AmDocs 2023: Awards, recap and the glowing reviews

Thank you all who made the 2023 American Documentary and Animation Film Festival such a success. This is our first newsletter, and we start by recapping the award winners.

2023 AmDocs Awards

Best Animation:  Absolution, Parsin

A famously unsolved true-crime story describes a woman whose skeleton was found in the hollow of a tree, with no clues as to how she got there except for an ominous graffiti nearby, reading “Who put Bella down the Wych Elm”.

Best International Feature: Motu Haka

The fight of the Marquesas Islands is a fight for history, for identity. A fight for future generations; a fight for humanity. This is the fight of the Marquesas Islands.

Best Domestic Feature: Planet of the Humans

Can green energy solve the problem of society’s expanding resource depletion without reducing consumption and population growth? 

Executive produced by Michael Moore, this controversial work is sure to shake our beliefs regarding sustainability. 

Best Short Documentary: Flightpath

When Sarah loses her boyfriend in a plane crash, she dives into a project studying bird mortality for a wind turbine company in the California desert. Working at night all alone for over a year, she comes to terms with her grief through her relationship with her tracking dogs as they catalog remains.

Sadie Katz Award: The Healer

Having been raised amongst a traditionally conservative Christian community, Dr. Ebtesam Islam, an American Muslim pulmonologist in Lubbock, Texas, leans on her faith and community to cope with stress and anxiety, while saving lives and staying hopeful.

Mark Your Calendars

The 2024 American Documentary and Animation Film Festival will be March 21-25. We are looking forward to growing our festival and we hope you will join us. 

AmDocs Recognition

In MovieMaker magazine, it says, “The desert festival about 100 miles east of Los Angeles is known for encouraging people to mix it up: Filmmakers are welcome to stay in the homes of festival supporters, and get many chances to meet with distributors, press and industry guests at all events. Its Film Fund Pitch Competition has helped sell films to HBO, PBS, MTV, Showtime and more. 

View the full article at:

Filmmaker News

Olivia Yarvis, who screen her documentary, “Feeling of Betrayal” as part of the Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism group, started her new job with the Boston Globe. Her first feature was on the 10-year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing, where she spoke to readers, who shared their memories. Her video accompanied this story:

Yarvis’ documentary, “Feeling of Betrayal” was part of a project she did for The Texas Tribune. You can find her story and documentary here:

Note: If you have filmmaker news you would like to share, please email Leighton Ginn at 

2023 AmDocs Highlights on YouTube

A look back at the 2023 festival on YouTube.

Kenyatta Do Not Wait Your Turn Q&A

Planet of the Humans Q&A

Michael Moore Q&A

Killing Me Softly Q&A

John Bayless performance following “Left Alone Rhapsody”

Opening Night performance from Mt. Calvary Church 

First song

Second song

Environmental Q&A (program 29)

What They Are Saying

This festival is awesome. The staff and volunteers were kind and very communicative. The festival itself felt filmmaker-focused. An the venue was so cool! A truly amazing experience.

-Nicholas Manting Brewer, “Danny”

Amazing film festival! It’s our third time being part of this incredible film festival in Palm Springs- all filmmakers should definitely put the American Documentary Film Festival at the top of their list! Incredibly well run and geared towards celebrating filmmakers as well as having enthusiastic film-loving audiences and invested and caring volunteers! The founder and main programmer Teddy and his team make this film festival a truly wonderful experience!

-Ross Munro, “The Moviegoer”

So much fun! Rarely are festivals professional AND fun. Had an absolute blast. I will submit again in the future, and will attend even if I don’t have a film! Can’t recommend Amdoc highly enough.

Jack Nop, “Absolution, Parsin.” 

AmDocs is hands down one of my favorite film festivals. Teddy is an amazing community weaver. The whole team is clearly passionate about films and supporting the people who make them. They go above and beyond to setup home stays so filmmakers can come in person. I love how low key the awards ceremony is so the event doesn’t feel like a tense schmoozing session but is truly about connecting and showing work that doesn’t play the corporate sponsor game.

My family has gone to a major festival in Austin since I was a kid. We loved it, but now my family can’t afford to go and finds the films are too safe of a pick. AmDocs is still true to the heart of what makes film festivals worthwhile weaving together community, artists, and local businesses. I hope it stays true to that vision and hope to come back again!

