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Double Exposure Film Festival 2022 Goes Beyond the Headlines

By Kristal Sotomayor

A person holds up three fingers standing in front of a line of police in riot gear. From ‘Myanmar Diaries.’ Photo courtesy of Double Exposure Film FestivalThe only film festival in the US dedicated to investigative storytelling, Double Exposure Film Festival returned this year for a hybrid eighth edition. This year’s festival included a lineup of 11 feature films and 15 symposium panels, all taking place in Washington, DC. A selection of films was available on their online screening platform, while all the symposium panels were livestreamed for virtual attendance.

Double Exposure Film Festival is known for their focus on the interconnectedness between journalism and documentary as a source of seeking out and exposing the truth for the betterment of society. Through both the film lineup and professional conference, the festival convenes filmmakers and journalists to discuss important topics impacting investigative storytelling.

“This year’s lineup reveals the value of long-form storytelling to offer depth and nuance to headline news,” states festival co-director Sky Sitney. “The films take us viscerally and visually into the stories that shape our world today, often at the profound risk and extraordinary sacrifice of the filmmaker and journalist behind the lens.” This season marks Sitney’s final season as co-director as she transitions into her new role as co-founder of the new documentary film festival DC/DOX.

“This year’s slate is a testimony to the incredible dedication of journalists and filmmakers who risk it all to go beyond the headlines,” says founder and co-director Diana Jean Schemo. “From an eight-year-long investigation of cross-border land grabs, to an anonymous collective documenting the death of democracy in Myanmar, to a documentary on the devastation of Mariupolis, Ukraine, that cost the director his life, these films all embody a commitment to convey deeper truths at any cost.”

This year’s programming was centered around the themes of whistleblowers, the dangers to democracy, exposing abuse of power, and accountable and sustainable work practices.

Uncovering Truth

Double Exposure opened with the powerful film The Grab, directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, which follows award-winning journalist Nathan Halverson. Leading his team at the Center for Investigative Reporting, Halverson exposes the governments and powerful entities snatching up land and resources across the globe. The film is an alarming investigation into the money and influence shaping our geographies and impacting our access to necessary supplies of food and water. The film set the stage for larger conversations throughout the festival program.

Body Parts, directed by Kristy Guevara-Flanagan and produced by Helen Hood Scheer, examines the practices behind Hollywood sex scenes. The film interrogates the onscreen representation of sex, sexuality and nudity centered on the male gaze in cinema. Guevara-Flanagan forefronts the exploitation women have faced within the legacy of the entertainment industry. The film includes riveting interviews with key Hollywood figures such as Rose McGowan, Jane Fonda and director Karyn Kusama.

Directed by an anonymous filmmaking collective, Myanmar Diaries exposes the aftermath of the military coup in Myanmar. Weaving together shocking eyewitness footage of the junta of terror, the film blends nonfiction and fantasy. The film serves as a powerful piece of citizen journalism and community resistance in the face of military atrocities. It highlights the power of filmmaking to spotlight issues that are largely ignored by global media.

Holding Power Accountable

Through the fight for accountability, there are real-life consequences when questioning those in power. Matt Sarnecki’s The Killing of a Journalist traces those consequences. The film documents the brutal 2018 murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée, Martina Kušnírová. The young couple were both just 27 years old when they were killed in their own home; this was the first targeted murder of a journalist in Slovakia. Their death sparked unprecedented nationwide protests. The Killing of a Journalist exposes leaked reports and networks of corruption within the police and bureaucracy that led all the way up to the prime minister.

After breaking out in rashes, groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson learned that an herbicide he used regularly in work was harmful to his health. What started as an earnest quest for well-being turned into a complicated legal battle with a multinational agrochemical corporation, who allegedly had misleading chemical labeling. Jennifer Baichwal’s Into the Weeds follows Johnson as his health declines as he fights for justice against powerful forces.

Hazing, directed by Byron Hurt, examines hazing rituals in fraternities around the world. Having had personal experiences with hazing himself, Hurt explores the origins of these abusive traditions, examining toxic masculinity, violence, and excessive drinking and drug usage. He focuses his camera on the institutional coverups and the societal pressures on members of fraternities.


One of the highlights of Double Exposure Film Festival is the symposium line-up and access to the one-on-one meetings with industry members. The panel programming closely aligns thematically with the film programming. “Whistleblowers and the Creator Economy,” with panelists Karim Amer, Ed Pierson, Mary Inman and Amber Scorah, discussed the evolving role of whistleblowers with the advent of social media. With access to these platforms, some whistleblowers have begun to seek out their own sources for reporting their stories.

The panel “Facing Goliath” featured Byron Hurt, Jennifer Baichwal, Nate Halverson and Amanda Pike. In a compelling conversation, the filmmakers and their protagonists discuss the challenges when standing up to those with power. There was also a “Lunchtime Conversation: Reading the Supreme Court on Freedom of the Press” with Max Mishkin, Jennifer Nelson and Alison Schary, who discussed the future of the majority right-leaning Supreme Court and its potential impact to First Amendment issues.

 The symposium also provided a context for discussions bubbling up in the field. There was a panel on “Reframing Representation” that featured educator Patricia Aufderheide, filmmakers Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh and educator/filmmaker June Cross, who discussed the dynamics of filmmaker-participant relationships. The panel “Reflection Is Key: How Values-Based Filmmaking Can Reduce Harm” with participants Natalie Bullock Brown and Molly Murphy, who addressed the Documentary Accountability Working Group’s new framework on accountable filmmaking.

Overall, the Double Exposure Film Festival hosted a wide range of programming that supported a spirit of collaboration and mutual learning among filmmakers and journalists. The festival serves as a reminder for the documentary film about investigative reporting ethics, standards and storytelling.

Kristal Sotomayor is a bilingual Latinx freelance journalist, documentary filmmaker, and festival programmer based in Philadelphia. They serve as IDA’s Awards Competition Manager and Interim Editor-In-Chief of the cinéSPEAK Journal. Formerly, they were the Programming Director for the Philadelphia Latino Film Festival and the Communications and Outreach Coordinator for Scribe Video Center.