Fox, Porter and Williams docs heading to Sundance

Josh Fox (pictured, left), Dawn Porter (center) and Roger Ross Williams (right) are among the filmmakers with documentaries enjoying world premieres at the Sundance Film Festival in January.
December 2, 2015

Documentaries from filmmakers Josh Fox, Dawn Porter, Roger Ross Williams and Kevin Macdonald will bow at the Sundance Film Festival in January.

On Wednesday (December 2), organizers announced the 65 films that will screen across the U.S. Competition, World Competition and out-of-competition Next categories, including the 16 docs playing in the U.S. Documentary Competition and the 12 docs screening in the World Cinema Documentary Competition.

Fox, whose 2010 doc Gasland won a Special Jury Prize at Sundance, returns to the festival with the U.S. Documentary Competition title How to Let Go of the World (and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change), for which he traveled to 12 countries to explore the effects of climate change.

Porter, who was at Sundance two years ago with Gideon’s Army, will be back in Park City, Utah. Her film Trapped, playing in the U.S. Documentary Competition, looks at the ways U.S. lawmakers are targeting abortion clinics.

God Loves Uganda filmmaker Roger Ross Williams is returning to the U.S. Documentary Competition with Life, Animated, a film about an autistic boy who emerges from isolation by immersing himself in animated Disney films.

Meanwhile, The Last King of Scotland and One Day In September helmer Macdonald will premiere Sky Ladder: The Art of Cai Guo-Qiang, about the titular Chinese art star, in the World Cinema Documentary Competition.

Other notable directors with docs screening in the U.S. Documentary Competition include Penny Lane (Our Nixon) who profiles an eccentric 1920s-era American celebrity in NUTS!; Robert Greene (Actress), who profiles an actor preparing to play the role of a Florida TV host who committed suicide on the air in Kate Plays Christine; and Clay Tweel (Print The Legend), who profiles former NFL player Steve Gleason in Gleason.

There is also a mystery in the U.S. Documentary Competition line-up: Holy Hell. The archival film is about a young filmmaker who joins “a loving, secretive, and spiritual community led by a charismatic teacher in 1980s West Hollywood” that is torn apart 20 years later. The director is listed as “undisclosed.”

The Devil and Daniel Johnston director Jeff Feuerzeig promises the “definitive look” at the literary hoax that was JT LeRoy in Author: The JT LeRoy Story; while Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg go behind-the-scenes of Anthony Weiner’s failed campaign to become New York City’s mayor in Weiner.

Director Brian Oakes examines the life of James Foley, the journalist beheaded in an ISIS propaganda video, in Jim; and Kim A. Snyder looks at the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut in Newtown.

Noteworthy docs playing in the World Cinema Documentary Competition include Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami’s recent IDFA audience award winner Sonita, which will have its North American premiere at Sundance; and The Lovers and the Despot, Robert Cannan and Ross Adam’s film about a couple who were kidnapped by film-obsessed North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il and forced to make movies.

The 2016 Sundance Film Festival takes place from January 21 to 31 in Park City, Salt Lake City, Ogden and Sundance, Utah. The full list of U.S. Documentary and World Cinema Documentary Competition titles – with descriptions provided by the festival – follows:

U.S. Documentary Competition

Audrie & Daisy / U.S. (Directors: Bonni Cohen, Jon Shenk) World Premiere
After two high school girls in different towns are sexually assaulted by boys they consider friends, online bullying leads each girl to attempt suicide. Tragically, one dies. Assault in the social media age is explored from the perspectives of the girls and boys involved, as well as their torn-apart communities. 

Author: The JT LeRoy Story / U.S. (Director: Jeff Feuerzeig) World Premiere
As the definitive look inside the mysterious case of 16-year-old literary sensation JT LeRoy—a creature so perfect for his time that if he didn’t exist, someone would have had to invent him—this is the strangest story about story ever told.