The Q&As were meaningfully moderated. The special screening and virtual Q&A with Michael Moore was important. The closing night party was perfectly curated with just the right amount of celebration and good company.

Thank you for being the world premiere of our short documentary Dust to Light. We appreciate the support deeply.

-Erika Houle, “Dust To Light.”

Streaming News


“The Pope: Answers” is an original Spanish special featuring Pope Francis and 10 Spanish-speaking young adults between 20 and 25 years old who raise questions and concerns on a wide variety of topics, including: Feminism, the role of women in the Church, reproductive rights, loss of faith, the migration crisis, LGBTQIA+ rights, abuse within the Church, racism and mental health. The meeting took place in June 2022. The show is currently streaming.

Algiers, America” is a five-part documentary that chronicles the journey of Coach Brice Brown, the Edna Karr Cougars, and their quest for a fifth state championship in six years.

Connected to the Cougars are a collection of compelling characters in and out of the school – a passionate community leader and educator, a charismatic marching band leader, and a group of families fighting the epidemics of gun violence and mass imprisonment.

Altogether, the series is a rare, authentic, captivating, candid, and sometimes difficult look at life in a community fighting to be defined by triumph on the football field and far beyond. This limited docu-series will at once break your heart and inspire you with its gripping tale, unforgettable characters, and tribute to possibility.

Streaming begins April 19.

Dear Mama” has two-episode premieres on April 21 on FX and streams on Hulu on April 22.

A deeply personal five-part series that defies the conventions of traditional documentary storytelling to share an illuminating saga of mother and son, Afeni and Tupac Shakur.


Suga: Road to D-Day” The upcoming documentary will follow SUGA of BTS as he travels around the world from Seoul to Tokyo, Las Vegas and beyond in search of musical inspiration for his upcoming album D-DAY. Throughout the documentary, viewers will see the star at his most vulnerable, as he discusses his writer’s block with other musicians, and delves deep into his most traumatic memories to pen lyrics for several of his latest songs. SUGA begins streaming April 21.

Thanks to our sponsors

Five, Six, Seven, Eight – TV theme songs from 2023 AmDocs guest Charles Fox

American Documentary and Animation Film Festival is March 30-April 3 in Palm Springs

Charles Fox wrote the theme songs of the biggest television show of the 70s, and he will be at the American Documentary and Animation Film Festival on March 30-April 3 in Palm Springs.

Of course, this documentary, Killing Me Softly With His Song, is named after his biggest pop hit that was sung by Roberta Flack and later covered by the Fugees, and Lauryn Hill.

His other pop hits include the Barry Mannilow song, “Ready to Take a Chance Again,” and the Jim Croce hit, “I Got A Name.”

Fox’s documentary will screen at 7 p.m. on Friday, March 31 at the Palm Springs Cultural Center (formerly known as the Camelot). Following the screening, Fox will perform and answer questions about his career.

Tickets are available at

Below is a primer on Fox’s biggest television hits.

Wonder Woman continues

Tony Award nominated Max von Essen, who sang the National Anthem at Yankee Stadium following 9/11, to star at The Chase

Max von Essen star has shined bright on Broadway with his magnificent voice and charisma. But in the early days of his career, he sang for his largest audience.

von Essen’s father Thomas was also the FDNY commissioner during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and was one of the first ones on the scene.

von Essen was tapped to sing the national anthem before the first game at Yankees Stadium following the attacks. von Essen’s father accompanied Max on the field. Above is the anthem von Essen sang. At the end of the blog, you’ll find a video of Thomas sharing his memories on the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks.

Max von Essen is one of the entertainers at The Chase on April 9 at the Palm Springs Convention Center. To purchase tickets, go to   

von Essen had attended college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and following his graduation, toured with Liza Minelli.

The pinnacle to his career was in 2015, when he was nominated for the Tony Award for his portrayal of Parisian aristocrat Henri in “An American in Paris.” Below, you can see and hear him singing a medley of songs from the play at the famous Birdland in New York.

Prior the Tony ceremony, von Essen did this vlog for, giving people a behind-the-scenes look.

