Sundance has unveiled the U.S. and world cinema documentaries set to play in competition at next month’s Utah festival, with E-TEAM and Ivory Tower among the features making the cut.
Ivory Tower, from director Andrew Rossi, looks at the issue of student debt, questioning whether an Ivy League education is really worth it; while E-TEAM, from Katy Chevigny and Ross Kauffman, looks at the work undertaken by four intrepid human rights workers.
The latter film was pitched at the IDFA Forum in Amsterdam last year. Meanwhile, 2012 Hot Docs Forum project Caught in the Net is also among the selections, premiering in the world cinema competition under the new title of Web Junkie.
As with the 2013 festival, Sundance will kick off the 2014 event next month with two ‘Day One’ docs – a U.S. competition title and a world cinema competition title. The U.S. selection will be Todd Miller’s Dinosaur 13, which promises to tell “the true tale behind one of the greatest discoveries in history.”
The world cinema competition opener, meanwhile, will be Nadav Schirman’s The Green Prince, which is billed as being a real-life thriller that “tells the story of one of Israel’s prized intelligence sources, recruited to spy on his own people for more than a decade.”
Among the titles playing in the world competition are IDFA titles Return to Homs, Happiness and SEPIDEH – Reaching for the Stars. All three premiered in Amsterdam earlier this month, and will have their North American premieres at Park City in Utah.
Among the other eye-catching titles appearing on the line up is The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz, from director Brian Knappenberger. The film promises to explore the life of the titular Swartz, a web pioneer who took his own life at the age of 26.
In total for the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, 118 feature-length films have been selected, representing 37 countries and 54 first-time filmmakers, including 34 in competition. The films were selected from 12,218 submissions, according to the festival, including 4,057 feature-length films and 8,161 short films.
In a statement, Sundance Institute president and founder Robert Redford said: “That the festival has evolved and grown as it has over the past 30 years is a credit to both our audiences and our artists, who continue to find ways to take risks and open our minds to the power of story. This year’s films and artists promise to do the same.”
John Cooper, director of the Sundance Film Festival, added: “The films selected for our 2014 festival show that filmmakers are empowered and emboldened by the 30-year legacy of the independent film movement. The confidence to play with the medium and to surprise audiences indicates the vital role independent film has come to serve in the cultural landscape.”
The full U.S. and world documentary competition line-ups follow below, with edited synopses provided by the festival:
U.S. DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION
Sixteen world-premiere American documentaries that illuminate the ideas, people, and events that shape the present day.
Alive Inside: A Story of Music & Memory / U.S. (Director: Michael Rossato-Bennett)
Five million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia – many of them alone in nursing homes. A man with a simple idea discovers that songs embedded deep in memory can ease pain and awaken these fading minds. Joy and life are resuscitated, and our cultural fears over aging are confronted.
All the Beautiful Things / U.S. (Director: John Harkrider)
John and Barron are lifelong friends whose friendship is tested when Barron’s girlfriend says Barron put a knife to her throat and raped her. Not knowing she has lied, John tells her to go to the police. Years later, John and Barron meet in a bar to resolve the betrayal.
Captivated – The Trials of Pamela Smart / U.S., United Kingdom (Director: Jeremiah Zagar)
In an extraordinary and tragic American story, a small town murder becomes one of the highest profile cases of all time. From its historic role as the first televised trial to the many books and movies made about it, the film looks at the media’s enduring impact on the case.
The Case Against 8 / U.S. (Directors: Ben Cotner, Ryan White)
A behind-the-scenes look inside the case to overturn California’s ban on same-sex marriage. Shot over five years, the film follows the unlikely team that took the first federal marriage equality lawsuit to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Cesar’s Last Fast / U.S. (Directors: Richard Ray Perez, Lorena Parlee)
Inspired by Catholic social teaching, Cesar Chavez risked his life fighting for America’s poorest workers. The film illuminates the intensity of one man’s devotion and personal sacrifice, the birth of an economic justice movement, and tells an untold chapter in the story of civil rights in America.
Dinosaur 13 / U.S. (Director: Todd Miller)
The true tale behind one of the greatest discoveries in history. (Day One film)
E-TEAM / U.S. (Directors: Katy Chevigny, Ross Kauffman)
E-TEAM is driven by the high-stakes investigative work of four intrepid human rights workers, offering a rare look at their lives at home and their dramatic work in the field.
Fed Up / U.S. (Director: Stephanie Soechtig)
Fed Up blows the lid off everything we thought we knew about food and weight loss, revealing a 30-year campaign by the food industry, aided by the U.S. government, to mislead and confuse the American public, resulting in one of the largest health epidemics in history.
The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz / U.S. (Director: Brian Knappenberger)
Programming prodigy and information activist Aaron Swartz achieved groundbreaking work in social justice and political organizing. His passion for open access ensnared him in a legal nightmare that ended with the taking of his own life at the age of 26.
Ivory Tower / U.S. (Director: Andrew Rossi)
As tuition spirals upward and student debt passes a trillion dollars, students and parents ask: “Is college worth it?” From the halls of Harvard to public and private colleges in financial crisis to education startups in Silicon Valley, an urgent portrait emerges of a great American institution at the breaking point.
Marmato / U.S. (Director: Mark Grieco)
Colombia is the center of a new global gold rush, and Marmato, a historic mining town, is the new frontier. Filmed over the course of nearly six years, Marmato chronicles how townspeople confront a Canadian mining company that wants the $20 billion in gold beneath their homes.
