Steve James’s anticipated doc on the late American film critic Roger Ebert (pictured) and a film from Alex Gibney on noted Nigerian musician Fela Kuti are among the latest doc premieres slated for the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.
James’s documentary, Life Itself, looks at the life of the Pultizer Prize-winning film critic, who passed away in April this year. It is exec produced by Martin Scorsese and already has distribution in place, having been acquired by CNN Films at Sundance in January this year.
In addition, the filmmakers announced today (December 9) that they will make the doc viewable via a private stream simultaneous with the Sundance world premiere screening, exclusively to backers of the film’s Indiegogo campaign.
Gibney’s Finding Fela, meanwhile, looks at the life and politics of the Afrobeat star. Its world premiere comes after Gibney’s doc We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
Among the other notable titles playing in the Documentary Premieres section is Greg Whiteley’s Mitt, which follows the failed U.S. presidential campaign of Republican Mitt Romney.
Digital platform Netflix has already acquired the rights to the film for its Original Documentary slate, and will launch it in all territories where Netflix is available (The U.S., Canada, the UK, Ireland, Latin America, the Nordics and the Netherlands) on January 24, a week after the film premieres in Park City, Utah.
Elsewhere, Joe Berlinger’s Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger promises to look at the notorious gangster James ‘Whitey’ Bulger’s relationship with the FBI and the Department of Justice; while Rory Kennedy’s Last Days in Vietnam examines the chaotic final days of the Vietnam war.
The unveiling of the out-of-competition docs comes after Sundance last week revealed the U.S. and world cinema docs playing in-competition.
The full documentary premieres line-up, with synopses provided by the Sundance Film Festival, follows below:
Renowned filmmakers and films about far-reaching subjects comprise this section highlighting our ongoing commitment to documentaries. Each film is a world premiere.
The Battered Bastards of Baseball / U.S. (Directors: Chapman Way, Maclain Way) – Hollywood veteran Bing Russell creates the only independent baseball team in the country – alarming the baseball establishment and sparking the meteoric rise of the 1970s Portland Mavericks.
Finding Fela / U.S. (Director: Alex Gibney) – Fela Anikulapo Kuti created the musical movement Afrobeat and used it as a political forum to oppose the Nigerian dictatorship and advocate for the rights of oppressed people. This is the story of his life, music, and political importance.
Freedom Summer / U.S. (Director: Stanley Nelson) – In the summer of 1964, more than 700 students descended on violent, segregated Mississippi. Defying authorities, they registered voters, created freedom schools, and established the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. Fifty years later, eyewitness accounts and never-before-seen archival material tell their story. Not all of them would make it through.
Happy Valley / U.S. (Director: Amir Bar-Lev) – The children of “Happy Valley” were victimized for years, by a key member of the legendary Penn State college football program. But were Jerry Sandusky’s crimes an open secret? With rare access, director Amir Bar-Lev delves beneath the headlines to tell a modern American parable of guilt, redemption and identity.
Last Days in Vietnam / U.S. (Director: Rory Kennedy) – During the chaotic final weeks of the Vietnam War, the North Vietnamese Army closes in on Saigon as the panicked South Vietnamese people desperately attempt to escape. On the ground, American soldiers and diplomats confront a moral quandary: whether to obey White House orders to evacuate only U.S. citizens.
Life Itself / U.S. (Director: Steve James) – Life Itself recounts the surprising and entertaining life of renowned film critic and social commentator Roger Ebert. The film details his early days as a free-wheeling bachelor and Pulitzer Prize-winner, his famously contentious partnership with Gene Siskel, his life-altering marriage, and his brave and transcendent battle with cancer.
Mitt / U.S. (Director: Greg Whiteley) – A filmmaker is granted unprecedented access to a political candidate and his family as he runs for President.
This May Be the Last Time / U.S. (Director: Sterlin Harjo) – Filmmaker Sterlin Harjo’s Grandfather disappeared mysteriously in 1962. The community searching for him sang songs of encouragement that were passed down for generations. Harjo explores the origins of these songs as well as the violent history of his people.
To Be Takei / U.S. (Director: Jennifer Kroot) – Over seven decades, actor and activist George Takei journeyed from a World War Two internment camp to the helm of the Starship Enterprise, and then to the daily news feeds of five million Facebook fans. Join George and his husband, Brad, on a wacky and profound trek for life, liberty and love.
We Are the Giant / U.S., United Kingdom (Director: Greg Barker) – We Are the Giant tells the stories of ordinary individuals who are transformed by the moral and personal challenges they encounter when standing up for what they believe is right. Powerful and tragic, yet inspirational, their struggles for freedom echo across history and offer hope against seemingly impossible odds.
Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger / U.S. (Director: Joe Berlinger) – Infamous gangster James “Whitey” Bulger’s relationship with the FBI and the Department of Justice allowed him to reign over a criminal empire in Boston for decades. Joe Berlinger’s documentary chronicles Bulger’s recent sensational trial, using it as a springboard to explore allegations of corruption within the highest levels of law enforcement.