American Documentary Film Festival brings history & culture to life


Photo courtesy of the Chaparral. The Palm Springs Cultural Center/Camelot Theater hosted the AFDF.

There is an aspect of a film that captures a story as nothing else can. At the 2019 American Documentary Film Festival, over two thousand documentaries were reviewed before the 200+ showings were selected for this year. A bounty of captivating and informational films was premiered for the first time during the week-long festival at the Camelot Theater and Palm Springs Cultural Center in Palm Springs. Director of Operations Ted Guary talked about how the festival started. “Nine years ago I was asked to bring some visibility to this particular theater by the owners who were friends, and so I embarked on trying to find an event that wasn’t seen here or in LA. I knew from traveling around the world as a filmmaker that documentary festivals are a big deal. So I was surprised there was a need for it on the west coast.”

With a record number of submissions this year, Guary talked about how the process of choosing what films to show works. “It’s not easy, I always have some themes on the back of my mind. However, we don’t force it on our audience. We don’t say ‘this is the theme this year!’ Which many festivals do. However, we’ll have themes on immigration, women’s rights, equality, Hollywood artists, the sciences and medicines, names, anything, and everything. We look for films that we think will excite the audience in spite of what it might about. Someone may say they’re not interested in medicine, but they go to the film and are blown away and say they are inspired by it.”

Guary is on a personal mission right now to make American-Indian films known from Australia to the Arctic — mainstream.”To me, they’re like any other group of people who deserve to have their stories heard across the world. There are some great indigenous film festivals but this is a mainstream festival, and I worked hard to integrate native American film into the general context of the themes we had,” Guary said.

Featured on opening night, Sacheen, written and directed by Peter Spirer, is the story of Sacheen Littlefeather, a former actress who made history by taking the stage in place of Marlon Brando during the 1974 Academy Awards as he was awarded best actor. Sacheen gave a short speech bringing attention to the government’s controversial involvement in the Wounded Knee standoff and protesting the negative portrayal of Native-Americans in Hollywood film. The 26 min documentary’s subject and narrator Sacheen Littlefeather was in attendance on opening night at the ADFF, and she reiterated her statements from the film that she was blacklisted from working in Hollywood by the FBI after the event and labeled a threat because of her comments.

The American War, directed by Daniel L. Bernardi, himself an Iraq War veteran, is a look at the Vietnam war from the perspective of five former North Vietnamese soldiers. Powerful and moving from start to finish, the re-humanizing of the Vietcong people that this film brings to the viewer is a testament to the power of real storytelling in the still-rising industry of documentary films.

To see a full list of the films shown during the ADFF, visit

Leave a Reply