Here’s a look at von Essen and fellow Chase entertainer Eden Espinosa rehearsing for the touring production of “Falsettos”

And here is von Essen performing while wearing a table cloth

And here’s a fun feature from Playbill where you can learn a little more about von Essen and hear him sing “I Could’ve Danced All Night.”

And circling back to the Sept. 11 attacks, here’s a video of von Essen’s father Thomas sharing his memories of Sept. 11.

Seth Rudetsky, who makes learning about Broadway fun, will bring his talents to The Chase

One of the best things about satellite radio is the diverse programing, and Seth Rudetsky is one of those guys who ads great value to Sirius XM.

He his “On Broadway” and “Seth Speaks” are a riot and the perfect remedy to escape the daily blahs, which was probably even more valuable during the pandemic.

What I liked most about the videos he had was how he campions a lot of these amazing artists. One in particular is Eden Espinosa. But once I saw her with Seth, I went down the YouTube rabbit hole to watch her .

Rudetsky will join a talented cast of entertainers at The Chase (formerly known as the Steve Chase Humanitarian Awards) on April 9 at the Palm Springs Convention Center.

If you would like to watch Rudetsky, Espinosa, Deborah Cox, Max von Essen, Spencer Ludwig and host Michael Urie of “Ugly Betty” fame, you can purchase tickets at   

As a note, the Eden Espinosa rabbit hole is on another post. Here is Rudetsky with some really talented people below.

Also, go to the bottom to watch the beautiful benefit song that Rudetsky and his husband organized for the shooting in Orlando in 2016.

Eden Espinosa, a powerful voice and delightful personality, brings her talents to The Chase

Alright, I didn’t really know anything about Eden Espinosa.

But as I started going down the YouTube rabbit hole, I just found there’s so much to love about her. The one thing I really loved was her cover of the Celine Dion hit “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” at the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs in 2009.

Espinosa returns to Palm Springs as one of the headliners for The Chase on April 9 at the Palm Springs Convention Center. To learn more or purchase tickets, go to

What I loved about the performance was she exudes joy and it felt like it was spending time with your friend at karaoke. Except my friends don’t have that gift of a voice that Espinosa has. Check out the link about.

What people might know most about Espinosa is that she was a member of the original cast of “Wicked” as she was standby for Idina Menzel in the role of Elphaba. She would return to the role numerous times, including the Los Angeles production at the Pantages Theater, which would become one of the most successful musicals in Los Angeles Theater history. During the LA run, Espinosa and the “Wicked” cast had a guest appearance on the TV hit show “Ugly Betty,” which starred Chase host Michael Urie.

For more recent performances by Espinosa, here she is with fellow Chase entertainer Seth Rudetsky in February for the Seth Concert Series.

In addition to stage, Espinosa was part of the animated series “Tangled,” and the song “Waiting In the Wings” won a 2020 Daytime Emmy.

Deborah Cox, who once performed along side Whitney Houston, then as her character in “The Bodyguard,” will sing at The Chase

One of the great voices in R&B will perform at the 2022 Chase in Grammy Award-nominated, multi-platinum R & B/Pop recording artist and actress Deborah Cox.

In 2016, she took on the iconic role of Rachel Marron in the Broadway musical of the hit film “The Bodyguard.” The role was made famous by the legendary Whitney Houston, and features hit “I Will Always Love You.”

Cox was friends with Houston, and the two recorded the song, “Same Cast, Different Script.” Above, Cox talks about the role and her relationship with Houston on the Wendy Williams Show.

If you want to catch Cox live, she will join a talented cast of entertainers on April 9 at The Chase at the Palm Springs Convention Center. Tickets and information can be found at   

Below is the video with Houston and Cox.

At the closing ceremony of Worldpride, Cox sang, “I Will Always Love You.”

Cox began performing in television commercials when she was 12, and then she was a backup singer for fellow Canadian Celine Dion.

When she was 20, she moved to Los Angeles, and she was signed to Arista Records by Clive Davis. Her biggest hit was “Nobody’s Supposed To Be Here,” from her second album. It would peak at No. 2 on Billboard’s Hot 100.

The third song from that album, “We Can’t Be Friends,” is a duet with R.L, and hit No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100, and her second No. 1 on the Billboard Hot R&B and Hip Hop chart.

