Sundance ’18 | Documentary Premieres

by Tim Gordon

Notable subjects featured in this category in Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Martin Luther King, Jr., Joan Jett, and Jane Fonda. Which story will capture the imagination of the audience at Sundance?

Akicita: The Battle of Standing Rock
(Director: Cody Lucich) – Native activist and filmmaker Cody Lucich captures the electric spirit of Standing Rock from the epicenter. From the initial gathering days on the Standing Rock reservation, the movement grew to thousands of water protectors, living in a protest camp and resisting construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Akicita: The Battle of Standing Rock focuses on the voices of young Native warriors who stepped up to lead the charge, expressing the beats of the movement from every front—confrontations with the police, the vibrant daily customs of the camp, and more. Through the eyes of the young Native protesters, the struggle feels deeply personal.

Bad Reputation
(Director: Kevin Kerslake; screenwriter: Joel Marcus) – Joan Jett is so much more than “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll.” It’s true, she became mega-famous from the number-one hit, and that fame intensified with the music video’s endless play on MTV. But that staple of popularity can’t properly define a musician. Jett put her hard work in long before the fame, ripping it up onstage as the backbone of the hard-rock legends The Runaways, influencing many musicians—both her cohort of punk rockers and generations of younger bands—with her no-bullshit style.

Believer
(Director: Don Argott) – Dan Reynolds was just a normal Mormon kid from Utah. He did everything by the book, and his faith in God, family, and community held firm—even when he became a giant rock star. As the creative force behind the wildly successful band Imagine Dragons, Dan comes to a crossroads when he witnesses fellow members of the Mormon church spurned due to their sexual orientation. Since 2008, teen suicide rates in Utah have skyrocketed, which many people attribute to the Mormon church’s official stance regarding same-sex relationships. With an unrelenting desire to engender positive change within their tribe, Dan and openly gay former Mormon Tyler Glenn, lead singer of Neon Trees, decide to create LoveLoud, a music and spoken-word festival designed to spark dialogue between the church and members of the LGBTQ community.

Chef Flynn
(Director: Cameron Yates) – While many of young Flynn McGarry’s peers were playing video games, he was creating remarkable gastronomic delights far beyond his years at his home in Studio City, California. Flynn’s family encouraged him to pursue his creative passion, and his unique journey was thoroughly documented by his artist mother. He loved to prepare elaborate dinners for friends and family and soon became known as the “Teen Chef,” establishing his own supper club at age 12 and being featured in a New York Times Magazine cover story at age 15. Before he was 16, he had staged in top restaurants in Los Angeles, New York, and Europe. Trying to stay focused on his dream, Flynn had to weather the critics who challenged his rapid ascent in the culinary world.

Generation Wealth
(Director: Lauren Greenfield) – Over the past 25 years, Lauren Greenfield’s documentary photography and film projects have explored youth culture, gender, body image, and affluence. In this fascinating meld of career retrospective and film essay, Greenfield offers a meditation on her extensive body of work, structuring it through the lens of materialism and its increasing sway on culture and society in America and throughout the world. Underscoring the ever-increasing gap between the haves and the have-nots, her portraits reveal a focus on cultivating image over substance, where subjects unable to attain actual wealth instead settle for its trappings, no matter their ability to pay for it.

Half the Picture
(Director: Amy Adrion) – It’s 2018—the necessity of discussions surrounding women filmmakers and Hollywood’s gender bias should have diminished by now. But within the first few moments of Half the Picture, it is abundantly clear that discrimination against women filmmakers remains a highly relevant story. This is a fundamental civil rights issue: women in the industry are not offered equal opportunities as compared to their male counterparts.

Jane Fonda in Five Acts
(Director: Susan Lacy) – Will the real Jane Fonda please stand up? This catchphrase (from the old TV show To Tell the Truth), sums up the heart of master documentarian Susan Lacy’s definitive examination into the life and work of a true American icon who has always confounded labels and outpaced the zeitgeist. Girl next door, sex kitten, political activist, fitness tycoon, feminist, Academy Award winner—Jane Fonda has lived a life of controversy, tragedy, and transformation, all in the public eye.

