AFI DOCS, the nation’s capital’s biggest documentary film festival is back! This year, the festival created by the American Film Institute and the Discovery Channel in order to showcase the best in national and international documentaries, will run from June 22-26 in multiple venues in DC and Silver Spring, Maryland.  The festival has been providing us with thought-provoking films since 2003 and this years line up is no exception.

Although the festival will showcase over 40 films, I want to make a special emphasis on all of those documentaries that explore some highly relevant areas related to health. This year there are several films exploring issues related to sexual and reproductive rights, including abortion, sexual violence and LGTB rights. Other films look at patient care, disability rights and mental health. Finally—and perhaps in a less obvious way—are those films that show the importance of the social determinants of health, exploring problems of violence, poverty and incarceration.

The following is a list of health related documentaries that should not be missed at AFI DOCS:

1. Audrie & Daisy 

According to the official website, Audrie & Daisy “tells the story of two teenage girls who went to parties, drank alcohol, passed out, and were sexually assaulted by guys they thought were their friends. In the aftermath, both girls discovered that the crimes were documented on cell phones.  Video and pictures were passed around.Their lives were changed forever.” Audrie & Daisy could not come at a more opportune time in light of the increased attention to sexual abuse and rape in our culture and it is crucial to keep the topic in the spotlight.

Show times: Thursday, June 23, 8:15 pm at the NEWSEUM

2. Abortion: Stories Women Tell 

In 2016, abortion remains one of the most controversial issues in America, Rather than focusing on the politics side of the issue, the film explores the lives of real women: those struggling with unplanned pregnancies, the providers at clinics who give medical care, as well as the activists on the sidewalks. Award-winning director Tracy Droz Tragos shared on IndieWire, “In 2014, I set out to make a film about abortion. I had no idea how to start, except perhaps to focus in my home state of Missouri because it is one of the most restrictive in the country, with only one abortion clinic still operating and a 72-hour waiting period legally mandated. But that was the only parameter I had at the beginning. (…) My intention was to add a different perspective to the abortion debate: Not only to hear from the loudest, who have their talking points perfected, but also to hear from those who have been the most left out of the conversation, and often stigmatized and shamed: women with unintended pregnancies who are abortion patients.”

Show times: 

  • Thursday, June 23, 4:15 pm at AFI Silver Theatre
  • Friday, June 24, 1:30 pm at Landmark E Street Cinema

3. Haveababy

In Haveababy, Oscar-nominated filmmaker Amanda Micheli follows several couples desperate to conceive but struggling with infertility and the high cost of treatments. These couples enter Las Vegas doctor Geoffrey Sher’s annual contest offering a prize of a free round of in-vitro fertilization treatments. Not guaranteed a pregnancy is they win, contestants post video entries online telling their stories, counting on the votes of strangers to make their dreams of becoming parents true. The film’s website explains that “IVF can be cripplingly expensive and is rarely covered by insurance. So while exposing private pain online to win a contest is a brutal proposition, many infertile couples see this contest as a gamble worth taking.  Through Sher’s controversial contest, Micheli navigates the complexities of America’s burgeoning fertility industry and paints an intimate portrait of the many resilient couples determined to have a baby against all odds.” The trailer is available HERE.

Show times: 

  • Friday, June 24, 6:30pm at Landmark E Street Cinema
  • Saturday, June 25, 11:30am AFI Silver Theatre

4. Care

Care is a documentary created by Deirdre Fishel and Tony Heriza through a Kickstarted campaign, which explores the world of elder care through the eyes of both paid caregivers as well as their elderly patients. Through the crowd-funding site, the creators explain: “We’ve been working non-stop on this film for two years. It started from watching our own parents face frailty and the need for care. Then as we got deeper into the project, we saw how many people are dealing privately with these issues – virtually everyone we know. We’re convinced that making this film and helping to start a public dialogue about eldercare is the most important work of our lives.” As described on the film’s site, “CARE exposes the deep flaws in the U.S. eldercare system by telling the intimate stories of three overworked and underpaid home health aides and a family struggling to find and pay for quality care. The film sounds the alarm about an exploited workforce, an aging population, and an impending care crisis.”

