2015 Sundance Institute | Photo by Jemal Countess

10 Docs We’re Excited to See at Sundance 2022

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14 mins read

There are nine sleeps until the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. This year marks another virtual event for the Park City fête for indie cinema. While we’re obviously feeling for the filmmakers and cinephiles who nearly had the chance to convene after a two-year socially-distanced hiatus, the virtual edition means that more of us can attend Sundance this year. After last year’s crop yielded half the Oscar shortlist for Best Documentary Feature, including frontrunners Summer of Soul and Flee and festival favourites like In the Same Breath and President, Sundance continues to set the bar for the year in documentary.

This year’s field of Sundance contenders again features a strong contingent of debut directors and emerging talents alongside industry veterans. The films that catch our eyes, moreover, are ones that ask tough questions, illuminate new perspectives on famed figures, or expand the frames for representation. While we look forward to discovering breakout talents and hidden gems while festivalling virtually, here are ten must-see docs atop our list for Sundance 2022.

 

In no particular order:

The Princess by Ed Perkins, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Kent Gavin.

The Princess (Premieres)

Diana fever is in the air! After Emma Corrin wowed us as Diana Spencer on The Crown and then Kristen Stewart one-upped her with the best performance of 2021 in Spencer, England’s Rose gets a documentary treatment. Okay–another documentary treatment. The Crown unpacked Diana’s fairy tale origin story, while Spencer hypnotically got inside the Princess of Wales’s head. Those are tough acts to follow. However, Ed Perkins’ archival doc re-examines in Diana’s own words and images the media-frenzy and re-evaluation of the monarchy that she inspired. Perkins previously directed the fascinating short doc Black Sheep, which scored an Oscar nomination and should have won the gold. Produced by Jonathan Chinn and two-time Oscar winner Simon Chinn (Man on Wire, Searching for Sugar Man), The Princess should be a highlight of Sundance Day One. –Pat Mullen

A Still from We Need to Talk About Cosby by W. Kamau Bell, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

We Need to Talk About Cosby (Premieres)

As someone raised as part of the “Cosby generation,” growing up with his animated television show, his sitcom, the comedy albums and films, the long-gestating allegations about his criminal behaviour and criminal conviction have justifiably blanked out any other conversation about the pioneering talent. Leave it to W. Kamau Bell, a Black comedian and writer who hung out at a Klan rally in an honest attempt to engage with people with lives antithetical to his own, to provide what looks to be a provocative, intelligent, and no doubt fascinating dive into this murky topic that we definitely need to talk about rather than simply ignore. – Jason Gorber

A still from Fire of Love by Sara Dosa, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Fire of Love (U.S. Documentary Competition)

I’m a sucker for volcano movies at best of times, but Sara Dosa’s look at Katia and Maurice Krafft, whose dramatic imagery has captured eruptions like few others, promises to be as captivating as their own work. Sourced from 200 hours of footage and put together like a French New Wave film, there are the ingredients here for something truly explosive in its impact. Produced by Canada’s Ina Fichman, Fire of Love kicks off the U.S. Documentary Competition on Day One. – JG

Zackary Drucker appears in Framing Agnes by Chase Joynt, an official selection of the NEXT section at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Ava Benjamin Shorr.

Framing Agnes (Next)

If society is in the middle of a trans revolution, then Chase Joynt has arguably established himself as a leader of the film movement. After his 2020 doc No Ordinary Man, directed with Aisling Chin-Yee, broke ground by putting trans voices at the centre of their own narrative, Joynt makes his solo feature debut with Framing Agnes. The film promises a continuation of the creative documentary style of No Ordinary Man as Joynt explores the history of trans people anew. Joynt uses the history of Agnes, a woman at the centre of Harold Garfinkel’s gender health research at UCLA in the 1960s, as a springboard to explore the voices that are pushed further to the margins. Like No Ordinary Man, the hybrid approach invites a cast of trans actors, including Transparent’s Zackary Drucker, to correct the narrative. – PM

A still from Downfall: The Case Against Boeing by Rory Kennedy, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Netflix.

