Sundance ’17: Hussain Currimbhoy talks docs

Sundance Film Festival’s documentary programmer Hussain Currimbhoy chatted with realscreen prior to the festival’s Jan. 19 opening. While there are no clear themes in this year’s line up of 47 full-length ...
January 18, 2017

Sundance Film Festival’s documentary programmer Hussain Currimbhoy chatted with realscreen prior to the festival’s Jan. 19 opening. While there are no clear themes in this year’s line up of 47 full-length features, he gives his picks for some of the sure-to-be-talked-about films set to bow in Park City, Utah over the festival’s 10-day run.

U.S. Documentary Competition

First up, Currimbhoy says Strong Island from director Yance Ford (pictured, upper left) is “really special.” The film traces the murder of Ford’s brother and its surrounding circumstances. The film reveals details about the director’s family, while also touching on the issues of racism in the American legal system.

“The style is phenomenal. The photography is so constrained. Yance is choosing very carefully what pieces to offer the audience. The style is so different and intricate and delicate, but so emotionally powerful that I think it will get a lot of attention,” Currimbhoy says.

He also highlights City of Ghosts, a story, from Oscar-nominated Matthew Heineman, about citizen journalists in Syria trying to bring to light the atrocities committed by the terrorist group ISIS.

“These are people who won’t give up this fight, despite superpowers crushing any attempt to make change in this situation. It makes us realize we can’t shut our eyes to what is happening in Syria,” he says.

There are two films on freedom of speech that Currimbhoy believes will get people talking:

  • Nobody Speak: Hulk Hogan, Gawker and Trials of Free Speech by returning filmmaker Brian Knappenberger, investigates Hulk Hogan’s case against the now-defunct media website Gawker. “I think it will get a lot of attention and show how corporatism is starting to change our perception of reality. It’s terrifying but a well-made film,” he says.
  • Of The New Radical, by Adam Bhala Lough, Currimbhoy says the film is “contentious” and “complex” as it looks at the role the internet plays in pushing the lines of human freedom and expression.

hussain_currimbhoy_headshotFinally, Currimbhoy (pictured, left) points to Peter Nicks, The Force, which examines the complex relationship between the police and citizens. The film center’s on Oakland’s Police Department and its new Chief Sean Whent. Currimbhoy says the film raises questions of how police engage with communities and the expectations of the members of these communities on the forces, adding, “It blew my mind. It raises a lot of questions of civic responsibility and violence, not just in Oakland, but in the U.S. and the world.”

World Documentaries

For the World Doc category, Currimbhoy calls Kyoko Miyake’s Tokyo Idols “a unique expression of documentary.” The film centers on the manufactured pop girl bands in Japan and their dedicated male audiences. He says it has layers of sexuality, internet culture and female empowerment.

Rahul Jain’s Machines, meanwhile, takes viewers into a textile factory in India. Currimbhoy says the film has some of the best tracking shots he’s ever seen: “[Jain] finds human characters to challenge the idea of globalization, capitalism, but to also criticize himself, and the filmmakers’ responsibility in the act of making film.”

Finally, the Worker’s Cup by Adam Sobel (pictured, right), explores the lives of the workers in countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia who build the super-sized arenas in preparation for the World Cup. Through their weekly soccer games, Sobel explores their backstories and lives.

“I hope (the film) gets a lot of people looking at the upcoming World Cup series in a more human light,” says Currimbhoy.

The New Climate program

Sundance ’17 is also premiering the environmentally focused initiative, The New Climate, showcasing 14 documentaries, short films and virtual reality experiences across the festival’s categories.

“In the past, they were about ‘climate change, this is what is coming. Beware.’ Now, it’s that climate has changed, past tense. The films are showing the effects, and we are seeing the evidence on screen,” says Currimbhoy.

One high-profile film bowing at the festival is An Inconvenient Sequel, the follow-up to Al Gore’s 2006, An Inconvenient Truth. Directors Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk examine the spiraling climate crisis and what possible solutions there are to address what many see as a global crisis.

“The places it goes to is scary and inspiring,” Currimbhoy says of the film.

Chasing Coral by Jeff Orlowski brings more focus to the topic, tackling the destruction of the Australia’s coral reefs.

“The destruction due to human-induced climate change is just a tragedy. This is an irreplaceable structure that has an ecosystem many times larger than itself. We are letting it go because of politics, apathy, corporatism, whatever,” Currimbhoy says.

All the films in The New Climate are emotionally engaging, he adds, noting, “and if you feel something you are more inclined to act on it and to care about it rather than just reading about it.”

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