July 26, 2021

A Dispatch From The 2021 AFI DOCS Film Festival

Documentaries from Zac Manuel, Garrett Bradley, Dilsey Davis, and more highlight a difficult year taking its furtive steps back into a potentially post-COVID world.

It seems like fate that my first venture back into the AFI Silver Theater since it closed due to COVID-19 would be to watch documentaries looking back at life in 2020. Playing as part of this year’s AFI Docs Film Festival, the Hindsight Project is an initiative of CAAM, Firelight Media, and Reel South whereby BIPOC filmmakers reflect on the pandemic’s social and political impact on communities of color.

The program starts with Zac Manuel’s This Body, tracing skepticism in the Black community toward the COVID vaccine to the racist history of the medical field using Black people as guinea pigs. In 15 short minutes, it deftly navigates how people weigh a prospective end to the COVID nightmare against a justified distrust in the US government. Institutional neglect and culpability are highlighted in most of these docs. Anissa Latham’s Missing Magic uses poetry and the history of Birmingham to engage conversations around how the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests together revealed the US government’s general acceptance of death.

Some of the movies examine the different ways people used media to cope with alienation and loneliness. Dilsey Davis’s Now Let Us Sing showcases both how music has been affected by and how it’s helped people under quarantine. Both Kiyoko McCrae’s We Stay in the House and Amman Abasi’s Udaan utilize different forms of media to express life during COVID. The former examines family dynamics – especially those of mothers and children – shifting and changing in quarantine, and the latter follows a young woman leaving her family in Karachi to attend college in Arkansas using the internet to combat the separation and her anxiety.

Food shortages have also affected many areas during COVID, as seen in Comida pa’los pobres, which focuses on a food redistribution initiative in Puerto Rico called Comedores Sociales. We are taken through their food drives, protest campaigns, and eventual clash with police, after which lead activist Giovanni is arrested and jailed. He sings songs of protest deep into the night, saying he “wants the guards to hear me in their dreams while they sleep.” As its name suggests, the Hindsight Project aims to look back at 2020 with a clearer vision. Hopefully, its ultimate effect will be that viewers accurately assess who did good and who abandoned us.

Read more at The Spool.

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