What I’m Watching at AFI Docs 2021

What I’m Watching at AFI Docs 2021

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Last October, I covered the 2020 edition of AFI Fest. Soon after the festival ended, I figured out that AFI Fest wasn’t the only yearly festival AFI hosted. They also hosted AFI Docs, which basically is a documentary-focused version of AFI Fest every June. So, when I was writing my goals for what I wanted the first full year of Austin B Media to look like, making sure I applied to AFI Docs 2021 was at the top of my “festivals to go to” list.

So, what am I most excited to see at AFI Docs 2021? Well, here’s just a few of them, in order of when they premiere at AFI Docs 2021.

Naomi Osaka (Netflix)

Given the recent news of her withdrawing from the French Open’s press assignments and Wimbledon, I’m really excited to see what director Garrett Bradley has in store. I don’t usually try to catch television shows at festivals, since they’re time-consuming, limiting what films and shorts I can see, but I’m making an exception here.

Watch the Sound with Mark Ronson (Apple TV+)

Again the exception to the “no television shows at festivals” rule, I’m very excited to see what the docuseries will focus on. Mark Ronson has worked with Adele, Amy Winehouse, Bruno Mars, Duran Duran, Lady Gaga, Lily Allen, Miley Cyrus and so many other stupendous musicians in his twenty three years as a producer. Apple TV+ has a great track record with documentaries, so I’ve got high hopes, especially since the episodes are directed by Jason Zeldes, Morgan Neville and Mark Monroe, all of whom won an Oscar at some point in their careers.

Rebel Hearts (Discovery+)

Okay, so this is majorly because I missed it when I was “attending” Sundance 2021. What pulls me to the film is mostly the image the production company is using to promote the film. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a nun protesting a church, and I can’t even begin to understand how that works at a religious level.


I, technically, saw LFG at Tribeca 2021. I have it in my HBO Max screener account. I just wanted to give it a quick highlight here and I’ll watch it again at AFI Docs 2021. If you’re unfamiliar, this documentary follows the legal battle between the U.S. Soccer Federation and athletes Megan Rapinoe, Jessica McDonald, Becky Sauerbrunn, Kelley O’Hara, Sam Mewis and others as they fight for equal pay.

The First Step (Meridian Pictures)

I missed this film at Tribeca 2021. I don’t normally watch political documentaries (especially those concerning former President Donald Trump), but this seems to be an early favorite, so I’ll be checking it out. I don’t know who Van Jones is, but I find those the documentaries where I don’t know much about the subject are some of the best documentaries.

9/11: One Day in America (National Geographic)

Another thing I missed at Tribeca; this docuseries immediately caught my eye. The American public has seen plenty of films surrounding the awful events of September 11th, 2001, but I’ve noticed there haven’t been any notable documentaries about the tragic events that day. It’s not all six episodes, but it should be enough to form a solid enough opinion on whether I want to review the rest of the docuseries when it premiers on National Geographic.

Pray Away (Netflix)

After seeing Boy Erased back in 2018, I realized the term “pray away the gay” was an actual thing and I’ve always been interested in seeing a documentary about the movement. With Pray Away, that moment is finally here. I don’t know if I’ll be able to stomach the documentary if I’m being quite honest, but I want to make sure people know that this is a real thing and that it’s still happening today, albeit in a different format.

President (Cinephil)

Something I also missed at Sundance 2021, President is about the story of a new election in Zimbabwe after 38-years under dictator Robert Mugabe’s rule. Like I said earlier, I don’t really watch political documentaries, but I’ve got a good feeling about this one.

Tom Petty, Somewhere You Feel Free (Warner Music)

This one’s for my mom. When Tom Petty, she was heartbroken for the longest time. Focusing on the creation of Petty’s solo album “Wildflowers”, director Mary Wharton uses the 16mm footage shot during studio sessions to pen a love letter to Petty and his personal struggle to feel free.

