Sundance Film Festival: documentaries worth standing in line for

By Geralyn Dreyfous

Dominant themes found this year in the 2017 Sundance Film Festival lineup bring us narratives of climate change, police misconduct and race. These films explore the plight of Syrian refugees and give us new and surprising perspectives from Cuba and China. It’s also a banner year for local films, with four Utah-made world premieres. And Impact Partners celebrates 10 years of financing award-winning nonfiction narratives with six new American documentaries.

The opening night films definitely set the tone for the festival. WHOSE STREETS (Director Sabaah Folayan, Co-Director Damon Davis) tells the story of the Ferguson riots from the viewpoint of those who lived through them and who came together to  start the Black Lives Matter movement.

AN INCONVENIENT SEQUAL (working title;  (directors Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk, Audrie & Daisy and Island President)) examines the climate crisis since former Vice President Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth made “climate change” a household phrase and how close we actually are, now, to a real solution.

It is part of The New Climate—the institute’s year-round initiative dedi­­cated to conversations about environmental change and conservation.

V.P. Gore will participate in a panel with  scientist Dr. David Suzuki and other luminaries who bring decades of experience to the study of climate change. Moderated by Democracy Now! journalist Amy Goodman, the January 22 event will be livestreamed from the Egyptian Theatre at sundance.org.

Chasing Coral / U.S.A. (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. From the makers of CHASING ICE, this film is stunning.

Dina / U.S.A. (Directors: Dan Sickles, Antonio Santini) — An eccentric suburban woman and a Walmart door-greeter navigate their evolving relationship in this unconventional love story. A tender and touching love story about two middle-age autistic adults.


(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. This film could expose the biggest scandal in sports history.

NOBODY SPEAK: Hulk Hogan, Gawker and Trials of a Free Press / U.S.A. (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 examines the perils and duties of the free press in an age of inequality. A must-see to understand new libel laws and Peter Thiel’s influence in the Trump Administration.

STEP / U.S.A. (Director: Amanda Lipitz) — The senior year of a girls’ high school step team in inner-city Baltimore is documented as these young women try to become the first in their families to attend college. The girls’ success is set against the backdrop of social unrest in their troubled city. Hands down heart-thumping foot-stomping film, an audience pleaser for sure.

Strong Island / U.S.A., 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 challenges us to change. Poetic and elegant.

Trophy / U.S.A. (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. Think Queen of Versailles meets Born Free.

Unrest / U.S.A. (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—of fighting a disease medicine forgot. Chronic Fatigue and fibromyalgia are dissected and forensically investigated.

Bending the Arc / U.S.A. (Directors: Kief Davidson, Pedro Kos, Screenwriter: Cori Shepherd Stern) — This powerful epic is about the extraordinary doctors and activists— including Paul Farmer, Jim Yong Kim and Ophelia Dahl—whose work 30 years ago to save lives in a rural Haitian village grew into a global battle in the halls of power for the right to health for all. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are executive producers.

Cries From Syria / U.S.A., Syria, Czech Republic (Director: Evgeny Afineevsky) — This documentary attempts to recontextualize the European migrant crisis and ongoing hostilities in Syria, through eyewitness and participant testimony. Children and parents recount the revolution, civil war, air strikes, atrocities and ongoing humanitarian aid crises in a portrait of recent history and the consequences of violence. This is important to Utahns, as our state has promised to receive 600 Syrian refugees this year.

This article was originally published on January 11, 2017.