This Year’s Meet the Press Film Festival Will Feature Documentaries Covering Issues Like Immigration, Criminal Justice Reform, Climate Change and More

By A.J. Katz Comment

If it’s Monday (yes, Monday), it’s Meet the Press…at the movies.

Documentary films from A&E, HBO, ESPN, Netflix, the Atlantic, MTV, and more will all be featured at the Meet the third annual Meet the Press Film Festival on Oct. 7 in D.C.

This year’s festival, which once again will be presented in collaboration with the American Film Institute, will feature 21 short documentary films from five countries covering issues of immigration, criminal justice reform, climate change, education, and racial and gender equality.

Each screening will include panel discussions with the filmmaker, moderated by NBC News correspondents and anchors, including MTP moderator Chuck Todd, Andrea Mitchell, Hallie Jackson, Kristen Welker, Katy Tur, Jacob Soboroff.

During its inaugural year, the festival showcased 16 short documentaries exploring a variety of issues, and three of the films were nominated for Oscars. Last year’s festival featured nearly two-dozen short-length documentaries focusing on issues like immigration, voting rights and gun control, just weeks before the midterms. They hailed from HBO, Netflix, The New York Times and filmmakers from across the country.

Here’s a description of what attendees can expect to see at the third annual festival:

 JUSTICE FOR ALL – As part of an NBC News network-wide initiative inspired by Lester Holt’s work on criminal justice reform, these films highlight the stories that captivated the nation and put a spotlight on the advocates, organizations and lawmakers finding life-changing solutions in the fight against the drug epidemic, mass incarceration, and more.

