Alex Horwitz’s career as a documentary maker has taken off. “Hamilton’s America,” a documentary about the creation of the mega-musical, was labeled a success once it made it onto PBS.
Meanwhile, his second film, “Autonomy” — about the impact self-driving technology is likely to have on society — is set to take part in this year’s curated American Film Institute (AFI) DOCS Film Festival.
To be accepted into AFI DOCS, feature documentaries must be 41 minutes or longer must have been completed on or after June 1, 2018. Also, it must not have screened in the Washington, D.C. region before June 23, 2019, according to Michael Lumpkin, AFI director of festivals. Promotional, instructional or industrial films and raw documentation of performances are not eligible. AFI DOCS’ advisory board that select the films includes noted filmmakers Ken Burns, Spike Lee and Frederick Wiseman.
Initially, said Horwitz, a Montgomery County native, he had no stated goal of becoming a documentarian.
“I merely stumbled into it,” he said. “It was a class in TV production in college that turned me on.”
An interest in film, in general, was in his genes: Horwitz’s father, Murray, was founding director of AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center.
Ironically, too, Horwitz said he was not particularly interested in cars. But a series of articles in the November 2017 Car and Driver Magazine about driver-less cars intrigued him.
In making the 80-minute “Autonomy,” Horwitz said he was a little anxious that the documentary not have a strong point of view, that it maintain objectivity.
“That’s even though I myself moved from being a skeptic to accepting the inevitability of driver-less cars,” Horwitz said. “As it turned out, the documentary really isn’t about cars or technology, but about change. Technology is elemental to us as humans. Like cell phones, rider-less cars represent a seismic shift.”
One interesting thing Horwitz learned is that both those in favor and against these cars cite safety reasons.
“The pro says they can eliminate 94 percent of accidents caused by human error and save tens of thousands,” he said. “The anti’s say we’re not there yet, and can’t trust these machines.”
Well-known writer and author Malcolm Gladwell, who often deal with the unexpected implications of research in the social sciences, was the executive producer on Horwitz’s team for the documentary.
One thing different about AFI DOCS, now in its 17th year, is that the festival is offering new program sections to make it easier for festival goers to find the films they want to see, Lumpkin said. “Autonomy” is in the “Spectrum” section, described as “pushing the boundaries of storytelling and exploring more-unconventional subject matter.”
Films AFI DOCS are highlighting include “Sea of Shadows,” an award-winning new documentary from National Geographic, and documentaries in the Cinema’s Legacy Program.
The five-day 2019 festival includes some 72 films focused on the power of (nonfiction), representing 17 countries. Included are six world premieres and two U.S premiers. Also new is the high percentage of female filmmakers (68).
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, already a cinematic star because of a documentary (in last year’s AFI DOCS festival) about her, is back. “Justice Ginsburg in Her Own Words,” by Freida Lee Mock and Meghana Hooper, is also part of AFI DOCS 2019 docket.
The opening night’s film, “True Justice,” concerns Bryan Stevenson’s fight for equality through his Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama.
“This is the golden age of documentaries,” both Lumpkin and Horwitz said.
The festival has several D.C-.area venues. The sole Montgomery County location is the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center on 8633 Colesville Road in Silver Spring.
AFI DOCS 2019 runs June 19-23. Tickets are on sale at www.AFI.com/afidocs.