Sundance Announces Documentary Line-up

Smelting operations at NorNickel factory, Norilsk, Russia
Photo courtesy of Anthropocene Films Inc. © 2018


By Pat Mullen

Anthropocene headlines the Canadian front for Sundance 2019. The independent film festival unveiled its feature film line-up today and the visually stunning environmental doc by Jennifer Baichwal, Edward Burtynsky, and Nick de Pencier was tapped for an international premiere in Sundance’s Spotlight section. The film is the third in a trilogy that began with Manufactured Landscapes (2006) and Watermark (2013).

Two Canadian co-productions appeared in the World Cinema – Documentary competition. Midnight Traveler (U.S./Qatar/U.K./Canada) sees director Hassan Fazili document the plight of refugees firsthand when the Taliban puts a price on his head. The Advocate (Israel/Canada/Switzerland) by Rachel Leah Jones offers a portrait of Jewish-Israeli lawyer Lea Tsemel. Both films are world premieres.

The documentary slate at Sundance offers several big names including Our Nixon and Nuts! director Penny Lane, who returns to Park City with Hail Satan. Festival favourite Matt Tyrnauer dips back into the world of celebrity with Where’s My Roy Cohn? about the notorious lawyer, while Nick Broomfield (Whitney: Can I Be Me?) offers a new music doc with Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love about Leonard Cohen and his Norwegian muse Marianne Ihlen. TIFF hits The Biggest Little Farm and Maiden are also on the ticket.

The full Sundance documentary line-up is as follows:

U.S. DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION
The 16 films in this section are all world premieres.

Always in Season (Director: Jacqueline Olive) — When 17-year-old Lennon Lacy is found hanging from a swing set in rural North Carolina in 2014, his mother’s search for justice and reconciliation begins as the trauma of more than a century of lynching African Americans bleeds into the present.

American Factory (Directors: Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert, Producers: Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert, Jeff Reichert, Julie Parker Benello) — In post-industrial Ohio, a Chinese billionaire opens a new factory in the husk of an abandoned General Motors plant, hiring two thousand blue-collar Americans. Early days of hope and optimism give way to setbacks as high-tech China clashes with working-class America .

Apollo 11 (Director: Todd Douglas Miller, Producers: Todd Douglas Miller, Thomas Petersen, Evan Krauss) — A purely archival reconstruction of humanity’s first trip to another world, featuring never-before-seen 70mm footage and never-before-heard audio from the mission.

Bedlam (Director: Kenneth Paul Rosenberg, Producers: Kenneth Paul Rosenberg, Peter Miller) — A psychiatrist makes rounds in ERs, jails, and homeless camps to tell the intimate stories behind one of the greatest social crises of our time. A personal and intense journey into the world of the seriously mentally ill.

David Crosby: Remember My Name (Director: A.J. Eaton, Producers: Cameron Crowe, Michele Farinola, Greg Mariotti) — You thought you knew him. Meet David Crosby now in this portrait of a man with everything but an easy retirement on his mind. With unflinching honesty, self-examination, regret, fear, exuberance and an unshakable belief in family and the transformative nature of music, Crosby shares his often challenging journey.

Hail Satan (Director: Penny Lane, Producer: Gabriel Sedgwick) — A look at the intersection of religion and activism, tracing the rise of The Satanic Temple: only six years old and already one of the most controversial religious movements in American history. The Temple is calling for a Satanic revolution to save the nation’s soul. But are they for real?

Jawline (Director: Liza Mandelup, Producers: Bert Hamelinck, Sacha Ben Harroche, Hannah Reyer) — The film follows 16-year-old Austyn Tester, a rising star in the live-broadcast ecosystem who built his following on wide-eyed optimism and teen girl lust, as he tries to escape a dead-end life in rural Tennessee.

Knock Down the House (Director: Rachel Lears, Producers: Sarah Olson, Robin Blotnick, Rachel Lears) — A young bartender in the Bronx, a coal miner’s daughter in West Virginia, a grieving mother in Nevada and a registered nurse in Missouri build a movement of insurgent candidates challenging powerful incumbents in Congress. One of their races will become the most shocking political upset in recent American history. Cast: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Midnight Family (Mexico-U.S. – Director: Luke Lorentzen, Producers: Kellen Quinn, Daniela Alatorre, Elena Fortes) — In Mexico City’s wealthiest neighborhoods, the Ochoa family runs a private ambulance, competing with other for-profit EMTs for patients in need of urgent help. As they try to make a living in this cutthroat industry, they struggle to keep their financial needs from compromising the people in their care.

