Of the sixteen titles that are listed here there are at least more than half that will be talked about throughout the calendar year up until award season in 2015. It speaks volumes about the quality offerings from American Documentarian filmmakers, but it also says a lot about Sundance programming team David Courier, Caroline Libresco et al. exquisite taste for the form. As is the norm for the Sundance doc-comp, there is plenty of socially conscious films on offer, from Andrew Rossi’s film on the insurmountable rise of student debt, Ivory Tower, to government backed food campaigns that have resulted in massive amounts of American health problems in Stephanie Soechtig’s Fed Up, with plenty of diversity within the program as a whole.
Though our non-fiction guesses have never been stellar, the films themselves look auspicious as all get out. Of this year’s promising batch of American docs, we only managed to predict a trio – Katy Chevigny and Ross Kauffman’s profile of four human rights workers in E-TEAM (see above picture), Tracy Droz Tragos Andrew Droz Palermo’s portrait of small town American youth in Rich Hill, and Mark Grieco’s Marmico, which takes its name from the small Columbian town in which billions of dollars in gold is being extracted by a Canadian mining company to the dismay of the local residents.
Grand Jury Prize Documentary prizes have included the likes of the monumental docu-bio, Crumb, along with other recent winners Trouble the Water (2008), We Live in Public (2009), Restrepo (2010), How to Die in Oregon (2011), The House I Live In (2012), last year’s big-hearted masterpiece, Blood Brother. Along with the rest of the IONCINEMA team, I’ll be in Park City bringing you reviews and interviews for this year’s future winner and many other docs along the way.
U.S. DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION
Alive Inside: A Story of Music & Memory – Directed by Michael Rossato-Bennett. Five million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia—many of them alone in nursing homes. A man with a simple idea discovers that songs embedded deep in memory can ease pain and awaken these fading minds. Joy and life are resuscitated, and our cultural fears over aging are confronted.
All the Beautiful Things – Directed by John Harkrider. John and Barron are lifelong friends whose friendship is tested when Barron’s girlfriend says Barron put a knife to her throat and raped her. Not knowing she has lied, John tells her to go to the police. Years later, John and Barron meet in a bar to resolve the betrayal.
CAPTIVATED The Trials of Pamela Smart – Directed by Jeremiah Zagar. In an extraordinary and tragic American story, a small town murder becomes one of the highest profile cases of all time. From its historic role as the first televised trial to the many books and movies made about it, the film looks at the media’s enduring impact on the case.
The Case Against 8 – Directed by Ben Cotner and Ryan White. A behind-the-scenes look inside the case to overturn California’s ban on same-sex marriage. Shot over five years, the film follows the unlikely team that took the first federal marriage equality lawsuit to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Cesar’s Last Fast – Directed by Richard Ray Perez and Lorena Parlee. Inspired by Catholic social teaching, Cesar Chavez risked his life fighting for America’s poorest workers. The film illuminates the intensity of one man’s devotion and personal sacrifice, the birth of an economic justice movement, and tells an untold chapter in the story of civil rights in America.
Dinosaur 13 – Directed by Todd Miller. The true tale behind one of the greatest discoveries in history. DAY ONE FILM
E-TEAM – Directed by Katy Chevigny and Ross Kauffman. E-TEAM is driven by the high-stakes investigative work of four intrepid human rights workers, offering a rare look at their lives at home and their dramatic work in the field.
Fed Up – Directed by Stephanie Soechtig. Fed Up blows the lid off everything we thought we knew about food and weight loss, revealing a 30-year campaign by the food industry, aided by the U.S. government, to mislead and confuse the American public, resulting in one of the largest health epidemics in history.
The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz – Directed by Brian Knappenberger. Programming prodigy and information activist Aaron Swartz achieved groundbreaking work in social justice and political organizing. His passion for open access ensnared him in a legal nightmare that ended with the taking of his own life at the age of 26.
Ivory Tower – Directed by Andrew Rossi. As tuition spirals upward and student debt passes a trillion dollars, students and parents ask, “Is college worth it?” From the halls of Harvard to public and private colleges in financial crisis to education startups in Silicon Valley, an urgent portrait emerges of a great American institution at the breaking point.
Marmato – Directed by Mark Grieco. Colombia is the center of a new global gold rush, and Marmato, a historic mining town, is the new frontier. Filmed over the course of nearly six years, Marmato chronicles how townspeople confront a Canadian mining company that wants the $20 billion in gold beneath their homes.
No No: A Dockumentary – Directed by Jeffrey Radice. Dock Ellis pitched a no-hitter on LSD, then worked for decades counseling drug abusers. Dock’s soulful style defined 1970s baseball as he kept hitters honest and embarrassed the establishment. An ensemble cast of teammates, friends, and family investigate his life on the field, in the media, and out of the spotlight.
The Overnighters – Directed by Jesse Moss. Desperate, broken men chase their dreams and run from their demons in the North Dakota oil fields. A local Pastor’s decision to help them has extraordinary and unexpected consequences.
Private Violence – Directed by Cynthia Hill. One in four women experience violence in their homes. Have you ever asked, “Why doesn’t she just leave?” Private Violence shatters the brutality of our logic and intimately reveals the stories of two women: Deanna Walters, who transforms from victim to survivor, and Kit Gruelle, who advocates for justice.
Rich Hill – Directed by Andrew Droz Palermo and Tracy Droz Tragos. In a rural, American town, kids face heartbreaking choices, find comfort in the most fragile of family bonds, and dream of a future of possibility.
Watchers of the Sky – Directed by Edet Belzberg. Five interwoven stories of remarkable courage from Nuremberg to Rwanda, from Darfur to Syria, and from apathy to action.