The Bad Kids / U.S. (Directors: Keith Fulton, Lou Pepe) World Premiere
At a remote Mojave Desert high school, extraordinary educators believe that empathy and life skills, more than academics, give at-risk students command of their own futures. This coming-of-age story watches education combat the crippling effects of poverty in the lives of these so-called “bad kids.”

Gleason / U.S. (Director: Clay Tweel) World Premiere
At the age of 34, Steve Gleason, former NFL defensive back and New Orleans hero, was diagnosed with ALS. Doctors gave him two to five years to live. So that is what Steve chose to do: Live—both for his wife and newborn son and to help others with this disease.

Holy Hell / U.S. (Director: undisclosed) World Premiere
Just out of college, a young filmmaker joins a loving, secretive, and spiritual community led by a charismatic teacher in 1980s West Hollywood. Twenty years later, the group is shockingly torn apart. Told through two decades of the filmmaker’s archival materials, this is their story.

How to Let Go of the World (and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change) / U.S. (Director: Josh Fox) World Premiere
Do we have a chance to stop the most destructive consequences of climate change, or is it too late? Academy Award-nominated director Josh Fox (Gasland) travels to 12 countries on six continents to explore what we have to let go of—and all of the things that climate can’t change.

Jim / U.S. (Director: Brian Oakes) World Premiere
The public execution of American conflict journalist James Foley captured the world’s attention, but he was more than just a man in an orange jumpsuit. Seen through the lens of his close childhood friend, Jim moves from adrenaline-fueled front lines and devastated neighborhoods of Syria into the hands of ISIS.

Kate Plays Christine / U.S. (Director: Robert Greene) World Premiere
This psychological thriller follows actor Kate Lyn Sheil as she prepares to play the role of Christine Chubbuck, a Florida television host who committed suicide on air in 1974. Christine’s tragic death was the inspiration for Network, and the mysteries surrounding her final act haunt Kate and the production.

Kiki / U.S., Sweden (Director: Sara Jordenö) World Premiere
Through a strikingly intimate and visually daring lens, Kiki offers a riveting, complex insight into a safe space created and governed by LGBTQ youths of color, who are demanding happiness and political power. The film is an exciting coming-of-age story about agency, resilience, and the transformative art form of voguing.

Life, Animated / U.S.A. (Director: Roger Ross Williams) World Premiere
Owen Suskind, an autistic boy who could not speak for years, slowly emerged from his isolation by immersing himself in Disney animated movies. Using these films as a roadmap, he reconnects with his loving family and the wider world in this emotional coming-of-age story.

Newtown / U.S. (Director: Kim A. Snyder) World Premiere
After joining the ranks of a growing club no one wants to belong to, the people of Newtown, Connecticut, weave an intimate story of resilience. This film traces the aftermath of the worst mass shooting of schoolchildren in American history as the traumatized community finds a new sense of purpose.

NUTS! / U.S. (Director: Penny Lane) World Premiere
The mostly true story of Dr. John Romulus Brinkley, an eccentric genius who built an empire with his goat-testicle impotence cure and a million-watt radio station. Animated reenactments, interviews, archival footage, and one seriously unreliable narrator trace his rise from poverty to celebrity and influence in 1920s America.

Suited / U.S. (Director: Jason Benjamin) World Premiere
Bindle & Keep, a Brooklyn tailoring company, makes custom suits for a growing legion of gender-nonconforming clients.

Trapped / U.S. (Director: Dawn Porter) World Premiere
American abortion clinics are in a fight for survival. Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws are increasingly being passed by states that maintain they ensure women’s safety and health, but as clinics continue to shut their doors, opponents believe the real purpose of these laws is to outlaw abortion.

Uncle Howard / U.S., United Kingdom (Director: Aaron Brookner) World Premiere
Howard Brookner’s first film, Burroughs: The Movie, captured the cultural revolution of downtown New York City in the early ’80s. Twenty-five years after his promising career was cut short by AIDS, his nephew sets out to discover Howard’s never-before-seen films to create a cinematic elegy about his childhood idol.

