Openly gay film curator Michael Lumpkin is now also openly bi-coastal.
Since he was named executive director of AFI DOCS last December, Lumpkin has been splitting his time between the two coasts. After spending more than three decades in California, he’s enjoying life in the nation’s capital.
Every year, AFI DOCS brings the nest new documentaries from around the globe to Washington with dozens of screenings at AFI Silver in Silver Spring and other theaters throughout the District. Now in its 13th year, the festival runs through Sunday. The full schedule is at afidocs.org.
Lumpkin is thrilled with the slate of films that will be shown this year, but says that the selection process is very difficult.
“It takes several months,” he says. “We had close to 2,000 entries. Most of those are feature length films, but we also show short documentaries. We have a number of experienced screeners who send their evaluations to us. A screening committee goes through all the films that are rising to the top and then we make the final selections.”
Turning away talented filmmakers and exciting films is the worst part of the process.
“There are way more film that we would like to show than we can. There are so many great documentaries. That’s the hard part of the job — deciding what you’re not going to show. Deciding what you want to show is easy. Having to say, ‘Sorry we can’t include you’ to way too many great documentaries is the hard part.”
Looking over this year’s films, Lumpkin says he is excited by the latest film by Malcolm Ingram, director of “Bear Nation.”
“One that I’m really, really happy about is ‘Out To Win,’ a documentary about LGBT people in sports,“ he says. “Malcolm is one of my favorite filmmakers. I became aware of him with his film ‘Small Town Gay Bar.’ He’s a great filmmaker and a great guy.”
Lumpkin is also intrigued by “Larry Kramer In Love And Anger,” the new HBO documentary by Jean Carlomusto about the fiery author and AIDS activist.
“It’s interesting to look back at Larry and see his role in our community. He’s a volatile, very outspoken guy. It was so great to look back at these moments in LGBT history and activism. It’s a great bio-documentary that gives you the full picture of Larry.”
He adds, “There are a lot of great bio-documentaries in his year’s festival. I kinda go towards those a lot. I’m really into learning about people and their lives. We have documentaries about Steve Jobs and Nina Simone. We have a movie about the great arts patron Peggy Guggenheim. Closing night we’re featuring a movie about Mavis Staples, the great gospel singer.”
Two other films of special interest to the LGBT community are “Code: Debugging the Gender Gap” by Robin Hauser Reynolds, which looks at the absence of women in the coding industry, and “From This Day Forward,” a stunning film by Sharon Shattuck that explores her father’s gender identity struggles and how her parents have remained married through it all.
There’s also “Who Stole the Ruby Slippers?” a delightful short documentary that investigates the disappearance of one of the iconic pairs of ruby slippers from “The Wizard of Oz” from the Judy Garland Museum in her hometown of Grand Rapids, Minn. There are four programs of short documentaries throughout the festival.
Some other notable films that will be screened as part of AFI DOCS include “The Armor of Light,” a film by Abigail Disney about an evangelical leader who is forced to reconsider his views about gun control; “Very Semi-Serious” about Bob Mankoff, the quirky cartoon editor of “The New Yorker”; and “Welcome to Leith” which looks at how the resident of a small North Dakota reacted to the arrival of notorious white supremacist.
The love of documentaries has run through Lumpkin’s notable career, from when he ran the Frameline LGBT film festival for 25 years starting in the early ‘80s to today.
“Year after year, film after film, I would see people connecting with documentaries in a very different way than with fiction film. There’s something about it being truth and reality. I saw the special connection audiences have with documentaries.”
He also adds that AFI DOCS will include several opportunities for audience members to interact with the filmmakers and their subjects. Throughout the festival, there will be several Q&A sessions and panel discussions.
“For a fiction film, it’s great to have the director there, or a cast member who has just given a great performance. But to see a great documentary and then for the artist and the real person to be there, to be on stage, it’s a whole different reaction from audiences. I think it just goes much deeper.”
Lumpkin took several years off from his job at Frameline to produce the groundbreaking documentary “The Celluloid Closet” with Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman. Based on the pioneering film criticism of Vito Russo, the fascinating documentary examines Hollywood representations of gay men and lesbians. Working on the film gave Lumpkin a renewed appreciation for the genre. For several years he ran the Documentary Association, an organization in Los Angeles that supports documentary filmmakers around the world. When the opportunity to get back into the festival business with AFI DOCS came along, he “jumped at the opportunity.”