No No: A Dockumentary / U.S. (Director: Jeffrey Radice)
Dock Ellis pitched a no-hitter on LSD, then worked for decades counseling drug abusers. Dock’s soulful style defined 1970s baseball as he kept hitters honest and embarrassed the establishment. An ensemble cast of teammates, friends, and family investigate his life on the field, in the media, and out of the spotlight.
The Overnighters / U.S. (Director: Jesse Moss)
Desperate, broken men chase their dreams and run from their demons in the North Dakota oil fields. A local Pastor’s decision to help them has extraordinary and unexpected consequences.
Private Violence / U.S. (Director: Cynthia Hill)
One in four women experience violence in their homes. Have you ever asked: “Why doesn’t she just leave?” Private Violence shatters the brutality of our logic and intimately reveals the stories of two women: Deanna Walters, who transforms from victim to survivor, and Kit Gruelle, who advocates for justice.
Rich Hill / U.S. (Directors: Andrew Droz Palermo, Tracy Droz Tragos)
In a rural, American town, kids face heartbreaking choices, find comfort in the most fragile of family bonds, and dream of a future of possibility.
Watchers of the Sky / U.S. (Director: Edet Belzberg)
Five interwoven stories of remarkable courage from Nuremberg to Rwanda, from Darfur to Syria, and from apathy to action.
WORLD CINEMA DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION
Twelve documentaries by some of the most courageous and extraordinary international filmmakers working today.
20,000 Days on Earth / UK (Directors: Iain Forsyth, Jane Pollard)
Drama and reality combine in a fictitious 24 hours in the life of musician and international culture icon Nick Cave. With startlingly frank insights and an intimate portrayal of the artistic process, this film examines what makes us who we are and celebrates the transformative power of the creative spirit. World Premiere
Concerning Violence / Sweden, U.S., Denmark, Finland (Director: Göran Hugo Olsson)
Concerning Violence is based on newly discovered, powerful archival material documenting the most daring moments in the struggle for liberation in the Third World, accompanied by classic text from The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon. World Premiere
The Green Prince / Germany, Israel, UK (Director: Nadav Schirman)
This real-life thriller tells the story of one of Israel’s prized intelligence sources, recruited to spy on his own people for more than a decade. Focusing on the complex relationship with his handler, The Green Prince is a gripping account of terror, betrayal, and unthinkable choices, along with a friendship that defies all boundaries. World Premiere. (Day One film)
Happiness / France, Finland (Director: Thomas Balmès)
Peyangki is a dreamy and solitary eight-year-old monk living in Laya, a Bhutanese village perched high in the Himalayas. Soon the world will come to him: the village is about to be connected to electricity, and the first television will flicker on before Peyangki’s eyes. North American Premiere
Love Child / South Korea, U.S. (Director: Valerie Veatch)
In Seoul in the Republic of Korea, a young couple stands accused of neglect when “Internet addiction” in an online fantasy game costs the life of their infant daughter. Love Child documents the 2010 trial and subsequent ruling that set a global precedent in a world where virtual is the new reality. World Premiere
Mr leos caraX / France (Director: Tessa Louise-Salomé)
Mr leos caraX plunges us into the poetic and visionary world of a mysterious, solitary filmmaker who was already a cult figure from his very first film. Punctuated by interviews and previously unseen footage, this documentary is most of all a fine-tuned exploration of the poetic and visionary world of Leos Carax, alias Mr. X. World Premiere
My Prairie Home / Canada (Director: Chelsea McMullan)
A poetic journey through landscapes both real and emotional, Chelsea McMullan’s documentary/musical offers an intimate portrait of transgender singer Rae Spoon, framed by stunning images of the Canadian prairies. McMullan’s imaginative visual interpretations of Spoon’s songs make this an unforgettable look at a unique Canadian artist. International Premiere
The Notorious Mr. Bout / U.S., Russia (Directors: Tony Gerber, Maxim Pozdorovkin )
Viktor Bout was a war profiteer, an entrepreneur, an aviation tycoon, an arms dealer, and – strangest of all – a documentary filmmaker. The Notorious Mr. Bout is the ultimate rags-to-riches-to-prison memoir, documented by the last man you’d expect to be holding the camera. World Premiere
Return to Homs / Syria, Germany (Director: Talal Derki)
Basset Sarout, the 19-year-old national football team goalkeeper, becomes a demonstration leader and singer, and then a fighter. Ossama, a 24-year-old renowned citizen cameraman, is critical, a pacifist, and ironic until he is detained by the regime’s security forces. North American Premiere
SEPIDEH – Reaching for the Stars / Denmark (Director: Berit Madsen)
Sepideh wants to become an astronaut. As a young Iranian woman, she knows it’s dangerous to challenge traditions and expectations. Still, Sepideh holds on to her dream. She knows a tough battle is ahead, a battle that only seems possible to win once she seeks help from an unexpected someone. North American Premiere
We Come as Friends / France, Austria (Director: Hubert Sauper)
We Come as Friends views colonization as a human phenomenon through both explicit and metaphoric lenses without oversimplified accusations or political theorizing. Alarmingly, it is not a historical film since colonization and the slave trade still exist. World Premiere
Web Junkie / Israel (Directors: Shosh Shlam, Hilla Medalia)
China is the first country to label “Internet addiction” a clinical disorder. Web Junkie investigates a Beijing rehab center where Chinese teenagers are deprogrammed. World Premiere
- The Sundance Film Festival takes place in Park City, Utah, from January 16-26, 2014.