Weiner / U.S. (Directors: Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg) World Premiere
With unrestricted access to Anthony Weiner’s New York City mayoral campaign, this film reveals the human story behind the scenes of a high-profile political scandal as it unfolds, and offers an unfiltered look at how much today’s politics is driven by an appetite for spectacle.

World Cinema Documentary Competition

All These Sleepless Nights / Poland (Director: Michal Marczak) World Premiere
What does it mean to be truly awake in a world that seems satisfied to be asleep? Kris and Michal push their experiences of life and love to a breaking point as they restlessly roam the streets of Warsaw in search for answers.

A Flag Without a Country / Iraq (Director: Bahman Ghobadi) North American Premiere
This documentary follows the very separate paths of singer Helly Luv and pilot Nariman Anwar from Kurdistan, both in pursuit of progress, freedom, and solidarity. Both individuals are a source of strength to their society, which perpetually deals with the harsh conditions of life, war, and ISIS attacks.

Hooligan Sparrow / China, U.S. (Director: Nanfu Wang) World Premiere
Traversing southern China, a group of activists led by Ye Haiyan, a.k.a. Hooligan Sparrow, protest a scandalous incident in which a school principal and a government official allegedly raped six students. Sparrow becomes an enemy of the state, but detentions, interrogations and evictions can’t stop her protest from going viral.

The Land of the Enlightened / Belgium (Director: Pieter-Jan De Pue) World Premiere
A group of Kuchi children in Afghanistan dig out old Soviet mines and sell the explosives to child workers in a lapis lazuli mine. When not dreaming of an Afghanistan after the American withdrawal, Gholam Nasir and his gang control the mountains where caravans are smuggling the blue gemstones.

The Lovers and the Despot / United Kingdom (Directors: Robert Cannan, Ross Adam) World Premiere
Following the collapse of their glamorous romance, a celebrity director and his actress ex-wife are kidnapped by movie-obsessed dictator Kim Jong-il. Forced to make films in extraordinary circumstances, they get a second chance at love—but only one chance at escape.

Plaza de la Soledad / Mexico (Director: Maya Goded) World Premiere
For over 20 years, photographer Maya Goded has intimately documented the lives of a close community of prostitutes in Mexico City. With dignity and humor, these women now strive for a better life — and the possibility of true love.

The Settlers / France, Canada, Israel, Germany (Director: Shimon Dotan) World Premiere
The first film of its kind to offer a comprehensive view of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank, The Settlers is a historical overview, geopolitical study, and intimate look at the people at the core of the most daunting challenge facing Israel and the international community today.

Sky Ladder: The Art of Cai Guo-Qiang / U.S. (Director: Kevin Macdonald) World Premiere/Day One Film
Having reached the pinnacle of the global art world with his signature explosion events and gunpowder drawings, world-famous Chinese contemporary artist Cai Guo-Qiang is still seeking more. We trace his rise from childhood in Mao’s China and his journey to attempt to realize his lifelong obsession, Sky Ladder.

Sonita / Germany, Iran, Switzerland (Director: Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami) North American Premiere
If 18-year-old Sonita had a say, Michael Jackson and Rihanna would be her parents and she’d be a rapper who tells the story of Afghan women and their fate as child brides. She finds out that her family plans to sell her to an unknown husband for $9,000.

We Are X / United Kingdom, U.S., Japan (Director: Stephen Kijak) World Premiere
As glam rock’s most flamboyant survivors, X Japan ignited a musical revolution in Japan during the late ’80s with their melodic metal. Twenty years after their tragic dissolution, X Japan’s leader, Yoshiki, battles with physical and spiritual demons alongside prejudices of the West to bring their music to the world.

When Two Worlds Collide / Peru (Directors: Heidi Brandenburg, Mathew Orzel) World Premiere
An indigenous leader resists the environmental ruin of Amazonian lands by big business. As he is forced into exile and faces 20 years in prison, his quest reveals conflicting visions that shape the fate of the Amazon and the climate future of our world.

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.