San Francisco, Sundance London unveil doc line-ups

The 55th annual San Francisco International Film Festival will see 12 documentaries in competition, including Jamie Meltzer's Informant and Davy Chou's Golden Slumbers, while Sundance winners The House I Live In (pictured), The Queen of Versailles and Chasing Ice are among the films getting UK premieres at the inaugural Sundance London.
March 7, 2012

The San Francisco International Film Festival has unveiled a slate of 12 documentary competition titles, including Jamie Meltzer’s Informant and Davy Chou’s Golden Slumbers, while Sundance London has also posted its doc line-up, which will see Sundance Award-winners The House I Live In (pictured), The Queen of Versailles and Chasing Ice getting their UK premieres.

The 55th annual San Francisco event, which takes place this year from April 19-May 3, will see a dozen documentaries from nine countries contend for US$35,000 in cash prizes, with the Golden Gate Awards Documentary Feature Competition winner taking $20,000 and the Bay Area documentary feature winner receiving $15,000.

The festival will also honor two-time Oscar-winning director Barbara Kopple (Shut Up and Sing, American Dream) with the Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award. The filmmaker will be presented with the award on April 22, ahead of a screening of her landmark 1976 doc Harlan County, USA.

“Barbara Kopple is a pioneering documentarian who brings the highest level of craft to her work, whether she is pursuing stories that focus on workers’ rights and social justice, or on great entertainers and athletes,” said Rachel Rosen, San Francisco Film Society director of programming.

Elsewhere, the Sundance Institute and UK venue The O2 have unveiled a program of 14 films that will make their UK premieres at the inaugural Sundance London festival, which takes place at The O2 in the English capital from April 26-29.

These films, six of which are docs, all premiered in January at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, and include three Sundance award winners.

“I welcome the opportunity to see how people in the UK experience these films,” said Robert Redford, president and founder of the Sundance Institute. “While they are American productions they speak to universal experiences and global challenges.”

The full list of San Francisco docs playing in competition, with synopses provided by the festival, runs below:

Golden Slumbers, Davy Chou, Cambodia 2011
This exceptional documentary summons the spirits of Cambodian cinema’s golden age, which ended during the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror between 1975 and 1979. Blending interviews with surviving filmmakers, classic songs and poetic examinations of former movie palaces, Golden Slumbers is a testament to the captivating power of art in the face of tragedy.

In My Mother’s Arms, Atia Jabarah al-Daradji, Mohamed Jabarah al-Daradji, Iraq 2011
In violence-ridden Baghdad, one determined man tries to create a safe haven: an independent orphanage with no government support, where 32 Iraqi boys live, eat, play, sleep and go to school together. It is a fragile ecosystem shielding them from a life of suffering and extreme danger.

Informant, Jamie Meltzer, USA 2012, World Premiere
Brandon Darby, liberal activist turned FBI informant turned Fox News commentator and Tea Party darling, tells his side of the story.

It’s the Earth Not the Moon, Gonçalo Tocha, Portugal 2011
Filming on the remote Azores island of Corvo, director Gonçalo Tocha aims “to be everywhere at the same time and not miss a thing.” The result is a wonderfully poetic take on the anthropological documentary, the travel essay and the armchair adventure, made with almost naïve sincerity.

The Law in These Parts, Ra’anan Alexandrowicz, Israel 2011
This film, winner of the Sundance 2012 World Documentary prize, offers a rare insider’s view of the logic, structure and moral cost of Israel’s parallel military legal system that governs Palestinians under occupation. Interviews with the men who created and uphold these laws, artfully juxtaposed with archival footage, call into question concepts of justice and rule-of-law.

Meanwhile in Mamelodi, Benjamin Kahlmeyer, Germany 2011, U.S. Premiere
Set against the raucous backdrop of the 2010 World Cup, this beautifully crafted portrait of a place and a family features stunning cinematography and a lively score, as the Mtswenis’ day-to-day struggles and victories echo the promise of a new South Africa.