From ‘Ugly Betty’ to Netflix’s ‘Single All The Way,’ Michael Urie comes to Palm Springs to host The Chase

Michael Urie has gone from the assistant to leading man, and he comes to Palm Springs to host the Steve Chase Humanitarian Awards to benefit DAP Health on April 28.

To purchase tickets or to learn more about The Chase, go to   

Most people discovered Urie as Mark St. James, the assistant to Wilhelmina Slater, played by Vanessa Williams. Urie was cast as a guest star, but his chemistry with Williams led to him becoming a regular and beloved character on the show.

And his most recent project was the Netflix holiday movie “Single All The Way,” as he graduated to leading man status. Above in the Drew Berrymore show clip, Urie talks about both roles.

Below is the trailer to the charming movie.

For those of you who forgot how great he was on Ugly Betty, here’s a clip of him with Amanda, played by Becki Newton

re several snarky clips of Urie as Marc St. James on Ugly Betty, but here’s a really lovely clip from the show that really shows his range.

And another great scene with his mother, played by the legendary Patti LuPone

And here he talks about how Vanessa Williams elevated his role on Ugly Betty.

Alice Wu, a promising voice finally returns for an encore in Netflix’s “The Half of It.”

Director Alice Wu (third from left) poses with (left to right) producer Teddy Zee, actresses Michelle Krusiec and Lynn Chen during a 10th anniversary screen of Wu’s debut film “Saving Face.” Wu’s second movie debuts on May 1 in Netflix’s “The Half of It.”

It was several years ago when I first watched “Saving Face,” renting it from a local video store (yeah, it was a VHS) and was captivated by a film that featured three strong leads, two of which I didn’t know much about before.

What drew me was that it was an Asian American film with an interesting premise. A mother and daughter were keeping secrets from each other. The mother is pregnant and no one knows who the father was, while the daughter was in the closet, but entering a serious relationship.

The film was directed by Alice Wu, who had made the unusual transition from tech to motion pictures. But this is around the time when Ang Lee’s career was launched with two movies that still rank among my favorite’s, “The Wedding Banquet” and “Eat, Drink, Man, Woman.”

It really felt like the launching pad for some extraordinary voices in the Asian American community. Put that into perspective: Lee has gone on to become one of the most celebrated directors in Hollywood and has won three Oscars.

Wu’s debut work in “Saving Face” is that good.

So it was five years ago that my brother and I headed out to Los Angeles for a 10th anniversary screening and Q&A at the Japanese American National Museum.

I figured it would be a large Asian crowd. Well, it was a large female crowd, which I hadn’t expected. But it is a testament that Wu had touched a nerve in different audiences for different reasons.

But it was a cool evening. I got to meet the cast and Teddy Zee, a legendary producer. Another producer on the movie, who wasn’t there, was Will Smith. Yes, the Fresh Prince.

So a few days ago, I had seen the preview for “The Half of It,” which debuts on May 1 on Netflix. When I saw the trailer, I got excited.

It felt like it a fresh new story, but the spirit of “Saving Face.” It also has the feel of “To All The Boys I Loved Before,” a teen movie with a lot of heart and intriguing characters.

“The Half of It,” is about a 17-year-old who starts writing love letters for the star football player, only to also fall in love with the same girl.

What has surprised me is that it’s been 15 years since Wu has written and directed a film, although she has been a script doctor for other productions. Part of it was her returning home to care for her mother, and part of it was writer’s block. You can learn more about Wu in this feature from the San Francisco Chronicle

But Wu’s story in getting “Saving Face” made reminded me of another film maker got his start, Jon Favreau.

Another one of my favorite independent movies is “Swingers,” which Favreau wrote. And he has gone to become maybe the biggest power player in Hollywood having launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe when he directed the Iron Man movies. His long list of accomplishments is too long to list.

A few days ago, Jon M. Chu, the director of “Crazy Rich Asians” tweeted out the New York Times article on Wu and posted:

The @thatalicewu is a pioneer that was ahead of her time when I first was in awe of her and now the world has caught up. Get ready everyone, she has a lot more to say. Keep an eye out on her for years to come. @Netflix #TheHalfOfIt

For that New York Times article, go to