Report by Carla Renata for and

The American Film Institute announced today the AFI DOCS 2016 Audience Award winners, concluding the five-day festival in Washington, DC, and Silver Spring, MD.  This year's Audience Award for Best Feature went to MAYA ANGELOU: AND STILL I RISE, directed by Rita Coburn Whack and Bob Hercules (U.S.).  This year's Audience Award for Best Short went to SNAILS, directed by Grzegorz Szczepaniak (Poland).  With 93 films from 30 countries, the festival brought together filmmakers, industry, national policy and opinion leaders.



The 2016 festival provided unique opportunities for audiences, filmmakers and policymakers to meet in our nation's capital as news unfolded.  U.S. Representatives Jim Himes and Nita Lowey addressed the NEWTOWN Spotlight Screening audience at the Newseum just hours after Democrats concluded their sit-in on the floor of the House of Representatives.  AFI DOCS filmmakers convened with policymakers at the White House, while AFI DOCS Impact Lab-participating filmmakers met with U.S. Representatives Ted Lieu, Jim McGovern and David Price.


As part of AFI DOCS 2016, the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands and the U.S. State Department conducted a gathering and roundtable of international filmmakers from Pakistan.  The meeting focused on how international filmmakers can make the leap into the established western film community, along with private conversations on how to handle issues such as funding, distribution and censorship.  This is the third year AFI DOCS and the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands have partnered to organize programs to advance the art and impact of documentary film.


This year's AFI DOCS attendees included renowned filmmakers Judd Apatow, Ramin Bahrani, Heidi Ewing, Alex Gibney, Rachel Grady, Werner Herzog (this year's AFI DOCS Charles Guggenheim Symposium honoree) and Barbara Kopple, along with acclaimed singer Sharon Jones and television icon Norman Lear.  Global, national and local leaders in attendance included U.S. Representatives Jim Himes and Nita Lowey and German Ambassador Peter Wittig.


Joining the opinion leaders were distinguished journalists:  PBS NewsHour's Chief Arts Correspondent Jeffrey Brown and Political Director Lisa Desjardins; The Undefeated's Editor-in-Chief Kevin Merida and Culture Writer Soraya Nadia McDonald; and The Washington Post's Chief Film Critic Ann Hornaday, Editor Josh Freedom du Lac and Opinion Writer Alyssa Rosenberg.





Co-directors Bob Hercules and Rita Coburn Whack present a lovingly crafted and comprehensive portrait of the esteemed Dr. Maya Angelou.  The story is told by Angelou herself, along with a cast of contemporaries from her careers as actress, writer, poet and activist.  In chronicling Angelou's life from her youth in the Depression-era South through her rise to international prominence, the film is a vital document about the importance of grace, dignity and the quest for peace.

Maya Angelou Doc Trailer


Best friends with a shared goal of becoming millionaires believe they've found the answer to their dreams in an unlikely profession: snail farming.

Three of my favorite docs from Sundance and Tribeca were featured at AFI Docs as well...take a look at what I had to say about Life Animated, Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You, Abortion:  Stories Women Tell and look their trailer...



TFF 2016: Murder, Madonna, Murphy and more

The overall theme for the 2016 Tribeca Fim Festival was a little more serious this year in tone and in film selections/screenings.  From the Opening Night film "The First Monday In May" to the tribute of Scorsese's "Taxi Driver" to the Closing night film "The Bomb" the films were mostly thought provoking and emotional. Here is my take on a few films that I happen to squeeze in:



I was intrigues to find out who the actor was that has earned the respect of such peers as Meryl Streep, Ethan Hawke, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and many many more.  What I discovered is that I actually know who Austin Pendleton was, but he is such a chameleon of an actor that I didn't realize it.  For those of  you who are reading and wondering who I am talking about, if you have ever seen "My Cousin Vinny", Austin turns in a performance as a stuttering lawyer that will leave you in stitches.  That's only ONE of his films!!!!

When I asked him about that film he told me that he took that particular role as favor to a friend and joked that as a real life stutterer, it is ironic that he recognized for that role more so than any other.  Ironic...isn't it?  Like fellow thespian James Earl Jones, he began acting to hide his stuttering.

Touted as the "the most famous actor you've never heard of", this entertaining do has Austin reflected on his career while his A-list peers discuss what it's like to be an original in a celebrity obsessed, social media driven world of entertainment.  When I asked Austin about his social media presence he jokingly remarked, "If I have a Twitter account...I don't know about it".




Honey, who can forget that "Vogue" video by Madonna?  It's iconic and whenever someone says "Strike A Pose", you can't help but hit one and think of homegirl and that famous "Truth or Dare" movie.