• St. Louis Superman: Directed by Smriti Mundhra and Sami Khan, USA. Bruce Franks Jr. is a 34-year-old battle rapper, leading Ferguson activist and state representative from St. Louis, Missouri. Known as ‘Superman’ to his constituents, he’s a unique political figure — full of contradictions and deep insights and overcame unspeakable loss to become one of the most dynamic and unapologetic young leaders in the country. This verite documentary follows Bruce at a critical juncture in his life as he’s forced to deal with the mental trauma he’s been carrying for nearly 30 years after his nine-year-old brother was shot and killed in front of him.
• Church of Safe Injection: Directed by Marshall Crook, USA. On a frigid night in Lewiston, Maine, church volunteer Kandice Child drives around and illegally distributes fresh needles and the anti-overdose drug, Naloxone. Kandice knows she can’t stop drug use but by providing clean needles and support she hopes she can help an ostracized community and maybe save some lives along the way.
• The Trial: Directed by Johanna Hamilton, USA. Meet the lawyers tasked with defending 9/11 suspect Ammar al-Baluchi against the U.S. government at Guantanamo Bay.
• Kevin’s House: Directed by Jeremy Raff, USA. Kevin Simmers is a former police sergeant in Hagerstown, Maryland. During his tenure as a narcotics officer, he aggressively pursued drug arrests—especially those related to heroin. “I believed my entire life that incarceration was the answer to this drug war,” Simmers says in this documentary from The Atlantic. Then his 18-year-old daughter, Brooke, became addicted to opioids.
Panel discussion moderated by NBC News chief White House correspondent Hallie Jackson.
CLIMATE IN CRISIS: THE FLOOD – As Part One of NBC News’ Climate in Crisis initiative dedicated to covering the most important issues affecting the environment globally, this program showcases how populations across the globe face new challenges protecting their shorelines and managing water rights.
• Water’s Edge: Directed by David Hall and produced by NBC News Strategic Content for Nightly Films, USA., USA. Louisiana loses a football field of land every 100 minutes to coastal erosion and rising sea levels. As water closes in on Southern Louisiana, the state’s ambitious restoration plan is intended to build new land in the bayous and marshes. But that plan threatens to flood rural communities and severely affect the commercial fishing industry, currently ranked second largest in the U.S.
• The River Is Me: Directed by David Freid, New Zealand. For many years, this river’s ownership was under dispute. Now, it owns itself. For the first time ever, legal personhood has granted to the Whanganui River. But determining where a river ends and the rest of nature begins is up for debate.
Panel discussion moderated by Meet the Press moderator and NBC News political director Chuck Todd.
CLIMATE IN CRISIS: THE FIRE – The Part Two of the Climate in Crisis initiative, these films highlight the catastrophic impact of wildfires and how communities throughout the world are tackling a shrinking water supply and major droughts.
• Fire in Paradise: Directed by Drea Cooper and Zackary Canepari, USA. On the morning of Nov. 8, 2018, a seemingly small fire broke out in Butte County, California near the town of Paradise. Over the course of a few short hours, the camp fire grew into the country’s deadliest wildfire in over a century, killing 85 people and destroying Paradise. Through first-hand footage of the disaster and personal interviews with survivors and emergency responders, Fire in Paradise vividly retells the terrifying survival stories from that day.
• Scenes From A Dry City: Directed by François Verster and Simon Wood, South Africa/USA. What happens when a major metropolitan area runs out of water? In Cape Town, South Africa, residents fear the arrival of “Day Zero,” when the city’s taps will be shut off.
Panel discussion moderated by MSNBC host Katy Tur.
RISKING IT ALL – Immigration is one of the biggest hot-button issues facing Americans, and lawmakers in Washington. This track highlights the many sides of the immigration debate and sheds a light on the harrowing stories of those awaiting asylum and fleeing their homelands.
• Follow the Sun: Directed by JoeBill Muñoz, USA. Follow The Sun captures the liminal moments of Central American men who are awaiting asylum in the U.S. and are caught between grave danger and the hopes of a better life.
• Torn Apart: Directed by Ellen Goosenberg, USA. Directed by Oscar® and Emmy® winner Ellen Goosenberg Kent, this documentary follows the story of two mothers who were separated from their children in the U.S. for months and who fled danger in their homelands and sought asylum. Both mothers work with pro-bono lawyers and volunteers to reunite with their kids, who have been placed thousands of miles away with little access to communication. These stories illuminate the ongoing crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border and reveal how separated families are forced to navigate a complex system while desperately attempting to reunite with their children. Executive produced by Elli Hakami and Julian P. Hobbs for Talos films.
Panel discussion moderated by NBC News and MSNBC correspondent Jacob Soboroff.
THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT – Unique stories of young people here in the U.S. breaking barriers, taking a stand for what they believe in and fighting for equality, respect and a sense of belonging.
