This year’s Sundance Film Festival confirmed that organizers weren’t bluffing when they claimed to be raising the profile of docs at the annual Park City event (January 18 to 28). From HBO exec Sheila Nevins – self-proclaimed "siren queen of entertaining docs" – who was enticed to attend for the first time, to Diesel clothing, whose sponsorship aided the House of Docs, Sundance showed that factual’s allure may soon challenge that of fiction. "I feel inspired by the youth factor," said Nevins, in reference to the multitude of budding doc talents buzzing around. She added that hereafter Sundance will be a must-attend event for her (other HBO reps have attended in the past). Nevins’ presence reaffirmed HBO’s commitment to docs, offering hope to filmmakers pining after a TV deal.
HBO/Cinemax Reel Life invested in several competition docs, including Kate Davis’ Southern Comfort (the doc Grand Jury Prize winner), Albert Maysles, Susan Froemke and Deborah Dickson’s Lalee’s Kin (Maysles won the doc Cinematography Award), and Edet Belzberg’s Children Underground (Special Jury Prizewinner).
Panel discussions and roundtables ranged from financing to the international market, often attracting standing-room-only crowds. Panelists were generally candid, except when probed for numbers. Sundance also appeared to register on the radar of several international commissioning editors in search of doc content. Mette Hoffmann Meyer of TV2 Denmark attended for the first time, and though she doesn’t expect the festival to become an annual pilgrimage, she found it helpful for networking with U.S. filmmakers and picking up U.S. feature docs.