Documentaries by directors Kitty Green, Matthew Heineman and Brian Knappenberger will world premiere at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
Organizers have announced the 66 titles that will screen across the Park City, Utah-based event’s U.S. Competition, World Competition and NEXT programs, plus a new program devoted to environmentally focused films called New Climate.
Femen helmer Green’s Casting JonBenet (pictured) is among the 16 world premiere docs set to bow in Sundance’s U.S. Documentary Competition. The film is an artful exploration of the 20-year-old child beauty queen murder case that has sparked a wave of unscripted programming this past year.
Meanwhile, Cartel Land director Heineman’s City of Ghosts focuses on “Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently,” a group of anonymous citizen journalists who team up after the Islamic State (ISIS) invades their homeland.
Peter Nicks takes a cinema verité look at the troubled Oakland Police Department in The Force; Bryan Fogel looks at doping in pro sports in ICARUS; and Brian Knappenberger examines the legal battle between wrestler Hulk Hogan and Gawker Media in Nobody Speak: Hulk Hogan, Gawker and Trials of a Free Press.
Marina Zenovich plunges into California’s water system in Water & Power: A California Heist – among the films also playing in the New Climate program – while the program’s day one film is Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis’ Whose Streets?, about the uprising in Ferguson, Missouri following police shooting of black teenager Michael Brown.
The 12 documentaries screening in the World Documentary Competition include seven world premieres.
Among them are Joe Piscatell’s Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower, about the teen who rallied thousands of kids in Hong Kong to protest China’s Communist Party; Feras Fayyad and Steen Johannessen’s Last Man in Aleppo, about the founding members of the White Helmets movement; Ramona Diaz’s Motherland, about a Filipino hospital home to the busiest maternity ward on the planet; and Winnie, Pascale Lamche’s profile of Winnie Mandela.
While many of this year’s films touch on the war in Syria, Black Lives Matter and cyber attacks, Sundance is placing extra emphasis on climate change with films such as Jeff Orlowski‘s Chasing Coral, Shaul Schwarz and Christina Clusiau’s Trophy and Jiu-liang Wang’s Plastic China, which will also screen as part of the New Climate program.
“My own engagement on climate change began more than 40 years ago, and the urgency I felt then has only grown stronger given its very real and increasingly severe consequences,” festival founder Robert Redford said in a statement. “If we’re going to avoid the worst-case scenario, then we must act boldly and immediately, even in the face of indifference, apathy and opposition.”
In all, 113 features representing 32 countries were selected for this year’s festival from a pool of 13,782 submissions (including 4,068 feature-length films and 8,985 shorts). Of those films, 98 are world premieres.
The 2017 Sundance Film Festival takes place in Park City, Salt Lake City and at Sundance Mountain Resort from Jan. 19-29.
The full list of 2017 documentary competition films follows, with descriptions provided by the festival.
U.S. Documentary Competition
Casting JonBenet / U.S., Australia (Director: Kitty Green) — The unsolved death of six-year-old American beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey remains the world’s most sensational child murder case. Over 15 months, responses, reflections and performances were elicited from the Ramsey’s Colorado hometown community, creating a bold work of art from the collective memories and mythologies the crime inspired. World Premiere
Chasing Coral / U.S. (Director: Jeff Orlowski) — Coral reefs around the world are vanishing at an unprecedented rate. A team of divers, photographers and scientists set out on a thrilling ocean adventure to discover why and to reveal the underwater mystery to the world. World Premiere. NEW CLIMATE
City of Ghosts / U.S. (Director: Matthew Heineman) — With unprecedented access, this documentary follows the extraordinary journey of “Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently”—a group of anonymous citizen journalists who banded together after their homeland was overtaken by ISIS—as they risk their lives to stand up against one of the greatest evils in the world today. World Premiere
Dina / U.S. (Directors: Dan Sickles, Antonio Santini) — An eccentric suburban woman and a Walmart door-greeter navigate their evolving relationship in this unconventional love story. World Premiere
Dolores / U.S. (Director: Peter Bratt) — Dolores Huerta bucks 1950s gender conventions by co-founding the country’s first farmworkers’ union. Wrestling with raising 11 children, gender bias, union defeat and victory, and nearly dying after a San Francisco Police beating, Dolores emerges with a vision that connects her newfound feminism with racial and class justice. World Premiere
The Force / U.S. (Director: Pete Nicks) — This cinema verité look at the long-troubled Oakland Police Department goes deep inside their struggles to confront federal demands for reform, a popular uprising following events in Ferguson and an explosive scandal. World Premiere
ICARUS / U.S. (Director: Bryan Fogel) — When Bryan Fogel sets out to uncover the truth about doping in sports, a chance meeting with a Russian scientist transforms his story from a personal experiment into a geopolitical thriller involving dirty urine, unexplained death and Olympic Gold—exposing the biggest scandal in sports history. World Premiere
The New Radical / U.S. (Director: Adam Bhala Lough) — Uncompromising millennial radicals from the United States and the United Kingdom attack the system through dangerous technological means, which evolves into a high-stakes game with world authorities in the midst of a dramatically changing political landscape. World Premiere
NOBODY SPEAK: Hulk Hogan, Gawker and Trials of a Free Press / U.S. (Director: Brian Knappenberger) — The trial between Hulk Hogan and Gawker Media pitted privacy rights against freedom of the press, and raised important questions about how big money can silence media. This film is an examination of the perils and duties of the free press in an age of inequality. World Premiere
