If you looked at last week’s Sundance Film Festival documentary slate and thought, “Sure, some of these look like fantastic and powerful documentaries, but are they seriously going to hold a Sundance without Alex Gibney?” we’re relieved to tell you that The Hardest Working Man in Documentary Filmmaking will be back for Sundance 2014.
Sundance announced its full list of Documentary Premieres on Monday (December 9) and if you were missing the big names either in front of the camera or behind it from the competition slate, this is where they’re lurking.
Gibney makes his latest Sundance visit with “Finding Fela,” about Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti. Last year, Gibney hit Sundance with the Julian Assange doc “Wikileaks,” also a premiere, while he managed to slip in a Lance Armstrong documentary in between the two.
But Gibney is far from the only Sundance favorite returning with a high profile doc.
As expected, “Hoop Dreams” helmer Steve James’ documentary about Roger Ebert’s life and work “Life Itself” will be in the Premieres category.
“Paradise Lost” co-director Joe Berlinger brings “Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger,” which presumably will still be wet when the chronicle of Whitey Bulger’s recent trial hits Park City.
Amir Bar-Lev, who brought “My Kid Could Paint That” and “The Tillman Story” to Sundance in the past is behind “Happy Valley,” a look at Penn State and the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
You also have Sundance favorite Rory Kennedy looking at a self-explanatory subject in “Last Days in Vietnam,” “New York Doll” director Greg Whiteley getting a ton of access to a recent Presidential candidate in “Mitt,” Stanley Nelson going from 2012’s “Freedom Riders” to “Freedom Summer” and Greg Barker looking at people overcoming great odds in “We Are The Giant.” [Within minutes of the Premieres announcement, Netflix revealed that it has acquired “Mitt,” which will be available for streaming on January 24, just one week after its Sundance launch.]
Oh and then there’s “To Be Takei,” Jennifer Kroot’s look at George Takei’s journey from a World War II internment camp to “Star Trek” to his current position as everybody’s favorite guy on Facebook.
And while it isn’t exactly a documentary, “Kings of Summer” director Jordan Vogt-Roberts chronicled Nick Offerman’s one-man show for the concert film “Nick Offerman: American Ham,” which was taped at New York’s Town Hall and features the “Parks and Recreation” star’s 10 Tips For Living a More Prosperous Life.
Here’s the full list of Sundance 2014 Documentary Premieres. I assume I’ll be covering as many of these as humanly possible:
Renowned filmmakers and films about far-reaching subjects comprise this section highlighting our ongoing commitment to documentaries. Each film is a world premiere.
The Battered Bastards of Baseball / U.S.A. (Directors: Chapman Way, Maclain Way) – Hollywood veteran Bing Russell creates the only independent baseball team in the country-alarming the baseball establishment and sparking the meteoric rise of the 1970s Portland Mavericks.
Finding Fela / U.S.A. (Director: Alex Gibney) – Fela Anikulapo Kuti created the musical movement Afrobeat and used it as a political forum to oppose the Nigerian dictatorship and advocate for the rights of oppressed people. This is the story of his life, music, and political importance.
Freedom Summer / U.S.A. (Director: Stanley Nelson) – In the summer of 1964, more than 700 students descended on violent, segregated Mississippi. Defying authorities, they registered voters, created freedom schools, and established the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. Fifty years later, eyewitness accounts and never-before-seen archival material tell their story. Not all of them would make it through.
Happy Valley / U.S.A. (Director: Amir Bar-Lev) – The children of “Happy Valley” were victimized for years, by a key member of the legendary Penn State college football program. But were Jerry Sandusky”s crimes an open secret? With rare access, director Amir Bar-Lev delves beneath the headlines to tell a modern American parable of guilt, redemption, and identity.
Last Days in Vietnam / U.S.A. (Director: Rory Kennedy) – During the chaotic final weeks of the Vietnam War, the North Vietnamese Army closes in on Saigon as the panicked South Vietnamese people desperately attempt to escape. On the ground, American soldiers and diplomats confront a moral quandary: whether to obey White House orders to evacuate only U.S. citizens.
Life Itself / U.S.A. (Director: Steve James) – Life Itself recounts the surprising and entertaining life of renowned film critic and social commentator Roger Ebert. The film details his early days as a freewheeling bachelor and Pulitzer Prize winner, his famously contentious partnership with Gene Siskel, his life-altering marriage, and his brave and transcendent battle with cancer.
Mitt / U.S.A. (Director: Greg Whiteley) – A filmmaker is granted unprecedented access to a political candidate and his family as he runs for President.
This May Be the Last Time / U.S.A. (Director: Sterlin Harjo) – Filmmaker Sterlin Harjo’s Grandfather disappeared mysteriously in 1962. The community searching for him sang songs of encouragement that were passed down for generations. Harjo explores the origins of these songs as well as the violent history of his people.
To Be Takei / U.S.A. (Director: Jennifer Kroot) – Over seven decades, actor and activist George Takei journeyed from a World War II internment camp to the helm of the Starship Enterprise, and then to the daily news feeds of five million Facebook fans. Join George and his husband, Brad, on a wacky and profound trek for life, liberty, and love.
We Are The Giant / U.S.A., United Kingdom (Director: Greg Barker) – We Are The Giant tells the stories of ordinary individuals who are transformed by the moral and personal challenges they encounter when standing up for what they believe is right. Powerful and tragic, yet inspirational, their struggles for freedom echo across history and offer hope against seemingly impossible odds.
WHITEY: United States of America v. James J. Bulger / U.S.A. (Director: Joe Berlinger) – Infamous gangster James “Whitey” Bulger”s relationship with the FBI and Department of Justice allowed him to reign over a criminal empire in Boston for decades. Joe Berlinger”s documentary chronicles Bulger”s recent sensational trial, using it as a springboard to explore allegations of corruption within the highest levels of law enforcement.
What looks good?