AFI DOCS 2021 concluded the six-day festival with the festival’s Audience Award for Best Feature going to Storm Lake, directed by Jerry Risius and Beth Levison. The Audience Award for Best Short went to Shelter, directed by Smriti Mundhra.
The Grand Jury Prize for Short Films went to Red Taxi, directed by Anonymous. The jury said of Red Taxi: “For its creative and accessible approach to telling a story from the perspective of those living and working in a moment of political upheaval, we award the Shorts Grand Jury Prize to Red Taxi. The courage of the anonymous filmmaker struck us for their commitment to depicting the nuances of reality on the ground.” The Shorts Grand Jury Prize at AFI DOCS is a qualifying award for Academy Award® eligibility.
The jury also awarded the Special Jury Prize to two films: The Communion of My Cousin Andrea, directed by Brandán Cerviño Abeledo, saying, “For its ability to tell a reflexive story with levity and tenderness, we award a Special Jury Prize to The Communion of My Cousin Andrea”; and S P A C E S (M E Z E R Y), directed by Nora Štrbová, saying, “For its intelligent use of multi-dimensional media in telling a fraught, emotional story, we award a Special Jury Prize to S P A C E S (M E Z E R Y).”
The 19th edition of AFI DOCS presented a diverse slate of 78 films from 23 countries, with 52% of the films directed by women, 40% by BIPOC directors and 18% by LGBTQ directors.
Among the festival participants were filmmakers and notables including Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar; Academy Award® winners Morgan Neville, Sean Fine, Andrea Nix Fine and Mark Ronson; Academy Award®-nominated filmmakers Julie Cohen, Betsy West and Steve James; Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Art Cullen; award-winning filmmaker Dawn Porter; Emmy® Award winner Chris Nee; CNN political contributor and host Van Jones; author and The New Yorker contributor Jelani Cobb; filmmaker and actor Sonja Sohn; musician and filmmaker Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson; Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture Curator Dwandalyn Reece; President of the African American Film Critics Association Gil Robertson; Georgetown University Professor Dr. Janet Mann; rapper KYLE; and son of late comedian and activist Dick Gregory Christian Gregory.
This year’s inaugural DOCS Talks programming included the World Premiere of Netflix’s and Higher Ground’s We the People, as well as “History Is Out of the Closet: Excavating Queer Stories for the Screen,” a live stream conversation celebrating LGBTQ+ pride.
AFI DOCS 2021 AWARD-WINNING FILMS
AUDIENCE AWARD: FEATURE
DIRS: Jerry Risius and Beth Levision.
For 30 years, in Storm Lake, Iowa, Art Cullen and his family have been publishing a Pulitzer Prize-winning local newspaper. But, with newspapers everywhere going extinct, how long can they keep it up?
AUDIENCE AWARD: SHORT
DIR: Smriti Mundhra.
A verité documentary that follows three young children and their families as they grapple with housing insecurity in Los Angeles.
SHORT FILM GRAND JURY PRIZE
As protests in Hong Kong escalate, taxi drivers experience a city in upheaval driving the streets day and night. Anonymously filmed by locals.
SHORT FILM SPECIAL JURY PRIZE
THE COMMUNION OF MY COUSIN ANDREA
DIR: Brandán Cerviño Abeledo.
Andrea’s First Communion ceremony lacks glamour. For Andrea, things without sparkles are meaningless.
SHORT FILM SPECIAL JURY PRIZE
S P A C E S (M E Z E R Y)
DIR: Nora Štrbová.
A multi-textured animated exploration of memory as a container of identity, based on the personal story of the filmmaker and her brother who was diagnosed with a brain tumor.