Mike Wallace Is Here (Director: Avi Belkin, Producers: Rafael Marmor, John Battsek, Peggy Drexler, Avi Belkin, Christopher Leggett) — For over half a century, 60 Minutes’ fearsome newsman Mike Wallace went head-to-head with the world’s most influential figures. Relying exclusively on archival footage, the film interrogates the interrogator, tracking Mike’s storied career and troubled personal life while unpacking how broadcast journalism evolved to today’s precarious tipping point.

Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements (Director: Irene Taylor Brodsky, Producers: Irene Taylor Brodsky, Tahria Sheather) — A deeply personal portrait of three lives, and the discoveries that lie beyond loss: a deaf boy growing up, his deaf grandfather growing old, and Beethoven the year he was blindsided by deafness and wrote his iconic sonata.

One Child Nation (China-U.S. – Directors: Nanfu Wang, Jialing Zhang, Producers: Nanfu Wang, Jialing Zhang, Julie Goldman, Christoph Jörg, Christopher Clements, Carolyn Hepburn) — After becoming a mother, a filmmaker uncovers the untold history of China’s one-child policy and the generations of parents and children forever shaped by this social experiment.

Pahokee (Directors: Ivete Lucas, Patrick Bresnan, Producers: Ivete Lucas, Patrick Bresnan, Maida Lynn) — In a small agricultural town in the Florida Everglades, hopes for the future are concentrated on the youth. Four teens face heartbreak and celebrate in the rituals of an extraordinary senior year.

Tigerland (Director: Ross Kauffman, Producers: Fisher Stevens, Xan Parker, Zara Duffy) — 50 years ago, a young forest officer in India rallied the world to save tigers from extinction. Today, the creed is carried on in Far East Russia by the guardians of the last Siberian tigers, who risk everything to save the species.

Untitled Amazing Johnathan Documentary (Director and screenwriter: Ben Berman, Producers: Miranda Bailey, Ben Berman, Russell Groves, Amanda Marshall, Jacob Perlin) — What begins as a documentary following the final tour of a dying magician — “The Amazing Johnathan” — becomes an unexpected and increasingly bizarre journey as the filmmaker struggles to separate truth from illusion. Cast: Johnathan Szeles.

Where’s My Roy Cohn? (Director: Matt Tyrnauer, Producers: Matt Tyrnauer , Corey Reeser, Marie Brenner, Andrea Lewis) — Roy Cohn personified the dark arts of American politics, turning empty vessels into dangerous demagogues – from Joseph McCarthy to his final project, Donald J. Trump. This thriller-like exposé connects the dots, revealing how a deeply troubled master manipulator shaped our current American nightmare.

WORLD CINEMA DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION
The 12 films in this section are world premieres unless otherwise specified.

Advocate (Israel-Canada-Switzerland – Directors: Rachel Leah Jones, Philippe Bellaïche , Producers: Philippe Bellaïche , Rachel Leah Jones, Paul Cadieux, Joelle Bertossa) Lea Tsemel defends Palestinians: from feminists to fundamentalists, from non-violent demonstrators to armed militants. As a Jewish-Israeli lawyer who has represented political prisoners for nearly 50 years, Tsemel, in her tireless quest for justice, pushes the praxis of a human rights defender to its limits.

Cold Case Hammarskjold (Denmark (Director: Mads Brügger, Producers: Peter Engel, Andreas Rocksén, Bjarte M. Tveit) — Danish director Mads Brügger and Swedish private investigator Göran Bjorkdahl are trying to solve the mysterious death of Dag Hammarskjold. As their investigation closes in, they discover a crime far worse than killing the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

The Disappearance of My Mother (Italy – Director and screenwriter: Beniamino Barrese, Producer: Filippo Macelloni) — An aging fashion model strives to escape the world of images and disappear for good, but her son’s determination to make a final film about her sparks an unexpected collaboration and confrontation with the camera’s gaze.

Gaza (Ireland – Directors: Garry Keane, Andrew McConnell, Producers: Brendan J. Byrne, Garry Keane, Andrew McConnell, Paul Cadieux) — Gaza brings us into a unique place beyond the reach of television news reports to reveal a world rich with eloquent and resilient characters, offering us a cinematic and enriching portrait of a people attempting to lead meaningful lives against the rubble of perennial conflict.