• Mack Wrestles: Directed by Taylor Hess and Erin Sanger, Brazil. The sport is brutal enough. There are the demands for strength and speed and stamina, the hours bathed in sweat, the knowledge that your opponent wants to wipe the mat with you. Those were the very reasons, though, that Mack Beggs loved wrestling—it gave him a sense of purpose and a sense of self. Mack Wrestles, co-directed by Taylor Hess and Erin Sanger, takes the audience behind the scenes as this gifted athlete from Euless, Texas, struggles against the outside forces that stigmatize transgender athletes. Despite all the turmoil, this poignant film makes one thing perfectly clear: If life were a wrestling match, the referee would be raising Mack’s arm at the end.
• Lowland Kids: Directed by Sandra Winther, USA. As climate change reshapes the Louisiana coast, the last two teenagers on Isle de Jean Charles fight to stay on an island that’s been their family home for generations.
• GIRLS SECTION: Directed by Kathryn Everett, USA. GIRLS SECTION tells the story of a quiet revolution growing among young girls in remote northern Pakistan as they challenge tradition for their right to go to school for the first time.
Panel discussion moderated by NBC News and MSNBC correspondent Morgan Radford.
YEARNING TO BREATHE FREE – These films follow the largely untold stories of peculiar circumstances facing different groups and individuals here in America that are fleeing oppression, challenging paradigms, searching for answers, and taking a stand.
• Ghosts of Sugar Land: Directed by Bassam Tariq, USA. In Sugar Land, Texas, the film follows a group of young Muslim American men as they ponder the disappearance of their friend Mark who is suspected of joining ISIS.
• Enforcement Hours: Directed by Paloma Martinez, USA. In the Bay Area, the San Francisco Rapid Response Network, along with sister networks across California, serves as the front line of the local fight against the current wave federal immigration mandates. The network, the first of its kind in the country, maintains a 24-hour hotline where residents, hoping for quick legal support, can call to report suspected Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) presence in their neighborhood. Unexpectedly, the hotline’s volunteers have become stewards for a confused and scared population, desperate to find answers amid chaos. Using real phone calls, Enforcement Hours explores this abstract, faceless world. Anonymous callers, their intentions unknown, punctuate unpredictable movements across San Francisco.
• Hiding From China: Directed by Nic Pollock, USA. Washington, D.C. is now home to the largest community of Uighurs in America. However, Uighurs there say that they are still not safe; many reports being contacted and threatened by Chinese authorities. In this documentary from The Atlantic, we hear from Uighurs in the U.S. who are under threat from China.
• Atrevidos: Directed by Jorge Gomez, USA. Atrevidos is a documentary about a man who invited one of the most notorious and controversial leaders of the 20th century, Fidel Castro, to one of the most afflicted urban areas in the country, the Bronx. Residing in the Bronx for 50 years, Julio has seen the highs and lows of his neighborhood. In 1995, the U.N. held its 50th anniversary, and while Mayor Rudy Giuliani invited most of the world leaders to various dinners and events, Julio decided to have a dinner of his own and invite Fidel Castro to his Sierra Maestra.
Panel discussion moderated by NBC News White House Correspondent Kristen Welker.
LIKE A GIRL – These moving films showcase the stories of fearless young women, both in the U.S. and abroad pushing boundaries, fighting stigmas and honoring legacies, shedding light on how bravery is timeless and comes in many forms.
• A Love Song for Latasha: Directed by Sophia Nahli Allison, USA. A Love Song for Latasha is a dreamlike archive in conversation with the past and the present. It reimagines a more nuanced narrative of Latasha Harlins by excavating intimate and poetic memories shared by her cousin and best friend.
• Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl): Directed by Carol Dysinger, USA. This film tells the story of young Afghan girls learning to read, write, and skateboard in Kabul. After years of conflict in Afghanistan and with the country still dubbed ‘one of the worst places to be born a girl,” an organization called Skateistan recruits kids from poor neighborhoods and teaches them skills so they can join or return to the public school system and get a start in life. For girls, the chance to skateboard presents a unique experience – to compete, to play, to learn their strengths and gain courage. The film follows a class of girls at Skateistan growing through the joy of skating and the warmth of the women who teach them.
Panel discussion moderated by NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent and host of Andrea Mitchell Reports Andrea Mitchell
THE LOST – These films explore the brave stories of people facing the distress and hardship of having to build new lives following life-altering disasters and unexpected catastrophes.
• In The Absence: Directed by Yi Seung-Jun, South Korea/USA. When the passenger ferry MV Sewol sank off the coast of South Korea in 2014, over three hundred people lost their lives, most of them school children. Years later, the victims’ families and survivors are still demanding justice from national authorities.
• After Maria: Directed by Nadia Hallgren, USA. In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria’s catastrophic destruction in 2017, three Puerto Rican women and their families are caught between worlds as their FEMA housing assistance in New York expires. With the threat of homelessness on the horizon, After Maria follows these families as they fight to keep their families together and battle the emotional effects from displacement. Executive produced by Academy Award winner Roger Ross Williams.

As an aside — Chuck Todd marked his 5th anniversary moderating MTP this past weekend. The program has gone from third place to first during his tenure.