Downfall: The Case Against Boeing (Premieres)

While we usually take air travel for granted, I’m still one of those people who finds it mildly miraculous that these giant metal tubes with wings can take me all over the world (when COVID restrictions allow, of course). Rory Kennedy’s film that looks at then 2018-2019 crashes of the Boeing 737 Max flights seems to have the right balance between historical documentation, journalism, and provocative filmmaking to result in a tale ripe for deeper examination. – JG

A still from Midwives by Snow Hnin Ei Hlaing, an official selection of the World Cinema: Documentary section at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Midwives (World Cinema Documentary Competition)

Here’s another doc for the home team: Montreal’s EyeSteelFilm continues to expand the frame for global stories with Midwives. Featuring EyeSteel’s Mila Aung-Thwin and Bob Moore among its producers with the Myanmar-born and Berlin-based Snow Hnin Ei Hlaing in her feature directorial debut, Midwives won the first look pitch program at the 2019 Hot Docs Forum. The doc is a portrait of two women, Hla and Nyo Nyo, who work in a makeshift clinic in Myanmar. The former is a Buddhist and the latter is a Muslim, and the doc explores the ongoing persecution of Rohingya and the helping hands that see beyond religions divides. Midwives marks a return to Sundance competition for the EyeSteel gang after having two docs, Softie and Influence, at the festival’s last in-person edition in 2020. – PM

Teddy Katz appears in Tantura by Alon Schwarz, an official selection of the World Cinema: Documentary Competition at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Yonathan Weitzman.

Tantura (World Cinema Documentary Competition)

Another “complicated” film, filmmaker Alon Schwartz (Aida’s Secrets) dives deep into the one of the founding mythologies of the founding of the Modern State of Israel, with witnesses discussing alleged atrocities that occurred when the town of Tantura was emptied of its residences during the war of 1948. Balancing different voices and perspectives, this is exactly the kind of analysis and open-eyed critique that’s been a strength of this community for millennia, yet too often supressed during the last few decades for a myriad of reasons, both justified and wholly self-serving. – JG

A still from I Didn’t See You There by Reid Davenport, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Reid Davenport.

I Didn’t See You There (U.S. Documentary Competition)

Director Reid Davenport calls I Didn’t See You There “an unapologetically disabled film in its aesthetics and its seeming unconventionality” in his Sundance Meet the Artist video. This statement comes one minute and ten seconds into the two-minute video after Davenport lets audiences experience his apartment as he wheels toward his desk. The film is Davenport’s feature directorial debut after helming several shorts about disability, access, and identity. The doc provocatively turns the lens back on the “invisibility” of people with disabilities when a circus tent arises outside the director’s home. It inspires him to reflect upon the role of circuses and how disabled lives have been viewed through an ableist gaze. After the Sundance hit Crip Camp brought wider attention to representation of people with disabilities, this experimental approach could be an exciting addition to the conversation. – PM

A still from 2nd Chance by Ramin Bahrani, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

2nd Chance (Premieres)

I’m hoping for big things from Ramin Bahrani’s debut doc feature, as the Iranian filmmaker points his focus at the pizza purveyor who sidelined as the inventor of the bulletproof vest. With Joshua Oppenheimer stepping aboard as Executive Producer, I’m anticipating a film that dives well past the obvious notes of this story to uncover surprises and thought provoking moments that I couldn’t possibly predict. -JG

Alexandra Rojas appears in To the End by Rachel Lears, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

To the End (Premieres)

Rachel Lears knocked out Sundance 2019 audiences with doc Knock Down the House. That thrillingly of-the-moment doc captured four women shaking up the 2018 mid-term elections, including trailblazing upstart Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. AOC appears in Lears’ latest doc To the End, which brings more girl power to the ’dance by following four young women fighting for change amid the global climate crisis and hope for a Green New Deal. Lears previously captured lightning in a bottle by identifying AOC as a worthy doc subject and having her cameras trained in the right place at the right time to capture a nation’s restlessness and desire for change in one woman’s fight. Can she strike documentary gold again? –PM

 

Sundance begins January 20, 2022.

Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, and Complex. He is the vice president of the Toronto Film Critics Association.

Jason Gorber is a film journalist and member of the Toronto Film Critics Association. He is the Managing Editor/Chief Critic at ThatShelf.com and a regular contributor for POV Magazine, RogerEbert.com and CBC Radio. His has written for Slashfilm, Esquire, The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, Screen Anarchy, HighDefDigest, Birth.Movies.Death, IndieWire and more. He has appeared on CTV NewsChannel, CP24, and many other broadcasters. He has been a jury member at the Reykjavik International Film Festival, Calgary Underground Film Festival, RiverRun Film Festival, TIFF Canada's Top 10, Reel Asian and Fantasia's New Flesh Award. Jason has been a Tomatometer-approved critic for over 20 years.

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