Four Indie Documentaries Not To Miss At The 2009 Sundance Film Festival

2009 Sundance logo The small town of Park City, Utah is once again preparing for the inundation of indie film lovers, as the opening curtain of the Sundance Film Festival rises January 15. I am one of those indie film lovers. But indie documentaries hold a special place in my heart. No matter if it's on page, or on screen, I am an ardent fan of non-fiction. Real people, guiding the viewer through the story of their lives. For me, there is nothing like it. This is why the documentary competition at Sundance is one I always have my eye on. During the ten days of Sundance, I am assured to discover the best that this genre has to offer. This year will be no exception. Out of the films submitted by over 800 filmmakers in over 70 countries, the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program whittles the submissions down to 20 docs. Of those, these are the four that I absolutely cannot wait to see! 1. Boy Interrupted Boy Interrupted [excerpt from Sundance.org] Boy Interrupted is a film that raises questions. It asks how a young boy can end his life at the tender age of 15. It struggles to find answers about what kind of family he had and the life he led. By its very nature, it is a naked display of its filmmaker's personal life at its most revealing and perhaps disturbing. How can a mother, we may ask, make a film about the death of her son? What defines this film as a remarkably unique and truth-telling achievement is the way it explores how filmmaking can create closure for its creators as well as its audience. Dana Perry has gathered home movies, photographs, and a variety of different documents to tell the story of her son, Evan: his bipolar illness, his life, and his death, and their impact on those who loved him the most. She interviews his siblings and friends, his doctors and his teachers, and in the process, she chronicles a harrowing and difficult journey. The camera provides insight and revelation, and yet Boy Interrupted is a film that is also full of despair. The film's saving grace is that it functions, in the final analysis, as therapy for both its viewers and its subjects at a most fundamental level. It is an essentially human story, and a parent’s worst nightmare. 2. Crude Documentary Crude [excerpt from Sundance.org] Can 30,000 plaintiffs from five Indigenous Ecuadoran tribes find justice from Chevron, one of the world’s largest oil producers? Who is responsible for the unconscionable dumping of 18 billion gallons of toxic oil waste in the Ecuadoran Amazon, poisoning the most biodiverse place on the planet? Filmmaker Joe Berlinger’s latest documentary picks up the thread of the infamous "Amazon Chernobyl" case, a 13-year-old battle between communities nearly destroyed by oil drilling and development and one of the biggest companies on earth. In a sophisticated take on the classic David and Goliath story, Berlinger took three years to craft a cinema vérité portrait centering on the charismatic lawyers in the U.S. and Ecuador who have doggedly pursued the case against all of the forces a corporation can bring into courts of law. Though the Ecuadorans and their perspective receive the lion's share of screen time, the film makes a concerted effort to show the case from all sides: from the scientists and lawyers employed by Chevron, to Ecuadoran judges, to celebrity activists and humanitarian organizers, to the role of the media, to the dramatic intervention of Rafael Correa himself, the first Ecuadoran president to sympathize with the Indigenous perspective. In a tale that spans the globe, Crude looks beyond compassion for the disenfranchised and the corruption of those in power to ask how justice itself is being defined in the twenty-first century. 3. The Reckoning The Reckoning [excerpt from Sundance.org] Late in the twentieth century, in response to horrific atrocities igniting increasingly around the world, more than 60 countries united to launch the International Criminal Court (ICC)—the first permanent home for prosecuting perpetrators (no matter how powerful) of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide. Pamela Yates's The Reckoning follows charismatic ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo for three years across four continents as he and his team tirelessly issue arrest warrants for Lord’s Resistance Army leaders in Uganda, put Congolese warlords on trial, challenge the U.N. Security Council to help indict Sudan’s president for the Darfur massacres, and shake up the Colombian justice system. As you can imagine, building cases against genocidal criminals is no cakewalk. Moreno-Ocampo has a mandate but no police force. At every turn, he must pressure the international community to muster political clout for the cause. Like a deft thriller, The Reckoning keeps you on the edge of your seat, in this case with two riveting dramas—the prosecution of unspeakable crimes and the ICC’s fight for efficacy in its nascent years. As this tiny court in The Hague struggles to change the world and forge a new paradigm for justice, innocent victims suffer and wait. Will Moreno-Ocampo succeed? Will the world ensure that justice prevails? 4. The Reporter The Reporter [excerpt from Sundance.org] As focused as this superbly conceived examination of New York Times reporter Nicholas D. Kristof is on its subject, filmmaker Eric Daniel Metzgar has a much greater arena in mind in this multilayered exploration of journalism than just the work and impact of the Pulitzer Prize–winning columnist. That journalism, at least as we have known it, is undergoing a massive transformation is certainly no secret, but Metzgar amplifies this limited insight with a fully fleshed-out portrait of the importance of real news gathering in enabling democratic nations to function and illuminating a world in chaos. Tracking Kristof as he traveled during the summer of 2007 to the Congo to report on the conflict and desperate poverty besieging that African republic in an attempt to put this crisis on the international radar, as he did with his articles on Darfur, the film immerses us in a discussion of the ways this kind of reportage reaches the public, effects change, and creates a humanitarian response. It is far too simple minded to see virulently opinionated blogging and brainless infotainment overtaking and defining the future of knowledge and understanding, but the crisis in journalism is real, and this sophisticated, analytical, and lyrically heartbreaking account should become required viewing for anyone who cares about the future of ideas. What do think? Do these sound as intriguing to you as it does to me? Are there any documentaries competing at this year's Sundance that should be included? Let me know, I'd love to hear from you! CJ Guest Check out CJ on Twitter, FriendFeed, and Facebook

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