Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Sundance Round Up, Part Two: Documentary Competition

This is the second of six (assuming I can finish) installments about my Sundance Film Festival 2007 experience, complete with links to the reviews I wrote and what not.

The U.S. Documentary Competition is generally the strongest category the festival has to offer. The U.S. Dramatic selection rarely even comes close to it in overall quality. This year, however, was so good that four to six films could have been my favorite doc in less exciting years. If I had a cinema time machine, I wouldn't unwatch any of these.

My disclaimer stands that I may fine-tune my opinion of these films in subsequent viewings, out of the five-films-a-day haze.

[NOTE: Film Threat reviews are out of five. My preferred system is out of four. Also, these reviews were written in such a whirlwind that I don't really remember writing them.]

Manda Bala (Send a Bullet) (Jason Kohn) (Winner: Documentary Grand Jury Prize, Best Cinematography) - Kohn's absolutely stunning exploration of the kidnappings in San Paolo Brazil links its subject matter to everything from the crooked politicians who steal development funds to the plastic surgeons who recreate dismembered ears. Kohn's visual schemes and metaphors rank with those of his mentor, Errol Morris.

Protagonist (Jessica Yu) - A mesmerizing study of four very different men's fascinating lives that somehow attests to the power of both real-life and fiction.

My Kid Could Paint That (Amir Bar-Lev) - A piece about a five-year-old abstract art prodigy transforms into an examination of the relationship between Documentarian and subject when scandal erupts. Bar-Lev is fair but honest.

Hear and Now (Taylor Brodsky) (Winner: Documentary Audience Award) - An intimate documentation of the director's deaf parents, who decide to get cochlear implants and learn to hear while in their 60s. Emotional and surprising.

No End in Sight (Charles Ferguson) (Winner: Special Jury Prize) - An enlightening, inside and in-depth look at the politics and mindset that made the U.S. occupation of Iraq such a disaster.

Zoo (Robinson Devor) - It started off as the must-see documentary because everyone wanted to see a horse fuck a man. But "Zoo" turned out to be a sophisticated, beautifully shot and quiet film that gives voice to a section of society that the media only uses for sensational stories.

Chasing Ghosts (Lincoln Ruchti) - With charming energy, Ruchti revisits the video-game heroes of yesteryear.

War Dance (Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine) (Winner: Directing Award) - Focusing on three children musicians in a displacement camp in northern Uganda, the Fines use sharp, cinematic details to capture the hardship and joys of their subjects.

Everything's Cool (Daniel B. Gold and Judith Helfand) - The "Blue Vinyl" team returns with an meditation of why it's so hard to get the message of global warning across in a way that enacts change. Funny and honest.

White Light/Black Rain (Steven Okazaki) - A well-made documentary about an important historical World War II tragedy (the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki).

Nanking (Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman) (Documentary Editing Award) - A well-made documentary about an important historical World War II tragedy (the Japanese occupation of China).

Crazy Love (Dan Klores) - A competently made PBS-style documentary about an incredible story. If this were a drama, you wouldn't believe it for a second.

Banished (Marco Williams) - Is this take on reparations for blacks whom white people banished from their counties interesting, self-indulgent or mildly dishonest of its intentions? Yes on all accounts.

I missed these: "For the Bible Tells Me So," "The Ghosts of Abu Graib," and "Girl 27"

Previous Installments:
Part One: Dramatic Competition

Additional commentary on the category can be found in my In Utah This Week columns:
Sundance column 1 (1/24/07)
Sundance column 2 (2/1/07)

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