Friday, November 08, 2013

AIFF2013: Documentaries In Competition - From Freeze Drying Your Pet and Harlem Blues, to Selling Kidneys and Antarctica

First the films are selected from all those submitted.  Then a certain number from each category is  selected to be 'in competition'' meaning these are the finalists eligible for an award in the category.  The documentary category has, if I counted right, 32 selected films (18 under 30 minutes and 14 over 30 minutes)  and 11 are 'in competition.'   Of these, three are under 30 minutes and the other eight above.

Films come from:  
  • New Zealand/Antarctica
  • Afghanistan/USA
  • USA
  • France
  • Canada

  • China/USA
  • Mozambique
  • United Kingdom/USA 
  • Sweden
  • Thailand (it's listed as USA, but the filmmaker is a Thai living in the US)

This is a fairly long list, so I'm going to list the documentaries in competition here with minimal information about each film and in reverse alphabetical order. (The A's shouldn't always be at the top of the list.)

The documentaries was one of the best categories last year with lots of outstanding films that weren't in competition.  So look beyond this list when you are looking for docs at the festival.  The audience favorite last year wasn't in competition. 

1)  The Words I Love
From images I got from the filmmaker
Thanachart Siripatrachai

"I come from Thailand. I am a bookish person and always carry a book with me. In my first year in New York City, I did not know that there was a dictionary on my cellphone. When I found a word I did not know, I would ask a stranger sitting next to me to explain the meaning. I was fascinated by our conversations. Later, I started to record their voices and put them together in this documentary to explore the issue of language."  From Glovebox.

Here's a link to a blog post of Benz' (Thanachart's nickname) project to wake people up from their eyes- glued-to-their-smartphones in the Bangkok subway, by shouting random words and then taking a picture of the people looking up at him.

And here's a link to his website which has some of his photos.

2)  The Guide
Jessica Yu

"The Guide  is a coming-of-age tale set against the restoration of a war-torn national park in Mozambique. Raised near Gorongosa National Park, young Tonga Torcida dreams of becoming a tour guide. But when he meets famed biologist E.O. Wilson, his new view of the world around him—and his future—places him at a crossroads. Should Tonga become a guide, or take on a bigger role in trying to keep the park alive?"

3)  Tales from Organ Trade
Ric Esther Bienstock


This film shows us the people who sell their organs because they need the cash and the people who buy them because they want to live and explores the ethics of the whole situation.

4)  McConkey
Murray Wais, Rob Bruce, Scott Gaffney, David Zieff, and Steve Winter

I'm guessing this one will have long lines at the Bear Tooth.  It's the kind of movie that draws a big audience in Anchorage.  Ski daredevils and one in particular.   Get your tickets in advance for this one if you want to get in.  Let's hope they schedule it a couple of times. 

“McConkey” is a heartfelt examination of the legacy one athlete left to the progression of his sports, and the path he paved to conquer his dreams. Shane McConkey is revered as a pioneer of freeskiing and ski-BASE jumping, and through his talent and ability to use his trademark irreverent humor, he inspired countless lives. In a new film from Red Bull Media House in association with Matchstick Productions, “McConkey” celebrates the life of one of the world’s ultimate innovators.
5) Lion Ark
Tim Phillips
United Kingdom/USA

From the film's website:
Lion Ark is a vivid behind the scenes account of probably the most ambitious animal rescue ever undertaken, the finale of which sees 25 lions rescued from illegal traveling circuses across Bolivia being flown to safety in the USA.
A shocking undercover investigation leads to a ban on animal circuses in Bolivia. But the circuses defy the law. The team behind the investigation return, track down the illegal circuses and save every animal. We follow the confrontations, heartache and risks the team face, before an emotional finale sees 25 lions airlifted 5,000 miles to freedom in Colorado.

6) I, Slomo
Joshua Izenberg
17 min

Neurologist drops out of rat race to slow motion roller blade.

7)  Himalayan Gold Rush 
Eric Valli 

"Every spring, in a remote part of Nepal, tens of thousands of men, women and children leave their villages for a dangerous trek to the high Himalaya, sometimes at the cost of their lives, to collect Yarsagumbu - a mysterious transmutation between plant and insect. Used in Chinese medicine, it is worth up to 60,000 USD a kilo – more than gold! " 

8) Harlem Street Singer
Trevor Laurence

From the Harlem Street Singer website:

"Harlem Street Singer, the first-ever film to tell the little-known story of Reverend Gary Davis, the great ragtime and gospel musician. Tracing his journey from the tobacco warehouses of the rural south to the streets of Harlem, the film is a revealing portrait of an artist who impacted the musical landscape of folk music and endeared himself to musicians such as Pete Seeger, Bob Weir, Jerry Garcia, Jorma Kaukonen, David Bromberg, Bob Dylan and countless others. In addition to interviews, the storyline features audio recordings from Woody Mann’s guitar lessons with Davis, archival footage, rediscovered photographs, concert and informal musical sequences by the Reverend as well as contemporary artists who have been influenced by him. Harlem Street Singer celebrates the beauty and spirituality of his music as well as the human qualities that made Reverend Davis a much beloved teacher and minister. This is the exciting story of an American musical icon whose legacy continues to live on in today’s music scene."

9)  Grand Rescue

Meredith Lavitt and Jenny Wilson 


There was something about the trailer that suggests a gripping film. And the mountain climbing rescue story should appeal to Alaskans.  And this one had it's premier just a couple of days ago - Nov. 5 - so we'll be among the first to see it. 

From The Grand Rescue website:
"It was August 22nd around 2:00 pm when a young graduate student and his female climbing companion became stranded on a narrow ledge 13,000 feet high. A boulder had broken free and showered the climbers with rock fall leaving Gaylord Campbell with protruding compound fractures. The young national park rangers quickly went to work, relying on innate skill, instinct and trust. History was about to be made...the rescue was the first one on the feared North Face - an unprecedented rescue for its time, due to the climber's severe injuries and unknown terrain."

10)  Furever

Amy FInkel

Learn how to freeze dry your pet.  Actually, it's a look at people who get their pets freeze dried and the people who will do it for them.

11)  Backyard
Deia Schlosberg

“Backyard” is a story of seeing broadly and considering the greater good. Told via animations and people's experiences with fracking."  From the Backyard Kickstarter page.


  1. Well, the Himalayan Gold Rush must be more interesting thant the Alaskan Gold Rush. I hate that show, it is like a gold digger reality.

  2. Thanks for the overview, Steve. Docs are going to ROCK this year. First year ever AIFF will open with a US Premiere Doc ("Icebound"), and the 88 docs submitted made the selection very tough. Don't miss the Alaska Doc set with the story of the inventor of the dip net ("Mike's Migration"), the famous Homer bakery ("Baking Alaska") and a brief fish walloping set to classical music in a fine super-short doc about dip netting ("Open Season")- Cindy Franklin, Documentary Programmer

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