Well, Directors Ester Gould and Reijer Zwaan didn't forget how to strike a pose and the lasting impression inspired them to seek out Madonna's infamous dancers and find out what they are up to now.  Kevin Stea, Oilver Crumes III, Carlton Wilborn, Jose Guiterrez, Luis Camacho, Sue Trupin and Salim Gauwloos lives were changed by the "Blonde Ambition" tour and its accompanying "Truth or Dare" documentary.



How does one move on being the center of a performance artist group with your parents?  Caleb (Christopher Walken) and Camille Fang (Maryann Plunkett) are celebrated and controversial performance artists whose work revolved around staging elaborate scenes with innocent bystanders featuring their young children.  As they age, their work starts to suffer, so when they go missing under mysterious circumstances, their children set out to discover their whereabouts.

Annie (Nicole Kidman) is convinced her parents have staged another performance piece and Baxter (Jason Bateman) is worried that the worst has occurred.  Bateman, in his follow up directorial debut of "Bad Words" does a spectacular job of telling the story of a dysfunctional family with humor and realism that makes The Family Fang very enjoyable to watch.


Being a huge Hitchcock and Patricia Highsmith ("Carol") fan, this film was on my radar from day one and it did not disappoint.  Based on Highsmith's 1960 thriller ("The Blunderer"), investigates how quick one is jump to conclusions of guilt or innocence.  Architect Walter Stackhouse and his wife Clara have a troubled marriage, but is it troubled enough for Walter to commit murder?  On the other side of town Kimball is accused of murdering his wife and regularly harrassed by the cops.  Did he or didn't he do it? Susan Boyd does a spectacular job of weaving that edge of your seat Hitchcock style with the brilliant story telling of Patricia Highsmith into a  fascinating game of cat and mouse.

On the carpet, I asked Susan (hypothetically, of course) what her method of murder would be and this is what she had to say...


This film won the Jury Award at Tribeca and deservedly so.  It had me in the ugly cry and mo beyond words or tears.  Check out the review and click  below


I also had the opportunity to watch several shorts and docs.  My favorite doc was Southwest of Salem and favorite shows were You Can Go and Mildred & The Dying Parlor



Directed by Deborah S. Esquenazi, "Southwest of Salem" explores the case of what would known as the San Antonio Four.  In 1994 four women were accused, tried and convicted of assaulting two young girls.  Twenty years later these women maintain their innocence, citing that the accusations against them were fabricated and were perpetrated from the homophobic prejudice surrounding lesbians and that lifestyle leading to covens, cults and child abuse.

It is heartbreaking to watch this women railroaded, much like the subject of the Netflix series "The Making of a Murderer".  It tore several families apart and ruining some relationships beyond repair.

Not having seen the film when I spoke to the ladies and while offering congrats on they release, they were quick to remind me that, "it's not over yet...we could still go back to prison".  Let's hope not, so that these beautiful women and get on with the little bit of life they have left to enjoy.



Gun violence in this county is a real problem. It has made Americans paranoid to attend a large film opening, send their kids to school or even big outside in a big crowd.  Directed by Christine Turner, we watch  in horror as a high school administrator (S. Epatha Merkerson) talks down a troubled student (Charlie Tahan).  Upon first glance, I thought this was a film about a guidance session with a student brought in for counseling.  It wasn't until I heard a gun cocked that I realized this was a hostage situation of an administrator versus a student.

S. Epatha is a master at establishing a calm presence in the most dire of circumstances on screen and this performance is no different.  However, Charile Tahan effectively conveys the confusion, hurt and overall emotional merry-go-round a student experiences in this stressful situation that can ultimately effect his life and anyone he may come in contact with.

This is a film that should be shown on a grand level.  If nothing else, but to  let those students contemplating such a horrible act see how lives can be affected in an instant.



Who doesn't love a good fairy tale?  Alex Gaynor very slickly take Little Red Riding Hood and turns the fable into a narrative taking place in a dying parlor (which is exactly what you think that means).  Starring Zosia Mamet,  Jane Krakowski, Steve Buscemi and Evan Jonnigkeit, one who enjoys a dark twisted version of the famous fable will get a kick out of this one.




2016 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival Kick Off

  One of my favorite film festivals to attend throughout the year is the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival and I'm usually the only person of color at any number of

I love this festival, because these films bust the stereotype of Asians wide open.  It's an opportunity to see this diverse ethnic group as just that - a diversified, talented faction of society that displays an emotionally charged sense of family, togetherness and quality work.

Visual Communications production and @angryasianman aka Phil Yu invited to their #LAPFF kick off party a few weeks back and here is a little preview of how that went...

The Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival sponsored by Lexus runs in Los Angeles from April 21 - April 28.  for more info, film screenings and locations, please log onto