The doc buzz was bleeding out of Park City this past week, with the Twittersphere seemingly anointing a new “Best Doc of Sundance” almost every night. At the end of it all, Eugene Jarecki left Utah with the documentary Grand Jury Prize for his film, THE HOUSE I LIVE IN, an investigation of the U.S.’s failed War on Drugs. The documentary World Cinema Jury Prize went to Ra’anan Alexandrovicz for THE LAW IN THESE PARTS, which examines the Israeli military justice system in use in the Occupied Territories and was produced under Laura Poitras’s outfit, Praxis Films. Indiewire has a complete list of festival prize winners.
While sales for docs started out strong, they tapered off soon after. Sundance Selects on January 26 picked up the North American rights for HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE, the David France-directed film about AIDS activists. Brooke Barnes at the Times took a look at the solid, but not extraordinary sales deals made during Sundance’s, and the outsized expectations that had preceded the festival’s kickoff. His conclusion? Cooler heads are prevailing this year in terms of purchases. “One reason that the art house sector has gone through such a difficult retrenchment in recent years involves ever-escalating prices; as buyers started to spend more for quirky pictures, they also had to spend more on marketing to assure a bigger audience, and the economics of the business started to implode,” Barnes writes.
At Filmmaker magazine, Tom Hall says that Sundance docs show the new and profound importance that artistry in non-fiction storytelling has. “It is no longer enough to be an impassioned advocate for a cause or a subject; there are so many filmmakers who have developed into great visual storytellers that the bar has been raised to new and welcome heights,” he writes.
Sundance also suffered its own tragic loss this year, with the death of indie exec Bingham Ray, who passed away after suffering a series of strokes. Eugene Hernandez, director of digital strategy for the Film Society of Lincoln Center and a friend of Ray’s, took a look at his life, and the seismic changes his passion for film wrought on the industry. Hernandez also shared with Indiewire an interview with Ray conducted the previous month. Sasha Bronner, a Ray protege, also offered her own encomium at the Huffington Post.
A little to the left of Utah, the folks at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences finally released the list of long-awaited Oscar nominations on January 24. The feature docs that hit the Academy’s inscrutable nomination bar were Danfaung Dennis’s HELL AND BACK AGAIN; IF A TREE FALLS: A STORY OF THE EARTH LIBERATION FRONT, by Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman; PARADISE LOST 3: PURGATORY, by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky; Wim Wenders’s PINA; and UNDEFEATED, by Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin. News of the nomination for PARADISE LOST sparked criticism from the parents of several of the boys whose murders are indirectly investigated in the film. Todd and Diane Moore had asked the Academy in late 2011 to exclude PARADISE LOST from consideration for an Oscar in an open letter. Following the Academy’s nominations announcement, they again expressed their “sadness, disappointment, and outrage.”
The five films nominated by the Academy in the documentary short subject category were THE BARBER OF BIRMINGHAM: FOOT SOLDIER OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT by the late Gail Dolgin and Robin Fryday; GOD IS THE BIGGER ELVIS by Rebecca Cammisa and Julie Anderson; THE TSUNAMI AND THE CHERRY BLOSSOM by Lucy Walker; INCIDENT IN NEW BAGHDAD by James Spione; and SAVING FACE by Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy. Walker also picked up the jury prize for best non-fiction short film at Sundance for TSUNAMI, a day after earning her Oscar nomination.