Off Label, Donal Mosher, Michael Palmieri, USA 2011
An alternatively tragic and bleakly comic road trip through the methods and madness of pharmaceuticals in our culture. Setting personal storytelling against archival and industrial footage, it examines the medicated margins of American life, from the testing, marketing and consumption of pharmaceuticals to the alienation, perseverance and spiritual striving of individuals living in a society that pathologizes our desires for health, happiness and even our sense of identity for profit.

Patience (After Sebald), Grant Gee, England 2012
This moving tour through the landscape of W.G. Sebald’s genre-bending novel, The Rings of Saturn, presents a multilayered, many-voiced homage to his discursive, elegiac and perfectly illusion-free style by poets, mapmakers, novelists and acquaintances – admirers haunted and inspired by the voice of the German writer, who died in 2001.

The Source, Maria Demopolous, Jodi Wille, USA 2012
An exploration of the controversial Source Family, a ’70s Southern California experiment in communal living whose eccentric leader, Father Yod, championed Eastern mysticism, healthy living and sexual liberation. Using archival footage and interviews with former members, the documentary chronicles the Family from inception through implosion, examining its lasting impressions on pop culture.

Step Up to the Plate, Paul Lacoste, France 2011
Hawkeyed master chef Michel Bras is ready to hand the keys to his Michelin-recognized restaurant in rural southwestern France to his talented son. A sublime, contemplative study of artistry, family and tradition calibrated to the turning of the seasons, this lovely documentary is about much more than food.

The Waiting Room, Peter Nicks, USA 2012
Dire situations are often illuminated by extraordinary acts of compassion in this intimate and intense day-in-the-life documentary portrait of the patients, doctors, nurses and social workers at Oakland’s Highland Hospital – Alameda County’s busiest medical center for trauma cases, the uninsured and indigent.

Winter Nomads, Manuel von Stürler, Switzerland 2012, North American Premiere
800 sheep, three donkeys, and several dogs are led by two shepherds through Swiss fields and suburbs in a film that combines its beautifully photographed images with a keen ear for sound to situate this vanishing profession and lifestyle within a changing environment.

Meanwhile, the six U.S. documentaries playing at Sundance London, with synopses, are:

Chasing Ice (Director: Jeff Orlowski)

Science, spectacle and human passion mix in this stunningly cinematic portrait as National Geographic photographer James Balog captures time-lapse photography of glaciers over several years providing tangible visual evidence of climate change.
Winner of the Excellence in Cinematography Award: U.S. Documentary at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival

Finding North (Directors: Kristi Jacobson, Lori Silverbush)

A crisis of hunger looms in America and is not limited to the poverty stricken and uneducated. Can a return to policies of the 1970s save our future? Features interviews with activists including Witness to Hunger‘s Mariana Chilton, Top Chef’s Tom Colicchio and Academy Award-winning actor Jeff Bridges, as well as original music by T Bone Burnett & The Civil Wars.

The House I Live In (Director: Eugene Jarecki)

For over 40 years, the War on Drugs has accounted for 45 million arrests, made America the world’s largest jailer and damaged poor communities at home and abroad. Yet, drugs are cheaper, purer and more available today than ever. Where did we go wrong and what is the path toward healing?
Winner of the Grand Jury Prize: U.S. Documentary at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival

The Queen of Versailles (Director: Lauren Greenfield)

Jackie and David were triumphantly constructing the biggest house in America – a sprawling, 90,000-square-foot palace inspired by Versailles – when their timeshare empire is impacted by the economic crisis. Their story reveals the innate virtues and flaws of the American Dream.
Winner of the Directing Award: U.S. Documentary at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.

Shut Up and Play the Hits (Directors: Dylan Southern, Will Lovelace)

A film that follows LCD Soundsystem front man James Murphy over a crucial 48-hour period, from the day of their final gig at Madison Square Garden to the morning after, the official end of one of the best live bands in the world.

Under African Skies (Director: Joe Berlinger)

Paul Simon returns to South Africa to explore the incredible journey of his historic Graceland album, including the political backlash he sparked for allegedly breaking the UN cultural boycott of South Africa, designed to end Apartheid.

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