Show times: Thursday, June 23, 3:45 pm at Landmark E Street Cinema

5. Life, Animated 

Winner of the Sundance Directing Award for U.S. Documentary, Life, Animated tells the story of a boy with autism who learns to express himself by watching classic Disney animated movies. As told by the film’s website, it “is the inspirational story of Owen Suskind, a young man who was unable to speak as a child until he and his family discovered a unique way to communicate by immersing themselves in the world of classic Disney animated films. Over time, through repeated viewings of Disney classics like The Little Mermaid and The Lion King, Owen found useful tools to help him to understand complex social cues and to re-connect with the world around him.”

Show times: Saturday June 25, 6:00pm at the NEWSEUM

6. Paciente

Paciente (Patient in English) is a Colombian film about a caring mother who risks losing her daughter to an aggressive form of cancer. The creators describe that “Patient is the word that defines us as we follow medical instructions or have to stay calm while we wait. In Colombia, a country where the harsh health system requires its users to face absurd bureaucratic obstacles to access its services, Patient is not only the one  who have the disease but also the one responsible for the daily struggle  to ensure  that his or her loved one receives all necessary needs. Nubia is a PATIENT, a mother head of family who despite living with the anguish of losing her daughter by an aggressive cancer, firmly gets to overcome the labyrinths established  by  the Health System processes upon which the life of her daughter [depends]”.

Show times: Sunday, June 26, 1:00pm at Landmark E Street Cinema

7. Southwest of Salem 

Mark Page, describes this movie on the AFI DOCS site: “The San Antonio Four, a group of Latina lesbians, were sent to prison after being found guilty of sexually abusing two young girls. The film looks at how racism, homophobia and class bias — as opposed to hard evidence — contributed to their conviction, and how “Satanic Panic” alleging witchcraft and child sexual abuse continues to impact innocent victims.” In a Variety review on the film, Nick Schager, describes how director Deborah Esquenazi “uses a standard blend of archival news clips, fuzzy home videos and newly recorded interviews (shot over a period of years) to detail the legal railroading experienced by Texas couple Anna Vasquez and Cassandra Rivera, as well as their friends Kristie Mayhugh and Elizabeth Ramirez (…) [She] uses canny on-screen text taken from court transcripts to show how phrases like “cult-type” and “sacrificed on the altar of lust” helped imply that the women were part of a coven of gay witches.”

Show times:

  • Friday, June 24, 8:45 pm at Landmark E Street Cinema
  • Saturday, June 25, 12:30 pm at Landmark E Street Cinema

8. Check it

Check it is a documentary about a gay African American gang struggling to survive in one of DC’s most violent neighborhoods. As described in its official site “At first glance, they seem unlikely gang-bangers. Some of the boys wear lipstick and mascara, some stilettos. They carry Louis Vuitton bags – but they also carry knives, brass knuckles and mace. They’re known on the streets as the Check It – an African-American gang struggling to survive in some of the most violent neighborhoods of Washington DC. As vulnerable gay and transgender youth, they’ve been shot, stabbed, and raped. Once victims, they’ve now turned the tables, and they’re fighting back. Started in 2005 by a group of bulled 9th graders, today these 14-22 year old gang members all have long rap sheets riddled with various street crimes and many have done time in jail (…) The Check It is one small gang in one city, but it reflects a national issue. Being gay in poor, violent African-American neighborhoods carries a dangerous stigma. For the Check It and those like them, standing up for who they are is more than an issue of gay pride.  It’s literally risking their lives.”

Show times: Saturday, June 25, 9:00pm at the NEWSEUM

9. Solitary 

Mark Page describes the film on the AFI DOCS website: “Director Kristi Jacobson takes viewers deep into Virginia’s Red Onion State Prison for a yearlong submersion in one of the most controversial aspects of America’s modern prison-industrial-complex: solitary confinement. Red Onion is just one of 40-plus supermax prisons, which force prisoners to spend 23 hours of every day alone. The film focuses on the policy’s impact on both sides of the bars.” –

Show times: Thursday, June 23, 6:30pm at Landmark E Street Cinema