Arts Desk

AFI Docs: What Films to See Today

Today's the first full day of programming for AFI Docs. Here's what you should see.

If You Build It

Windsor, N.C., is a town in need of a jolt. In 2010, a flood destroyed its central business district. A quarter of its roughly 2,300 residents lives in poverty. Former Manassas school superintendent Sidney "Chip" Zullinger resigned after fewer than three years in Bertie County, which oversees Windsor’s schools; he butted heads with the school board over his plan to provide free Internet access to low-income residents. But while Zullinger served out his tenure, he brought an innovative program to Windsor’s high school students: Studio H, a hands-on design class aimed at teaching kids how to build things. If You Build It, an earnest but engaging film directed by Patrick Creadon, follows the short life of Studio H in Windsor. Read more >>> (Ally Schweitzer) 3:30 p.m. at the National Museum of American History, 1400 Constitution Ave. NW.

The Crash Reel

Even people who have never stepped on a snowboard know the name Shaun White, the closest that action sports have to a Tiger Woods or a Michael Jordan, athletes who transcend a sport’s core fandom. In 2007, another boarder began to challenge White’s dominance in the half-pipe: Kevin Pearce. But in 2009, while training for the Vancouver Olympics, Pearce suffered a traumatic brain injury that left him in critical care for a month, and in intensive physical and mental rehabilitation for six. Academy Award-nominated documentarian Lucy Walker (Waste Land, The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom) creates a film around Pearce that may just be the definitive statement on the expanding problem of TBI in sports. Read more >>> (Ian Buckwalter) 8:45 p.m. at the National Museum of American History, 1400 Constitution Ave. NW.

The Genius of Marian

Acclaimed artist Marian Williams Steele died of Alzheimer’s in 2001, leaving behind stacks of paintings and a daughter, Pam, who was determined to keep her mother alive by writing a book about her. The only glitch: Pam herself was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at age 61, a year into the project. The Genius of Marian is an effort by her son, filmmaker Banker White, to finish Pam’s work and also pay tribute to her. This moving but never maudlin film chronicles the struggles of Pam, her husband, Ed, and her children to deal with what happens when the family matriarch can no longer calculate the tip on a dinner bill or, eventually, respond to simple questions. Read more >>> (Jenny Rogers) 3 p.m. at the National Portrait Gallery, 8th and F streets NW

The Kill Team

The Maywand District killings, in which a group of army infantrymen murdered at least three Afghan civilians in early 2010, making their actions appear to be combat-related, seems almost too big to tackle. A dozen soldiers charged with crimes, 11 convicted, for a range of charges starting with premeditated murder and keeping human body parts as trophies down to drug use and obstruction of justice. Faced with that daunting subject, director Dan Krauss delivers a documentary in The Kill Team that narrows its focus down to a few soldiers and the conditions that allowed for them to commit these crimes. As a full document of the incident, the film feels maddeningly incomplete. As a case study in our military's moral failings, it's grimly effective. Read more >>> 5:30 p.m. at the National Portrait Gallery, 8th and F streets NW. (IB)

Both of the festival's short film showcases open today at AFI Silver Theatre (at 3:15 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.), but they also play Sunday at two venues in D.C.: the Newseum and Goethe-Institut. Here are some of our favorites from both sets.

Straight With You

Daan Bol’s Straight With You is the tale of Melvin, an 11-year-old of serious talent, even by the standards of the polyglot Dutch. He is a gifted dancer, something of a wit, and carries himself with a raw and startling emotional intelligence. Melvin is also gay, as he discovered while watching actor Ferry Doedens as Lucas Sanders on Dutch soap opera GTST. Read more >>> (Ted Scheinman) 3:15 p.m. today at AFI Silver and Sunday June 23 at 10 a.m. at Newseum

The Other Dave

The Other Dave tells the story of Dave Manning, a man whose life irrevocably changed when he was struck by lightning 14 years ago. One day, that lightning will cause his vital organs to shut down, and he will die. Dave’s memory is spotty; he suffers bouts of depression; he’s permanently disabled and lives with his parents. One doctor suggests his manic obsession with the Pittsburgh Steelers—he drives a car called the “Steel Mobile” covered from grill to tailpipe with paraphernalia—stems from the accident. Read more >>> (Christopher Heller) 5:30 p.m. today at AFI Silver Theatre and 3:45 p.m. Sunday June 23 at Goethe-Institut

Vultures of Tibet

Vultures of Tibet, the best in the "Life and Death" shorts showcase, is a gorgeous study of the Tibetan sky burial, a tradition that calls for dead bodies to be left exposed to the elements. Vultures flock to pick flesh from bone, emphasizing a tenet of Buddhist faith—the body is temporary and the soul is forever. Read more >>> (CH) 5:30 p.m. today at AFI Silver Theatre and 3:45 p.m. Sunday June 23 at Goethe-Institut

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