Now Playing: Austin Film Society’s DOC DAYS

Eight selections in this most erudite of genres

For the third time, the Austin Film Society has gathered a group of documentaries that highlight the form’s power and expressiveness. From those at the top to those scraping the bottom, the stratification of society is on display in this year’s Doc Days crop.

AFS will dedicate this year’s festival to John McCall, an important supporter of the organization who passed away on Monday. He, along with his wife Amy were instrumental in helping the group to open the AFS Cinema, a centerpiece of moviegoing culture in Austin.


For fans of classical music, this is sure to be a treat. The Conductor features Marin Alsop of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (Hannibal Lecter’s favorite orchestra, just saying) as both an example of a hammer breaking a thick glass ceiling as well as a musician obsessed with being great.

In 2008, Maestra Marin Alsop became the first woman in history to lead a major orchestra. Her inspiring journey from child violinist to sought-after conductor — passionate about opening the door behind her for other underrepresented voices in classical music — is chronicled in this beautiful film. The Conductor captures Alsop’s incredible musical powers through great orchestral performances, and offers great insight into the dedication, artistic drive, mentorship and altruism that guided her through extreme adversity and persistent sexism in her field.

Featuring a virtual Q&A with director Bernadette Wegenstein.


The black-and-white aesthetic of Dirty Feathers mirrors its world of gray, with no easy answers in site. A visceral journey into life on the streets.

Dirty Feathers is a lyrical journey in black and white through the long days of several members of an unhoused community in El Paso, specifically those who have been banned from a city shelter that is often a last resort for the homeless. Filming inside and outside El Paso’s Opportunity Center shelter, the film captures the realities and the dreams alike of the unique individuals who’ve adapted to an unrelentingly difficult life on the streets. Corral takes a spiritual and humanistic approach to the verité tradition in this notable poetic feature, his first. An AFS Grant-supported project, Dirty Feathers premiered at the 2021 Berlin Film Festival. Director Carlos Corral will be in attendance for an introduction to the film and a post-screening Q&A.


Easily the highest profile doc of the fest, The Velvet Underground is a must see

AFS is proud to present a Doc Days Opening Night presentation of Todd Haynes’ The Velvet Underground: a look at the cultural, social, musical, artistic and cinematic forces that created one of the world’s most enduring bands, directed by one of our most singular American filmmakers. Far from your typical rock documentary, Haynes goes deep into the source inspiration of the sounds The Velvets would be known for, while tracking and connecting the band’s rise with and through New York’s independent and experimental film scene. Haynes weaves a cinematic portrait of a band that was essentially birthed and defined through cinematic ideas and images, using footage from the films of Andy Warhol, Jonas Mekas, Maya Deren, Kenneth Anger, and Shirley Clarke, among others; and interviews past and present with those who experienced the brief reign of The Velvet Underground.

Our Opening Night presentation will feature a live post-screening discussion with director Todd Haynes (via Zoom), moderated by Richard Linklater.


The women reporters of India’s Khabar Lahariya newspaper are a formidable group. Cooperatively running India’s only all-female news service, the women are all of Dalit (“Untouchable”) caste, or India’s lowest class. Many of them balance caring for young children in homes without electricity while traveling the country to shed light on some of India’s most pressing human rights issues. Writing With Fire tells the extraordinary story of the Khabar Lahariya paper, the women who run it, and the impact their powerful truth-telling has in the midst of the rise of radical right-wing politics and persistent patriarchy and class injustice. Winner of Audience and Jury prizes at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.


The Cuban National Ballet School in Havana is where Cuba’s most talented young dancers prepare for and dream of a life on the professional stage. Alexis Martinez, 15, is a student who lives to dance, and dances to live; his supportive family shares his passion and supports his ambitions to rise to company status. When political forces begin to shape the family’s future, Alexis faces the possibility of immigration during a critical moment in his training. Featuring stunning dance sequences choreographed for the film by the characters, Cuban Dancer embraces the narrative and expressive possibilities of dance on camera; and is an enduring portrait of the challenges of immigration for a family determined to follow their dreams.

FLEE Oct. 16

When we hear tales of migration or refugee flight, we often experience these narratives as starting and ending with the journey itself, the aftermath a sort of epilogue. The brilliant and beautiful new animated documentary Flee, winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, takes an entirely different approach, revealing how the experience of being a refugee can shape one’s identity. In a film told almost entirely through animation, director Jonas Poher Rasmussen interviews middle school friend Amin Nawabi, an Afghan refugee, who recounts — for the first time — the full story of his escape from Afghanistan and eventual resettling in Denmark as a young teenager. This displacement from his home, and the discoveries he made about himself and his family over the course of a years-long journey, changed the young man’s life forever.

AFS is proud to present Flee as the Centerpiece Film selection of the 2021 Doc Days. Featuring a virtual Q&A with Jonas Poher Rasmussen.

FATHOM Oct. 17

Humpback whales are among the most majestic and yet mysterious of earth’s creatures. Time is of the essence for us to study and understand who these incredible mammals are, and what they are capable of. From AFS-Grant supported filmmaker Drew Xanthopoulos comes the story of two scientists on opposite sides of the globe who take us on a fascinating journey into their studies of humpback whale songs and social communication. With unwavering dedication and commitment to the scientific process, Doctors Ellen Garland and Michelle Fournet open up their process for the camera, revealing the incredible challenges and revelations experienced by field scientists on the road to discovery.

A Science On Screen presentation, the film will feature an in-person appearance by director Drew Xanthopoulos, and a special virtual Q&A with Dr. Michelle Fournet.


An urgent, visceral experience of the Hong Kong conflict, Inside the Red Brick Wall was filmed by an anonymous group of demonstrators who documented the two-week occupation of Hong Kong Polytechnic University in November, 2019 and the terrifying stand-off between demonstrators and the police. The film is an insider’s view of one of the most historic pro-democratic movements of our time. Following the screening of the feature-length Inside the Red Brick Wall, we will screen the filmmakers’ featurette, Taking Back the Legislature, which documents the July 1st 2019 storming of the Hong Kong Legislative Council Complex, which took place four months prior to the siege at the University. “[Sets] a new standard for immediacy and intensity in current affairs reportage” — Jonathan Romney, Screen Daily.

The screenings will be preceded by a special guest introduction.

Doc Days runs October 14–17. For more information see the Austin Film Society’s web site.

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