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AFI DOCS begins June 18 with Hal Holbrook-Mark Twain documentary in D.C.

'I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story', about the Muppeteer who's played Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch for more than 40 years. In AFI DOCS festival.
'I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story', about the Muppeteer who's played Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch for more than 40 years. In AFI DOCS festival.
'I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story', about the Muppeteer who's played Big Bird for more than 40 years. Courtesy AFI DOCS

The hugely popular American Film Institute AFI DOCS Festival begins June 18 with "Holbrook/Twain: An American Odyssey", and celebrated actor Hal Holbrook and director Scott Teems will attend the screening at Washington's Newseum.

Holbrook has been touring for 60 years with his award-winning one-man show, "Mark Twain Tonight!" Filmmaker Teems went behind the scenes for a look at Twain's continuing influence on our culture, and the dedicated actor who brings him to life.

The festival ends June 22 with "Life Itself", about Pulitzer®-winning movie critic Roger Ebert, one of America's most influential film writers until his death from thyroid cancer in 2013. It's based on Ebert's 2011 memoir of the same title.

The 80 other documentaries range from singer Glen Campbell to gangster James "Whitey" Bulger, and from Big Bird to the Bronx Obama during the festival in Washington, D.C., and Silver Spring, Maryland.

Other filmmakers and featured subjects are scheduled to attend many of the screenings, including four world premieres.

Here's a sampling:

  • "Glen Campbell...I'll Be Me". Grammy®-winning country legend Glen Campbell has been singing for more than 50 years. Recently diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, Campbell announces the sad news to help bring attention to the devastating effects of the illness, and makes a farewell tour. Director James Keach is scheduled to attend the screening.
  • Notorious mobster James "Whitey" Bulger ruled South Boston for years, but escaped and spent 16 years on the lam. Bulger is finally caught and put on trial for his many alleged crimes. Academy Award®-nominated filmmaker Joe Berlinger provides new insight into this infamous gangster. For obvious reasons, Whitey will not be attending.
  • "I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story" tells the story of Caroll Spinney, the amiable Muppeteer who has filled Big Bird's huge orange feet, and also has played Oscar the Grouch, for more than 40 years. The film about Spinney, the only living original "Sesame Street" figure, is directed by Chad Walker and Dave LaMattina.
  • "Bronx Obama" is Louis Ortiz. He was an unemployed single father from the Bronx in 2008 when people noticed that he resembled Presidential candidate Barack Obama. With Obama's victory, Ortiz transformed himself into a professional lookalike, joined a motley group of political impersonators, and began chasing his own American dream.
  • The Penn State sex scandal and its devastating impact on the families involved, is the subject of Amir Bar-Lev's "Happy Valley".
  • The Harry Potter-inspired sports craze Quidditch, including its World Cup, is explored in Farzad Sangari's "Mudbloods".
  • The first exposure of government spying on U.S. citizens came in "1971", long before Eric Snowden/Wikileaks, and even before the Watergate scandal. For the first time, the people who broke into an FBI field office in Media, Penn. and released secret files in 1971, reveal themselves and discuss their daring act in Johanna Hamilton's documentary.
  • In the "Freedom Summer" of 1964, hundreds of student volunteers from across the U.S. spent ten weeks in Mississippi to help fight white supremacy. Stanley Nelson's film about that violent summer reminds audiences of the risks and sacrifices involved in ending segregation.
  • In "112 Weddings", filmmaker Doug Block checks out marital bliss. He started making wedding videos 20 years ago to make extra money. In "112 Weddings", Block tracked down several of the brides and grooms to find out whether marriage was everything they dreamed it would be.

This fest should be everything you dreamed it'd be.

For more info and tickets: AFI DOCS Festival.

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