White Coat Rebels (Participant)

I’m a sucker for a medical documentary. When the AFI Docs 2021 lineup was announced and I saw a documentary about Big Pharma, I knew I had to see it whatever it took. I’m not against Big Pharma, but I think the general public doesn’t really know too much about drug companies and their relationships with hospitals. The closest example comes from Scrubs and that episode aired in 2002. Enjoy the clip.

Obama: In Pursuit of A More Perfect Union (Unknown Distributor, But Probably Netflix)

Again, I don’t care much for political documentaries, but a documentary about Barack Obama’s journey from Illinois State Senator to being sworn in as the 44th President of the United States is right up my alley. It actually reminds me of the Netflix documentary Knock Down the House and if it’s anything like that, I’m game.

Courtroom 3H (Aqui y Alli Films)

I’m always in the mood for a legal documentary. Courtroom 3H is about courtroom 3H inside the Tallahassee Unified Family Court, where cases of abuse, abandonment, or negligence are preside over with the goal to reunite families as quickly and safely as possible.

Searchers (Postscript)

Another film I missed at Sundance 2021, Searchers showcases the life of “Shaq Shaq 24” and other New Yorkers as they browse a popular dating app, examining love in a world where their love lives are on the line. I’m always in the mood for a social commentary documentary (as long as it doesn’t get too far down the rabbit hole).

Summer of Soul (Searchlight)

I’ve actually have already seen Summer of Soul. This viewing would mark my second time watching it since Sundance 2021. At my Sundance screening, I don’t think I got a good feel for what “Questlove” was going for with this documentary. Focusing on The Harlem Cultural Festival, Summer of Soul uses footage from 1969 to craft a concert documentary about how African American history and American music intersected over the course of the six-week concert.

Try Harder! (The Film Collaborative)

Yet another film I missed at Sundance, this documentary focuses on Lowell High School, how much pressure is put onto students to get into a college, and how the odds are stacked against minorities around the United States. The main reason I want to see this documentary is that I think it might be one of the rare documentaries that somehow balances a narrative structure you would find in a typical film and what you would expect from a documentary.

Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain (Focus Features)

Growing up, Food Network was the channel that our family room television was parked on at least once a week. One of our favorite shows on the channel was Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, with the second favorite being Parts Unknown, of course. So, when Anthony Bourdain died in June of 2018, it hit me particularly hard. How can the man who gave me countless joy during my childhood be depressed? Directed by Morgan Neville, whose previous documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, made me bawl my eyes out for about 95% of the film’s runtime, Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain takes archival footage, it’s one of my most anticipated films of AFI Docs 2021.

The Lost Leonardo (Sony Pictures Classics)

One of the documentaries I missed at Tribeca, The Lost Leonardo focuses on how the Salvator Mundi was rediscovered and claimed as a long-lost masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci, one of my favorite historical figures. Stick anything Leonardo da Vinci in anything, and I’ll be there day one.

My Name is Pauli Murray (Amazon Studios)

I may not be a fan of political documentaries, but I’m a fan of historical documentaries aka biographical documentaries. My Name is Pauli Murray focuses on, well, Pauli Murray and calling to attention her civil rights activism, which started fifteen years before Rosa Parks sat in the whites-only section of the bus. I don’t know much about Pauli Murray, and this might be the perfect opportunity to learn more.

Cusp (Showtime Documentary Films)

If I’m remembering right, I missed this at Sundance this year, and just always wanted to catch up with it. It seems to be a darker version of a coming of age tale, and to be frank, didn’t know was a documentary until I saw that it was screening at AFI Docs 2021.

So, that’s a sampling of what I’m looking forward to watching at AFI Docs 2021. I hope you enjoyed what I had to say!

Thanks to Thomas Stoneham-Judge from Movies For ReelShane Conto, Joseph Davis, and David Walters for supporting Austin B Media on Patreon! You can help support what I do here at Austin B Media by supporting me on Patreon every month. Click the “Become a Patron” button at the end of this post to get details. Until next time!

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