The documentary program at this year’s American Film Festival (AFF) will, as usual, be filled with images of the United States—the sort that don’t make in the daily news. As part of the 2020 AFF, we will once again discover hidden truths about the United States, as well as the unknown side of several figures from American cultural and social life, including the legendary Bruce Lee, Orson Welles, and Dennis Hopper. From among a dozen or so very diverse documentaries, we mention a few below that will be part of the program of the American Docs competition and that will be shown as special screenings. They include a story about the American king of plastic surgery, discrimination written into the code of modern technologies, and the story of a former US president’s fascination with music.
The 11th edition of the AFF will be combined this year, on an exceptional basis, with the 20th New Horizons Festival. The event will take place from 5 to 15 November. Passes are now on sale (with only a small number remaining).
The childhood hero of now-middle-aged movie lovers finally gets a biopic. Enter the Dragon was, after all, one of the biggest hits of the 1980s in Polish cinemas, and the importance of Bruce Lee in pop culture is evidenced by the fact that Tarantino devoted one of the story lines in Once Upon a Time in... Hollywood to him. In Be Water, we follow the life and unexpected career of the San Francisco–born martial arts master, but we also see the discrimination that was prevalent in the film business at the time.
The documentary Hopper/Welles provides another opportunity for an encounter with some big-name stars. A long interview that Orson Welles conducts with the star and co-writer of Easy Rider, Dennis Hopper, focuses not only on their interests but also the politics of a time when both artists found themselves at a turning point in their careers. The free-flowing conversation shows the differences in the temperament and style of the famous actor–directors, who changed the face of cinema. The material that was discovered and made available to the world by Filip Rymsza (the man behind the reconstruction of Welles’ project The Other Side of the Wind two years ago) and the Polish production company Fixafilm, had its premiere at the recently concluded festival in Venice.
Michael Salzhauer is a lesser-known personality from our perspective, but he is extremely popular in Florida. The subject of the documentary They Call Me Dr. Miami, a sought-after plastic surgeon, is a local celebrity: he does live broadcasts of breast enlargements and records hip-hop music videos about the benefits of his treatments—which does not prevent him from remaining the conservative father of a teenage daughter. The film is fascinating not only in terms of the popular doctor but also in terms of the state of mind, the needs, and the dominant style of one American metropolis.
Lance Oppenheim’s first full-length film, produced by Darren Aronofsky under the auspices of The New York Times, is also set in Florida. Some Kind of Heaven tells the story of elderly, unknown Americans who are residents of a special retirement enclave. Their individual stories provide the starting point for a reflection on values, dreams, and life in an economically divided America. And, as is often the case with the American Dream, paradise turns out to be far less perfect than it seemed.
Other 2020 AFF documentary titles include Coded Bias, about discrimination that manifests itself even in seemingly impartial technology; The Last Out, in which the filmmakers follow promising Cuban baseball players who, in their pursuit of wealth and fame, become victims of the machinery of the sports business; as well as Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President, a portrait of the 39th president of the United States that focuses on his fascination with music and features Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, and Bono.