The students portrayed in “The Liberation” celebrate their graduation from D.C. Central Kitchen’s culinary training program. (TrixieFilm photos)

Documentarians Christoph Green and Brendan Canty wanted to make a film about D.C. Central Kitchen’s culinary training program. The only problem was D.C. Central Kitchen wasn’t interested.

“It took me a year,” says Green, a Maryland resident who grew up in Columbia and now lives in Chevy Chase. “I must have had, like, 20 meetings trying to make them feel comfortable that we were just trying to tell a story.”

That story turned out to be “The Liberation,” a documentary co-directed by Green and Canty that will have its East Coast premiere June 15 at the AFI Docs festival, which begins Wednesday and runs through June 17.

The culinary training program aims to prepare adults who face employment barriers — such as jail time, addiction and homelessness — for careers in food service. While the filmmakers faced several challenges, such as filming in the tiny kitchen (“It’s tight enough in there” without cameras, Green says), the real stumbling block was the intense, emotional work the program’s students do in other rooms.

“It’s group therapy, basically,” Green says. “That’s the only way that process works. So there was a big fear that if there was a camera in their faces, people would just clam up.”

So Green and Canty thought small — very small, as the two of them made up the entirety of the film’s crew.

“When you really need people to trust you, the less extra people you have standing around, the more you can mix [yourself] into whatever you’re trying to document,” Green says. “What at first was this weird situation of having these two guys with cameras walking around suddenly just became part of the backdrop.”

It turned out the backdrop was exactly where Canty and Green wanted to be as they filmed the students during their transformations from jobless addicts and dealers to prep and line cooks.
“When you have that initial judgment of something and then it transforms,” Green says, “to me, that’s the whole game. I love that.”

“The Liberation:” Landmark E Street Cinema, 555 11th St. NW; June 15, 1 p.m., $15.
AFI Silver, 8633 Colesville Road, Silver Spring; June 15, 8:30 p.m., sold out (rush tickets may be available for $15).
AFI Docs: various locations; Wed. through June 17, $12-$15 per film, $50-$450 for passes, $50 for opening night screening.

More AFI Docs highlights
“America to Me”
Steve James, the director of “Life Itself,” “The Interrupters” and “Hoop Dreams,” will be honored by the Charles Guggenheim Symposium for his longtime work in documentaries. The presentation will be followed by a screening of the first episode of James’ latest project, the 10-hour docuseries “America to Me.”
National Museum of American History, 1400 Constitution Ave. NW; June 14, 6:30 p.m., $15.

AFI Docs VR Showcase
This daily showcase features 11 short films that use virtual reality and cover a variety of topics, including economic,legal and environmental concerns. The showcase is open only to pass-holders.
AFI Docs Festival Hub, 421 Seventh St. NW; June 14-17, 3:30-5:30 p.m., $50-$450
(cost of pass).

“Love, Gilda”
Without “Saturday Night Live’s” Gilda Radner, below, there would be no Kristen Wiig. Or Melissa McCarthy. Or Maya Rudolph. This 2018 film uses photos, clips and Radner’s own voice to examine the comedy star’s too-short life.
AFI Silver, 8633 Colesville Road, Silver Spring; June 14, 4:10 p.m., $12. Landmark E Street Cinema, 555 11th St. NW; June 17, 12:15 p.m., $15. K.P.K.