.S. premiere of The Story Won’t Die, about Syrian artists working in exile in Europe.

The third year of the Cinema’s Legacy program will feature historic films that use the personal documentary form. In Search of Our Fathers (1992), Sink or Swim (1990) and Stevie (2002) will comprise this year’s program.

AFI Docs’ Series section this year features multi-part documentaries investigating pivotal historic and cultural moments. These include sound creation and the technology used in modern music in Watch the Sound with Mark Ronson, a look back at 9/11 with 9/11: One Day in America and the world premiere of Obama: In Pursuit of a More Perfect Union.

Audience awards will be given to a feature and short film based on votes from festival attendees, with the winners announced on June 28. The AFI Docs short film prize will be a qualifying award for Academy Award eligibility, for the second consecutive year.

The Spotlight on the Hindsight Project is a special part of the festival this year, featuring the world premiere of six short films that chronicle the experiences of BIPOC communities in 2020 in the American south and U.S. territories. This project was produced with Firelight Media, the Center for Asian American Media and Reel South.

The Charles Guggenheim Symposium at this year’s festival will feature a discussion with filmmaker Dawn Porter and a screening of her new film Rise Again: Tulsa and the Red Summer.

Below is the AFI Docs’ list of films included in this year’s features section. For a full festival lineup, you can visit

Feature Films

Courtroom 3H
Antonio Méndez Esparza
North American Premiere

Daughter of a Lost Bird
Brooke Pepion Swaney

Delphine’s Prayers
Rosine Mbakam
Belgium, Cameroon

Drew Xanthopoulos

The First Step
Brandon Kramer

Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine

The Lost Leonardo
Andreas Koefoed
Denmark, France, Sweden

Paola Calvo and Patrick Jasim
Germany, Mexico

My Name Is Pauli Murray
Julie Cohen and Betsy West

The Neutral Ground
CJ Hunt

No Straight Lines
Vivian Kleiman

North by Current
Angelo Madsen Minax

The One and Only Dick Gregory
Andre Gaines

Pray Away
Kristine Stolakis

Camilla Nielsson
Denmark, USA, Norway

Radiograph of a Family
Firouzeh Khosrovani
Iran, Switzerland, Norway

Rebel Hearts
Pedro Kos

Pacho Velez

The Slow Hustle
Sonja Sohn
World Premiere

Storm Lake
Jerry Risius and Beth Levison

The Story Won’t Die
David Henry Gerson
USA, Germany, Denmark
U.S. Premiere

Summer of Soul (…Or When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)
Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson

Tom Petty, Somewhere You Feel Free
Mary Wharton

Try Harder!
Debbie Lum

Alice Diop

White Coat Rebels
Greg Barker
World Premiere

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