December 2, 2009

Sundance Announces US and World Cinema Doc Competitions

It's that time of the year--the early days of the Holiday Season, the first full week of December, and the official start of Awards Season 2009-2010, when the doc community does a collective Janus-like look back and look forward. With the Gothams and Spirit nods having been announced (see Awards
for details), the IDA Awards rolling out in just a matter of days, and the first in a plethora of critics awards coming out tomorrow, the Sundance Film Festival announced its slate of titles that will undoubtedly yield a crop of buzz-and-kudos-worthy docs in the year ahead.    

Alex Gibney returns with his much anticipated Casino Jack and the United States of Money, about lobbyists-turned-felon Jack Abramoff; Stanley Nelson offers Freedom Riders, about the civil rights activists in the early 1960s; Ricki Stern and Annie Sunberg are back with Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work; Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing (Jesus Camp) make their Sundance debuts with 12th and Delaware; and Leon Gast, in his first film since the Academy Award-winning When We Were Kings, premieres Smash His Camera, about paparazzo Ron Galalla.

The World Competition includes Last Train Home (Lixin Fan), fresh from its award-winning run at IDFA; Jose Padhilla's Secrets of the Tribe; Chrisian Frei's Space Tourists; and Lucy Walker's Waste Land.


Here's the lineup:


This year's 16 films were selected from 862 submissions. Each film is a world premiere.

Bhutto (Directors: Jessica Hernandez and Johnny O'Hara; Screenwriter: Johnny O'Hara)--A riveting journey through the life and work of  recently assassinated Benazir Bhutto, former Pakistani prime minister and a polarizing figure in the Muslim world. World Premiere

Casino Jack & The United States of Money (Director: Alex Gibney)--A probing investigation into the lies, greed and corruption surrounding DC super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his cronies.  World Premiere

Family Affair (Director: Chico Colvard)--An uncompromising documentary that examines resilience, survival and the capacity to accommodate a parent's past crimes in order to satisfy the longing for family. World Premiere

Freedom Riders (Director: Stanley Nelson)--The story behind a courageous band of civil rights activists called the Freedom Riders who in 1961 creatively challenged segregation in the American South. World Premiere

GasLand (Director: Josh Fox)--A cross-country odyssey uncovers toxic streams, dying livestock, flammable sinks and weakening health among rural citizens on the front lines of the natural gas drilling craze. World Premiere

I'm Pat _______ Tillman (Director: Amir Bar-Lev)--The story of professional football star and decorated US soldier Pat Tillman, whose family takes on the US government when their beloved son dies in a "friendly fire" incident in Afghanistan in 2004. World Premiere

Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child (Director: Tamra Davis)--The story of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose work defined, electrified and challenged an era, and whose untimely death at age 27 has made him a cultural icon.World Premiere

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (Directors: Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg)--A rare, brutally honest glimpse into the comedic process and private dramas of legendary comedian and pop icon Joan Rivers as she fights tooth and nail to keep her American dream alive. World Premiere

Lucky (Director: Jeffrey Blitz)--The story of what happens when ordinary people hit the lottery jackpot. World Premiere

My Perestroika (Director:Robin Hessman)--Intimately tracking the lives of five Muscovites who came of age just as the USSR collapsed and are adjusting to their post-Soviet reality, My Perestroika maps the contours of a nation in profound transition. World Premiere

The Oath (Director: Laura Poitras)--Filmed in Yemen, The Oath tells the story of two men whose fateful encounter in 1996 set them on a course of events that led them to Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden, 9/11, Guantanamo, and the US Supreme Court. World Premiere

Restrepo (Directors: Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington)--Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington's year dug in with the Second Platoon in one of Afghanistan's most strategically crucial valleys reveals extraordinary insight into the surreal combination of back-breaking labor, deadly firefights, and camaraderie as the soldiers painfully push back the Taliban. World Premiere

A Small Act (Director:Jennifer Arnold)--A young Kenyan's life changes dramatically when his education is sponsored by a Swedish stranger. Years later, he founds his own scholarship program to replicate the kindness he once received. World Premiere

Smash His Camera (Director: Leon Gast)--Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis sued him, and Marlon Brando broke his jaw. The story of notorious, reviled paparazzo Ron Galella opens a Pandora's Box of issues from right to privacy, freedom of the press and the ever-growing vortex of celebrity worship. World Premiere

12th & Delaware (Directors: Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing)--The abortion battle continues to rage in unexpected ways on an unassuming corner in America. World Premiere

Waiting for Superman (Director: Davis Guggenheim)--Waiting for Superman
examines the crisis of public education in the United States through multiple interlocking stories--from a handful of students and their families whose futures hang in the balance, to the educators and reformers trying to find real and lasting solutions within a dysfunctional system. World Premiere



This year's 12 films were selected from 782 international documentary submissions.

A Film Unfinished / Germany, Israel (Director: Yael Hersonski)--Film reels uncovered in Nazi archives reveal the mechanisms used to stage Warsaw Ghetto life--images which have shaped our view of history. World Premiere

Enemies of the People / Cambodia, United Kingdom (Directors: Rob Lemkin and Thet
Sambath)--A young journalist whose family was killed by the Khmer Rouge befriends the perpetrators of the Killing Fields genocide, evoking shocking revelations. US Premiere

Fix ME /  France, Palestinian Territories, Switzerland(Director: Raed Andoni)--When Palestinian filmmaker Raed Andoni gets a headache that won't quit, he seeks out help and insight in different forms in his hometown of Ramallah. International Premiere

His & Hers / Ireland (Director: Ken Wardrop)--Seventy Irish women offer moving insights into the relationships between women and men. North American Premiere

 Kick in Iran / Gemany (Director: Fatima Geza Abdollahyan)--The first female professional Taekwondo fighter from Iran to qualify for the Olympic Games struggles for recognition in a society where women still play a subordinate role. World Premiere

Last Train Home / Canada (Director: Lixin Fan)--Getting a train ticket in China proves a towering ordeal as a migrant worker family embarks on a journey, along with 200 million other peasants, to reunite with their distant family. US Premiere

The Red Chapel (Det Røde Kapel) / Denmark (Director: Mads Brügger)--A journalist with no scruples, a self-proclaimed spastic, and a comedian travel to North Korea under the guise of a cultural exchange visit to challenge one of the world's most notorious regimes. US Premiere

Russian Lessons / Georgia, Germany, Norway (Directors: Olga Konskaya and Andrei Nekrasov)--An investigation into Russian actions during the 2008 war in Georgia, revealing the little known story of the ethnic cleansing in the region since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. World

Secrets of the Tribe / Brazil (Director: José Padilha)--Is the academic Anthropology community capable of generating real knowledge about mankind? The scandals and the infighting regarding the representation of indigenous Indians in the Amazon Basin seems to indicate that the answer may be a resounding no. World Premiere

Sins of My Father / Argentina, Colombia (Director: Nicolas Entel)--The life and times of notorious Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar are recounted through the eyes of his son, who fled Colombia to move beyond his father's legacy. North American Premiere

Space Tourists / Switzerland (Director: Christian Frei)--A humorous and laconic view of the way billionaires depart our planet earth to travel into outer space for fun. North American

Waste Land / United Kingdom (Director: Lucy Walker)--Lives are transformed when international art star Vik Muniz collaborates with garbage pickers in the world's largest landfill in Rio de Janeiro. World Premiere