Quest / U.S. (Director: Jonathan Olshefski) — For over a decade, this portrait of a North Philadelphia family and the creative sanctuary offered by their home music studio was filmed with vérité intimacy. The family’s 10-year journey is an illumination of race and class in America, and it’s a testament to love, healing and hope. World Premiere
STEP / U.S. (Director: Amanda Lipitz) — The senior year of a girls’ high school step team in inner-city Baltimore is documented, as they try to become the first in their families to attend college. The girls strive to make their dancing a success against the backdrop of social unrest in their troubled city. World Premiere
Strong Island / U.S., Denmark (Director: Yance Ford) — Examining the violent death of the filmmaker’s brother and the judicial system that allowed his killer to go free, this documentary interrogates murderous fear and racialized perception, and re-imagines the wreckage in catastrophe’s wake, challenging us to change. World Premiere
Trophy / U.S. (Director: Shaul Schwarz, Co-Director: Christina Clusiau) — This in-depth look into the powerhouse industries of big-game hunting, breeding and wildlife conservation in the U.S. and Africa unravels the complex consequences of treating animals as commodities. World Premiere. NEW CLIMATE
Unrest / U.S. (Director: Jennifer Brea) — When Harvard PhD student Jennifer Brea is struck down at 28 by a fever that leaves her bedridden, doctors tell her it’s “all in her head.” Determined to live, she sets out on a virtual journey to document her story—and four other families’ stories—fighting a disease medicine forgot. World Premiere
Water & Power: A California Heist / U.S. (Director: Marina Zenovich) — In California’s convoluted water system, notorious water barons find ways to structure a state-engineered system to their own advantage. This examination into their centers of power shows small farmers and everyday citizens facing drought and a new, debilitating groundwater crisis. World Premiere. NEW CLIMATE
Whose Streets? / U.S. (Director: Sabaah Folayan, Co-Director: Damon Davis) — A nonfiction account of the Ferguson uprising told by the people who lived it, this is an unflinching look at how the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown inspired a community to fight back—and sparked a global movement. World Premiere. DAY ONE
World Cinema Documentary Competition
The Good Postman / Finland, Bulgaria (Director: Tonislav Hristov) — In a small Bulgarian village troubled by the ongoing refugee crisis, a local postman runs for mayor—and learns that even minor deeds can outweigh good intentions. North American Premiere
In Loco Parentis / Ireland, Spain (Directors: Neasa Ní Chianáin, David Rane) — John and Amanda teach Latin, English and guitar at a fantastical, stately home-turned-school. Nearly 50-year careers are drawing to a close for the pair who have become legends with the mantra: “Reading! ‘Rithmetic! Rock ‘n’ roll!” But for pupil and teacher alike, leaving is the hardest lesson. North American Premiere
It’s Not Yet Dark / Ireland (Director: Frankie Fenton) — This is the incredible story of Simon Fitzmaurice, a young filmmaker who becomes completely paralyzed from motor neurone disease but goes on to direct an award-winning feature film through the use of his eyes. International Premiere
Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower / U.S. (Director: Joe Piscatella) — When the Chinese Communist Party backtracks on its promise of autonomy to Hong Kong, teenager Joshua Wong decides to save his city. Rallying thousands of kids to skip school and occupy the streets, Joshua becomes an unlikely leader in Hong Kong and one of China’s most notorious dissidents. World Premiere
Last Men in Aleppo / Denmark (Directors: Feras Fayyad, Steen Johannessen) — After five years of war in Syria, Aleppo’s remaining residents prepare themselves for a siege. Khalid, Subhi and Mahmoud, founding members of The White Helmets, have remained in the city to help their fellow citizens—and experience daily life, death, struggle and triumph in a city under fire. World Premiere
Machines / India, Germany, Finland (Director: Rahul Jain) — This intimate, observant portrayal of the rhythm of life and work in a gigantic textile factory in Gujarat, India, moves through the corridors and bowels of the enormously disorienting structure—taking the viewer on a journey of dehumanizing physical labor and intense hardship. North American Premiere. NEW CLIMATE
Motherland / U.S., Philippines (Director: Ramona Diaz) — The planet’s busiest maternity hospital is located in one of its poorest and most populous countries: the Philippines. There, poor women face devastating consequences as their country struggles with reproductive health policy and the politics of conservative Catholic ideologies. World Premiere
Plastic China / China (Director: Jiu-liang Wang) — Yi-Jie, an 11-year-old girl, works alongside her parents in a recycling facility while dreaming of attending school. Kun, the facility’s ambitious foreman, dreams of a better life. Through the eyes and hands of those who handle its refuse, comes an examination of global consumption and culture. International Premiere. NEW CLIMATE
RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked The World / Canada (Director: Catherine Bainbridge) — This powerful documentary about the role of Native Americans in contemporary music history—featuring some of the greatest music stars of our time—exposes a critical missing chapter, revealing how indigenous musicians helped shape the soundtracks of our lives and, through their contributions, influenced popular culture. World Premiere
Tokyo Idols / United Kingdom, Canada (Director: Kyoko Miyake) — This exploration of Japan’s fascination with girl bands and their music follows an aspiring pop singer and her fans, delving into the cultural obsession with young female sexuality and the growing disconnect between men and women in hypermodern societies. World Premiere
WINNIE / France (Director: Pascale Lamche) — While her husband served a life sentence, paradoxically kept safe and morally uncontaminated, Winnie Mandela rode the raw violence of apartheid, fighting on the front line and underground. This is the untold story of the mysterious forces that combined to take her down, labeling him a saint, her, a sinner. World Premiere
The Workers Cup / United Kingdom (Director: Adam Sobel) — Inside Qatar’s labor camps, African and Asian migrant workers building the facilities of the 2022 World Cup compete in a football tournament of their own. World Premiere. DAY ONE