As host of NBC’s public affairs program Meet the Press, Chuck Todd generally can’t stray far from D.C. But for part of this week, anway, he’s venturing to the other coast.
“We’re going to Hollywood,” Todd told viewers in a promo for the Meet the Press Film Festival at AFI Fest, a showcase of “the best issue-based documentary shorts that shed light on the most consequential issues of our time.”
“This is our fifth year. This is the first time we’re bringing it to L.A.,” Todd tells Deadline, “because basically we want to expand our aperture a little bit and let people know we’re doing this.”
The event is happening in-person today, with virtual screenings accessible online. Some of the top talent at NBC News is participating. According to a release, “NBC News correspondents and anchors, including Chuck Todd, Andrea Mitchell, Jacob Soboroff, Shaq Brewster, Ali Vitali and Morgan Radford, will moderate thought-provoking conversations with filmmakers following each program for both virtual and in-person audiences.”
Fifteen shorts on are the program, focusing on a variety of issues [full list below].
“Every year we want to feel like we’re [programming] films that are meeting the moment for the topics that are animating things right now,” Todd notes. “This year I have one that I know is going to resonate a lot with Californians and that is about the homelessness crisis. It’s called Lead Me Home. This is a Netflix film that is debuting at our festival. It is trying to help people understand the root cause of homelessness.”
Todd also highlighted Bree Wayy: Promise Witness Remembrance, a short directed by Dawn Porter “about the amount of artwork that was inspired by Breonna Taylor’s death… It’s actually a really touching film but it’s also a reminder that sometimes the best art comes from pain. And we pair that with another film, it’s called Lynching Postcards, which believe it or not, people would attend a lynching and they want their picture taken, early in the 20thcentury, and literally send their family and friends, ‘Look where I was!’”
Todd added, “There’s a great documentary about somebody I’d never heard of—I’m glad I know him now—a guy named J.C. Leyendecker who was Norman Rockwell before Norman Rockwell… We’ve got one [The Facility, directed by Seth Freed Wessler] about life in an immigration detention center during Covid that was essentially done on an iPhone. And you know what? It’s really powerful.”
In many respects, documentarians—whether working in short or long form—are exploring social and political issues in a much deeper way than journalists under relentless deadline pressure.
“You’re a thousand-percent right!” Todd exclaimed. “You just identified why I’m into this… I wish we could do the homeless [story] better. It’s hard, as you just pointed out, the daily deadlines, your responsibility to cover politics of the moment. I have one job, to cover politics as it is and explain what happened from week to week. And sometimes we have the opportunity to do the occasional deep dive in a special.”
He added, “I think short documentaries have replaced the long magazine dive… whether it would be in The Atlantic, The New Yorker, or an Esquire—pick your magazine… I think the short documentary, in particular, is the same amount of research and reporting to do one of those. And you throw in the technical skill. Obviously, the challenge is sometimes to individualize what you’ve got and that’s not always easy. But in some ways I think this is the new long form journalism.”
The Meet the Press Film Festival has established an impressive track record for picking outstanding films.
“Over the last five years the film festival has been the leading home for nearly 100 short documentary films from nine countries and more than a dozen Oscar® and Emmy® nominees including Knife Skills, Edith + Eddie and Heroin(e) in 2018,” a release noted. “Plus, Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re A Girl), featured at the film festival in 2019, won the 2020 Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject.”
This is the full lineup of Meet the Press Film Festival at AFI Fest for Thursday, November 11. The event is divided into five programs with distinct themes:
PROGRAM ONE: WHERE I BELONG
Home can be a place, a community, or a memory. The search for belonging takes many forms.
- Golden Age Karate
USA, 5 min. Directed by Sindha Agha
Teen karate pro Jeff Wall teaches senior citizens self-defense at a local nursing home, giving them the tools to feel in control, connected and cared for.
- Coded: The Hidden Love Of J.C. Leyendecker
USA, 29 min. Directed by: Ryan White
The coded advertisements of legendary early-20th century gay illustrator J.C. Leyendecker quietly, but directly, acknowledged a community that was forced to live in the closet.
- The Train Station
Canada, 2 min. Directed by Lyana Patrick
In this beautifully animated documentary short, filmmaker Lyana Patrick narrates her family’s powerful story of love and survival at Lejac Indian Residential School.
- Lead Me Home
USA, 38 min. Directed by Pedro Kos and Jon Shenk
A short presenting the epidemic of homelessness in America with candid testimonials from the unhoused. A poetic portrait of our culture’s fraying edges and the people who inhabit them.
PROGRAM TWO: PROMISES
America is a land of promises, but some promises are traps.
- The Facility
USA, 27 min. Directed by Seth Freed Wessler
A group of immigrants, detained inside an infamous American detention center as the pandemic spreads, organize in protest to demand protections and their release.
- The Interview
USA, 20 min. Directed by Jonathan Miller, Zachary Russo
The film forces viewers to confront their own feelings about justice and mercy, while revealing the heavy toll our current system takes on incarcerated people and their families.
- Bree Wayy: Promise Witness Remembrance
USA, 29 min. Directed by Dawn Porter
A film by award-winning director and 2021 AFI DOCS Charles Guggenheim Symposium honoree Dawn Porter that looks at how the art world responded to the death of Breonna Taylor by using art not only as a form of protest but as a space to heal.
PROGRAM THREE: DEMOCRACY … ON THE LINE
Around the world, defending democracy takes work.
- Party Line
USA, 7 min. Directed by Lydia Cornett
At the early voting line in Ohio’s most populous county, civic duty is a public performance.
- Red Taxi
USA/Hong Kong, 14 min. Directed by Anonymous
As protests unfold in Hong Kong, RED TAXI shows a city in upheaval through the eyes of those who must traverse the streets day and night to make a living.
USA, 38 min. Directed by Emma Francis-Snyder
An exploration of July 14, 1970, when members of the Young Lords Party stormed the Lincoln Hospital in South Bronx, making their cries for decent healthcare heard by the world.
PROGRAM FOUR: GHOSTS & LEGACIES
America’s dark racial past isn’t in the past.
- Meltdown In Dixie
USA, 40 min. Directed by Emily Harrold
A film exploring the broader role of Confederate symbolism in the 21st century and the lingering racial oppression which these symbols help maintain.
- Lynching Postcards: ‘Token of a Great Day’
USA, 16 min. Directed by Christine Turner
From 1880–1968 over 4,000 African Americans were lynched at the hands of white mobs. These lynchings were commemorated through souvenir postcards that would ultimately be subverted by Black activists to expose racist violence in the U.S.
- They Won’t Call It Murder
USA, 24 min. Directed by Melissa Gira Grant and Ingrid Raphael
Mothers, sisters and grandmothers of those killed by Columbus police, seeking justice in a community bound together by grief and a system that refuses to call these killings murder.
PROGRAM FIVE: AFTER THE WAR
The trauma of war leaves room for new understanding.
- Camp Confidential: America’s Secret Nazis
USA, 34 min. Directed by Daniel Sivan and Mor Loushy
During WWII, a group of young Jewish refugees are sent to a secret POW camp near Washington, DC, and they soon discover that the prisoners are Hitler’s top scientists.
- Mission: Hebron
Israel, 24 min. Directed by Rona Segal
Israeli soldiers are recruited at age 18 and, only months later, are already overseeing Palestinian civil life. Former soldiers describe their time in Hebron, the most troubled city in the West Bank.
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