Honeyland (Macedonia – Directors: Ljubomir Stefanov, Tamara Kotevska, Producer: Atanas Georgiev) — When nomadic beekeepers break Honeyland’s basic rule (take half of the honey, but leave half to the bees), the last female beehunter in Europe must save the bees and restore natural balance.

Lapü (Colombia – Directors: Juan Pablo Polanco, César Alejandro Jaimes, Screenwriters: Juan Pablo Polanco, César Alejandro Jaimes, María Canela Reyes, Producer: Julián David Quintero) — In the middle of the Guajira Desert, Doris, a young Wayuu woman, exhumes her cousin’s remains in order to meet her for the last time. Through a sensory journey this ritual leads her to confront death and blend the world of the dreams with the world of the living. Cast: Doris González Jusayú, Carmen González Jusayú.

The Magic Life of V (Finland-Denmark-Bulgaria – Director: Tonislav Hristov, Screenwriters: Tonislav Hristov, Kaarle Aho, Producers: Kaarle Aho, Kai Nordberg) — Haunted by childhood traumas, Veera is trying to become more independent through live roleplaying. As she guides herself and her mentally-challenged brother through worlds of multiple roles and identities, witches and wizards, she finds the courage to face the demons of her own past and her abusive father’s legacy.

Midnight Traveler (U.S.-Qatar-U.K.-Canada – Director: Hassan Fazili, Screenwriter: Emelie Mahdavian, Producers: Emelie Mahdavian, Su Kim) — When the Taliban puts a bounty on Afghan director Hassan Fazili’s head, he is forced to flee with his wife and two young daughters. Capturing their uncertain journey, Fazili shows firsthand the dangers facing refugees seeking asylum and the love shared between a family on the run.

Sea of Shadows (Austria – Director: Richard Ladkani, Producers: Walter Koehler, Wolfgang Knoepfler) —The vaquita, the world’s smallest whale, is near extinction as its habitat is destroyed by Mexican cartels and Chinese mafia, who harvest the swim bladder of the totoaba fish, the “cocaine of the sea.” Environmental activists, Mexican navy and undercover investigators are fighting back against this illegal multimillion-dollar business.

Shooting the Mafia (Ireland – Director: Kim Longinotto, Producer: Niamh Fagan) — Sicilian Letizia Battaglia began a lifelong battle with the Mafia when she first pointed her camera at a brutally slain victim. Documenting the Cosa Nostra’s barbaric rule, she bore unflinching witness to their crimes. Her photographs, art, and bravery helped to bring an end to a shocking reign of slaughter.

Stieg Larsson – The Man Who Played With Fire (Sweden – Director and screenwriter: Henrik Georgsson, Producers: Mattias Nohrborg, Fredrik Heinig) — A documentary about the Millennium-trilogy author Stieg Larsson and his pioneering work of fighting right wing extremists and neo-Nazis, an obsession with fatal consequences. (International Premiere)

Untitled Brazil Documentary (Brazil – Director and screenwriter: Petra Costa, Producers: Joanna Natasegara, Shane Boris, Tiago Pavan) — A cautionary tale for these times of democracy in crisis – the personal and political fuse to explore one of the most dramatic periods in Brazilian history. With unprecedented access to Presidents Dilma Rousseff and Lula da Silva, we witness their rise and fall and the tragically polarized nation that remains.

DOCUMENTARY PREMIERES
The 12 films in this section are all world premieres.

Ask Dr. Ruth (Director: Ryan White, Producers: Rafael Marmor, Ryan White, Jessica Hargrave, Christopher Leggett ) — A documentary portrait chronicling the incredible life of Dr. Ruth Westheimer, a Holocaust survivor who became America’s most famous sex therapist. As her 90th birthday approaches, Dr. Ruth revisits her painful past and her career at the forefront of the sexual revolution.

Halston (Director and screenwriter: Frédéric Tcheng, Producers: Roland Ballester, Frédéric Tcheng, Stephanie Levy, Paul Dallas) — From Iowa to Studio 54, this investigation into the rags-to-riches story of America’s first superstar designer uncovers the cautionary tale of an artist who sold his name to Wall Street.

Love, Antosha (Director: Garret Price, Producers: Adam Gibbs, Drake Doremus) — A portrait of the extraordinary life and career of actor Anton Yelchin.

Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love (Director: Nick Broomfield, Producers: Marc Hoeferlin, Shani Hinton, Kyle Gibbon) — A story of enduring love between Leonard Cohen and his Norwegian muse Marianne Ihlen. The film follows their relationship from the early days in Greece, a time of ‘free love’ and open marriage, to how their love evolved when Leonard became a successful musician.

Merata: How Mum Decolonised The Screen (New Zealand – Director and screenwriter: Heperi MIta, Producer: Chelsea Winstanley) — An intimate portrayal of pioneering filmmaker Merata Mita, told through the eyes of her children. Using hours of archive footage, some never before seen, her youngest child discovers the filmmaker he never knew and shares with the world the mother he lost. (International Premiere)

Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool (U.S.-U.K. – Director: Stanley Nelson, Producers: Nicole London, Stanley Nelson) — A visionary, innovator, and originator who defied categorization and embodied the word cool: a foray into the life and career of musical and cultural icon Miles Davis.

Raise Hell: The Life & Times of Molly Ivins (Director: Janice Engel, Screenwriters: Janice Engel, Monique Zavistovski , Producers: James Egan, Janice Engel, Carlisle Vandervoort) — Molly Ivins was six feet of flame-haired Texas trouble, a prescient political journalist, best-selling author and Bill of Rights warrior. She took no prisoners, leaving both sides of the aisle laughing and craving more of her razor-sharp wit. It’s time to Raise Hell like Molly!

The Great Hack (Directors: Karim Amer, Jehane Noujaim, Screenwriters: Karim Amer, Erin Barnett, Pedro Kos, Producers: Karim Amer, Geralyn Dreyfous, Judy Korin) — Data, arguably the world’s most valuable asset, is being weaponized to wage cultural and political wars. The dark world of data exploitation is uncovered through the unpredictable personal journeys of players on different sides of the explosive Cambridge Analytica/Facebook data story.

The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley (Director: Alex Gibney, Producers: Jessie Deeter, Erin Edeiken, Alex Gibney) — With a magical new invention that promised to revolutionize blood testing, Elizabeth Holmes became the world’s youngest self-made billionaire, heralded as the next Steve Jobs. Then, overnight, her $10-billion-dollar company dissolved. The rise and fall of Theranos is a window into the psychology of fraud.

Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am (Director: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, Producers: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, Johanna Giebelhaus, Chad Thompson, Tommy Walker) — This artful and intimate meditation on the legendary storyteller examines her life, her works and the powerful themes she has confronted throughout her literary career. Toni Morrison leads an assembly of her peers, critics and colleagues on an exploration of race, history, America and the human condition.

Untouchable (Director: Ursula Macfarlane, Producers: Simon Chinn, Jonathan Chinn, Poppy Dixon) — The inside story of the rise and fall of Harvey Weinstein reveals how, over decades, he acquires and protects his power even as scandal threatens to engulf him. Former colleagues and accusers detail the method and consequences of his alleged abuse, hoping for justice and to inspire change .

Words from a Bear (Director: Jeffrey Palmer, Producer: Jeffrey Palmer) — A visual journey into the mind and soul of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Navarro Scott Momaday, relating each written line to his unique Native American experience representing ancestry, place, and oral history.

SPOTLIGHT
This section represents a collection of half a dozen films that have already premiered at other festivals.

Anthropocene: The Human Epoch (Canada – Directors: Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier, Edward Burtynsky, Screenwriter: Jennifer Baichwal, Producer: Nicholas de Pencier) — From concrete seawalls in China that cover 60% of the mainland coast to the biggest terrestrial machines ever built in Germany, to psychedelic potash mines in Russia’s Ural Mountains, to conservation sanctuaries in Kenya, the filmmakers have traversed the globe to document the evidence and experience of human planetary domination. (International Premiere)

Maiden (U.K. – Director and screenwriter: Alex Holmes, Producers: Victoria Gregory, Alex Holmes) — The incredible, against-all-odds story of sailor Tracy Edwards, who skippered the first all-female international crew in the 1989 Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race. (U.S. Premiere)

The Biggest Little Farm (Director: John Chester, Screenwriters: Mark Monroe, John Chester, Producers: Sandra Keats, John Chester) — Two dreamers and a dog embark on an odyssey to bring harmony to their lives and the land. As their plan to create perfect harmony takes a series of wild turns, they will have to reach a far greater understanding of the intricacies and wisdom of nature, and life itself. (Utah Premiere)

Sundance runs Jan. 23 – Feb. 3, 2019.