BEST OF ENEMIES directed by Morgan Neville

BEST OF ENEMIES directed by Morgan Neville

The Sundance Film Festival serves up a rich array of non-fiction films. But how do you prioritize from over 40 docs? I’ve gained an early look at roughly half and picked some of my favorites.

Further down, I highlight several films featured in the Doc Club panels that I’ll be moderating.

Here’s my tip-sheet:

US DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION

CITY OF GOLD tracks food critic Jonathan Gold and his passion for exploring the ethnic cuisines of Los Angeles. This charming portrait will strongly appeal to the legions of Eater and Chowhound readers. With cameos by fellow food scribes such as Calvin Trillin and Robert Sietsema, the film makes the case that the best food writing goes beyond what’s on the plate. Filmmaker Laura Gabbert previously directed No Impact Man and Sunset Story.

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HOT GIRLS WANTED (pictured) gives an intimate view of young women as they experience the highs and lows of amateur porn. For many teenage girls today, porn carries fewer taboos than it did for their parents’ generation. Filmmakers Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus (Sexy Baby) explore the complicated reality behind this fantasy world. Also on board are Rashida Jones (producer) and Abigail Disney (executive producer).

(T)ERROR gains unprecedented access to an FBI informant tasked to spy on American muslims. The film is a fascinating character study and look into an area of surveillance that’s metastasized since 9/11/01. I’ve tracked the project closely since directors Lyric Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe participated in the 2013 Garrett Scott Development Grant. The project has attracted many esteemed supporters including executive producer Eugene Jarecki and consultant Laura Poitras.

WORLD DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION

THE AMINA PROFILE raises complicated questions over sexuality, politics and social media. Canadian director Sophie Deraspe delves into the mystery of the blogger “A Gay Girl in Damascus” who goes missing in war torn Syria.

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DARK HORSE (pictured) fills the bill for a heart-warming story. Director Louise Osmond (Deep Water) looks at a working class group in a Welsh mining town who pool their money to breed a race horse, competing in a sport dominated by millionaires. Ormond employs gorgeous cinematography of the horses and finds charming storytellers in the humans.

DREAMCATCHER is the latest from the prolific British documentary maker Kim Longinotto who won the 2009 Sundance World Doc competition for Rough Aunties. After her recent docs set in India and Africa, Longinotto focuses on inner-city Chicago where a former prostitute turned activist conducts heroic outreach to women in the streets.

THE RUSSIAN WOODPECKER follows the Ukrainian artist Fedor Alexandrovich as he takes it upon himself to find out what really caused the Chernobyl disaster. The journey is part serious investigation and part performance art with moments that feel akin to a Werner Herzog film. Director Chad Gracia follows the action through many twists and turns as it coincides with growing tensions in Ukraine. The film is backed by producer Mike Lerner (Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer).

DOC PREMIERES 

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MOST LIKELY TO SUCCEED (pictured) begs the question: Do we really need another doc about education? The film answers with an emphatic yes by focusing on the experimental High Tech High as a model for new thinking in education. This kind of essay documentary is hard to get right, but director Greg Whiteley (Mitt) hits the mark. I hope it’s widely seen.

DOC CLUB PANELS AT SUNDANCE TV HQ 

These panels are free and open to the public without a badge.

SHORT FILMS ARE NEW LONG – SAT, JAN 24 AT NOON

Today is a golden age for short documentaries with ever-expanding outlets. For documentary makers, the short format allows them to work more quickly, reach wider audiences and go viral. In this panel, Sundance filmmakers known for their feature-length work discuss why they’re embracing the short form. Panelists: Heidi Ewing (Sundance Short Film Challenge Director); Eugene Jarecki (Move Your Money); Katie Metcalfe (Sundance Shorts Programmer); and Lucy Walker (The Lion’s Mouth Opens). This panel will serve as a complement to SundanceNow Doc Club’s digital program of Sundance shorts, curated by Sundance Programmer Mike Plante and available online beginning Wednesday, January 28.

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BLACK LIVES ON FILM – MON, JAN 26 AT NOON

For several decades, the lives and histories of African-Americans were largely neglected in mainstream cinema. But things are changing as fiction and documentary makers fill that gap. In this panel, Sundance documentary makers who have focused on black lives, both contemporary and historical, discuss their opportunities and challenges. Panelists: Lyric Cabral ((T)ERROR); Liz Garbus (WHAT HAPPENED, MISS SIMONE?; Stanley Nelson (THE BLACK PANTHERS: VANGUARD OF THE REVOLUTION, pictured); Dawn Porter (GIDEON’S ARMY). The panel will serve as a preview for SundanceNow Doc Club’s upcoming program for Black History Month, which will premiere online on Monday, February 2.

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DOCUMENTING CELEBRITIES – WED, JAN 28 AT NOON

Getting to the truth in the lives of celebrities can be a difficult path through families, gatekeepers, copyright holders and powerful interests. In this panel, Sundance documentary makers discuss their discoveries, roadblocks and breakthroughs on films. Panelists: Kristina Goolsby (TIG on Tig Notaro); Daniel Junge (BEING EVEL on Evel Knievel); Brett Morgen (KURT COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK); Morgan Neville (BEST OF ENEMIES on Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley); Stevan Riley (LISTEN TO ME MARLON on Marlon Brando, pictured). In Spring 2015, SundanceNow Doc Club will present a program of Nick Broomfield documentaries, which include many celebrity figures.

 

 

 

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