Meet the Press and the American Film Institute are staging their annual film festival in Washington on Sunday and Monday, a showcase of documentary shorts touching on issues like climate change, education, and immigration.
But it is taking place as D.C.’s attention, quite obviously, is riveted on something else: the impeachment inquiry and President Donald Trump’s response to it, a fast-moving crisis that is dominating just about every moment on the news channels.
On Thursday, after Trump publicly urged Ukraine and China to investigate Joe Biden and his son Hunter, Chuck Todd opened Meet the Press Daily by telling viewers that “a national nightmare is upon us,” and that the “basic rules of democracy are under attack from the President.”
Todd said that this type of moment, with an all-dominant story consuming media attention, is “the exact reason” why a film festival makes so much sense for the Meet the Press brand.
“One of the biggest frustrations I had on a normal news week is carving out more time in this news cycle, particularly in the Trump era, to do deeper dives, whether it is on criminal justice reform, climate change, fixing the public school system,” Todd said. “So I look at it and think, ‘Thank God, we have the film festival,’ especially in this era. It is a way of frankly saying, ‘Hey, you know we are focused, we are stuck covering the story that we have. But that doesn’t mean we don’t know there are a whole series of issues of importance in the policy arena that need more attention.'”
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The festival will open on Sunday at the United States Navy Memorial with the US premiere of Toxic Beauty, which explores the unregulated market for beauty products with chemicals and toxins. The movie is the first feature-length documentary to be among the selections.
“We already regulate the chemicals we ingest in the foods we eat, but we don’t do a good enough job regulating chemicals that we accidentally ingest because we have rubbed it on our face or our elbows or our feet,” Todd said of the project.
The event also has been timed to be a kickoff for award season, as dozens of titles compete for the Oscar for documentary short. In 2017, three of the entrants ended up as Academy Award nominees.
Todd will moderate panels with filmmakers, along with along with NBC News and MSNBC personalities Andrea Mitchell, Hallie Jackson, Katy Tur, Jacob Soboroff, Morgan Radford and Kristen Welker. The rest of the event, to be held at the Landmark Atlantic Plumbing Cinema in Washington, will split up the documentary shorts into eight themed segments.
Among the other entries are St. Louis Superman, about Bruce Franks Jr., a rapper and state representative from St. Louis, Mo.; and Water’s Edge, about Louisiana’s efforts to restore its bayous and marshes. Some of the shorts will be posted online for streaming over the next month.
Todd said the festival also is a way for Meet the Press to extend its brand in a different way, perhaps to new audiences that don’t watch the 72-year-old Sunday show, yet will see it as analytical and relevant.
“In the 21st century, we have to go where consumers and viewers are,” Todd said. “You can’t expect them to come find you.” He says that he would like to get into producing their own Meet the Press-branded documentaries.
“For instance, there are a few filmmakers that we are talking about, and we go ‘OK, do we do a co-production, where we have some resources, they have an idea, or visa versa?’ Where we go and find a filmmaker that we know knows this stuff. That is likely how we step into this next,” he said.
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