”The Internet’s Own Boy” looks at the life of Aaron Swartz who co-authored the Web's RSS format. (AFI Docs)

Truth isn’t just stranger than fiction. It can also be more entertaining, compelling, emotional and life-altering. There are more than 80 chances to see proof of that as we prepare for another installment of AFI Docs, the annual documentary film festival that begins Wednesday and runs through June 22.

Among the draws are “Holbrook/Twain: An American Odyssey,” which kicks off the festival with a look at actor Hal Holbrook’s long-running one-man stage show “Mark Twain Tonight”; “Life Itself,” Steve James’s examination of the life of film critic Roger Ebert; and the Guggenheim Symposium honoring Oscar-winning director Alex Gibney.

Some of the best documentaries tell inspiring stories of people overcoming the unthinkable, and there are a number of such underdog narratives this year. Read on for a handful of recommendations.

Visit www.afi.com/afidocs for a full schedule. Individual tickets are $11-$14.


Paul Lazarus’s movie about inventor Dean Kamen has been a festival favorite at Cinequest and the Newport Beach Film Festival, among others. Kamen is best known as the man behind the Segway, although his goals are far loftier than shuttling tourists from one landmark to another. The visionary aims to find a solution for a massive, deadly problem: unsafe drinking water in developing countries.

6:45 p.m. June 21 at AFI Silver Theatre, 8633 Colesville Rd., Silver Spring; 1:30 p.m. June 22 at the Naval Heritage Center, 701 Pennsylvania Ave. NW.

‘The Supreme Price’

With an uptick in kidnappings and killings, the situation in Nigeria is looking bleak. How exactly did the country get to such a state? Joanna Lipper’s film looks at the pro-democracy movement in the corrupt African nation but also gives a helpful tutorial on Ni­ger­ian politics. The subject of the movie is Hafsat Abiola, the Harvard-educated daughter of Nigeria’s disputed president (Moshood Abiola, who died in 1998 under suspicious circumstances after being imprisoned) and an activist mother who was assassinated. But none of that is deterring her from working toward her parents’ pro-democracy goals.

9 p.m. next Friday and 6 p.m. June 22 at AFI Silver Theatre.

‘The Internet’s Own Boy’

This Brian Knappenberger doc about the life and suicide of Aaron Swartz debuted at Sundance this year. Swartz was barely a teenager when he began groundbreaking work that transformed the Internet; he had a hand in developing RSS feeds and the alternate universe of Reddit. But when he took on the government, trying to give the public open access to secret documents and scientific journals, he found himself facing multiple felony charges. After a two-year legal battle, and facing the prospect of jail time, Swartz took his own life.

7:15 p.m. Thursday at the Naval Heritage Center; 3:45 p.m. June 21 at AFI Silver Theatre. The Thursday showing is a Catalyst Screening, which will be followed by a panel discussion.


Another Sundance veteran, this movie by Katy Chevigny and Ross Kauffman follows a group of Human Rights Watch workers who travel to conflict zones to uncover war crimes. Seeing the grisly aftermaths of brutal attacks and interviewing witnesses, the Emergencies Team members risk their lives to let the rest of the world know what’s happening in places such as Libya and Syria.

7 p.m. Thursday at the National Portrait Gallery, Eighth and F streets NW; 1:15 p.m. June 21 at AFI Silver Theatre.

‘Bronx Obama’

Ryan Murdock’s profile follows Louis Ortiz, an unemployed father living in the Bronx who manages to turn his physical resemblance to Barack Obama into a career. After learning to mimic the president’s gestures and cadence, Ortiz goes on the road with a comedy troupe of political impersonators hoping it’s the key to turning his life around.

11 a.m. June 21 at the National Portrait Gallery; 3:30 p.m. June 22 at AFI Silver Theatre.

‘The Homestretch’

The tribulations of high school are well documented, which makes the realities of this film all the more heart-wrenching. Directors Anne de Mare and Kirsten Kelly look at the lives of three homeless teenagers in Chicago as they struggle to graduate and transcend unthinkably difficult upbringings.

6:45 p.m. Thursday at AFI Silver Theatre and 11 a.m. June 20 at the Naval Heritage Center. The showing June 20 is a Catalyst Screening, which will be followed by a panel discussion.