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King in the Wilderness
(Director: Peter Kunhardt) – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s leadership during the the bus boycotts, the sit-ins, and the historic Selma-to-Montgomery marches is now considered the stuff of legend. But left out of the history books is much of what happened afterward, during the last three years of his life. King in the Wilderness reveals a conflicted leader who, after the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965, faced an onslaught of criticism from both sides of the political spectrum; the Black Power movement saw his nonviolence as weakness, and President Lyndon B. Johnson saw his anti–Vietnam War speeches as irresponsible. King’s fervent belief in peaceful protest became a testing point for a nation on the brink of chaos.

Quiet Heroes
(Director: Jenny Mackenzie) – Dr. Kristen Ries, an infectious-disease specialist, arrived in Salt Lake City on June 5, 1981—the same day the Centers for Disease Control first published a report on what would become known as AIDS. By the next year, Ries would encounter her first patient with the disease. Because of stigma and fear surrounding both AIDS and homosexuality, Ries and her eventual partner, physician assistant Maggie Snyder, became the only medical professionals in Utah willing to treat the growing number of people with HIV/AIDS. These patients, facing certain death in the early years of the epidemic, often had to keep their status a secret or risk ostracism from their families, workplaces, and religious communities.

RBG
(Directors: Betsy West & Julie Cohen) – As the United States Supreme Court leans increasingly to the right, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s vigorous dissenting opinions and ferocious 20-push-up workouts have earned this tiny, soft-spoken intellectual giant the status of rock star and the title “Notorious RBG.” What many don’t know is Ginsburg’s strategic, trailblazing role in defining gender-discrimination law. Intent on systematically releasing women from second-class status, she argued six pivotal gender-bias cases in the 1970s before an all-male Supreme Court blind to sexism.

Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind
(Director: Marina Zenovich) – When David Letterman saw a young Robin Williams perform stand-up, Letterman quipped, “It was like he could fly.” Williams’s boundless energy, lightning wit, and knack for comedic characters sparked a career on stage and screen unlike any other, making him one of the most beloved stars in modern entertainment. Marina Zenovich carefully collects a trove of intimate archival material and new interviews with Williams’s confidants (including Pam Dawber and Billy Crystal) to summon an intricate portrait of a man who needed an audience just as much as audiences needed someone like him.

Studio 54
(Director: Matt Tyrnauer) – Studio 54 was the epicenter of ’70s hedonism—a monumental magnet for beautiful stars, casual sex, and mounds of cocaine, a den of excess that defined its own rules and enshrined the ostracized, queer, and fabulous. Matt Tyrnauer (Valentino: The Last Emperor) chronicles the rise and fall of this nightclub’s founders: two best friends from Brooklyn, Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell, who conquered New York City only to have it crumble before their eyes.

The Game Changers
(Director: Louie Psihoyos; screenwriters: Mark Monroe & Joseph Pace) – When UFC star James Wilks is injured, his desire to heal leads him on a deep dive into how plant-based diets can improve physical performance. Academy Award winner Louie Psihoyos (The Cove) interviews experts and athletes like U.S. Olympian Kendrick James Farris and surfer Tia Blanco, demolishing myths against plant-based diets along the way. The Game Changers explores innovative research on male athletes and—you wouldn’t have guessed it—their nocturnal erections, upending years of targeted marketing, corporatism, and antiquated notions of masculinity, all of which have manufactured society’s addiction to meat.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
(Director: Morgan Neville) – With his gentle voice and heartfelt words of wisdom, Fred Rogers served as a compassionate surrogate father for generations of American children who tuned in to public television. He believed in love as the essential ingredient in life and was able to assist kids through difficult situations armed merely with handmade puppets suggesting tolerance and acceptance. An ordained Presbyterian minister, Mr. Rogers made speaking directly and openly to children his life’s work, both on and off his long-running show. He was at the forefront of a movement devoted to meeting the specific needs of children and was considered a radical back then for saying, “I like you just the way you are.”

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