Kurt Cobain, Nina Simone and Tig Notaro are among the big names getting documentary treatment at this January's Sundance Film Festival.
On Monday (December 8), Sundance announced 13 documentaries that will be premiering out of competition at the Festival, which runs from January 22 to February 1 in Park City. It's a group of films from some of documentary cinema's biggest names and, unsurprisingly, from some of Sundance's most frequent attendees.
Sundance regular Liz Garbus (“The Farm: Angola, USA”) is taking the previously vacant US documentary Day One Film slot with “What Happened, Miss Simone?” The documentary looks singer and activist Nina Simone was recently acquired by Netflix, which had “Mitt” in an out-of-competition slot at last year's Festival.
Also coming from a Sundance favorite and also with TV distribution already in place is HBO's “Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck,” an authorized biopic of the Nirvana frontman that features Frances Bean Cobain as an executive producer and is directed by Brett Morgen (“The Kid Stays in the Picture”).
It practically wouldn't be Sundance without a film from Alex Gibney and the Oscar winner is bringing “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief,” which focuses on eight former members of the Church of Scientology. [According to IMDB, Gibney has only had three documentaries at Sundance, but that seems wrong.]
Also tackling the religious fringe, and sure to generate controversy in Utah, is Amy Berg's “Prophet's Prey,” focusing on Warren Jeffs, prophet in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Berg, an Oscar nominee for “Deliver Us From Evil,” was at Sundance with “West of Memphis” in 2012.
Institutional struggles are also at the heart of Kirby Dick's “The Hunting Ground,” which takes on the couldn't-be-more-timely topic of rape crimes on American college campuses. Even without the UVA/Rolling Stone scandal in the news, it'd be easy to anticipate outrage brewing around Dick's follow-up to “The Invisible War.”
“Mitt” was mentioned above and director Greg Whiteley is back at Sundance with “Most Likely To Succeed,” which looks at failures in 21st century education.
And if that's not enough, Sundance will also have documentary premieres focusing on The National Lampoon (Douglas Tirola's “Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead”), the Black Panther Party (Stanley Nelson's “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution”), hip-hop fashion (Sacha Jenkins' “Fresh Dressed”) and masculinity (Jennifer Siebel Newsom's “The Mask You Live In”).
Another documentary of sorts, the HBO documentary series “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst,” from director Andrew Jarecki (“Capturing the Friedmans”) will be the subject of one of five Sunday Special Events taking place throughout the Festival. Other Special Event subjects include Kevin Pollack's “Misery Loves Comedy” and the independent animated series “Animals.”
Here's the complete list of out-of-competition Documentary Premieres:
Beaver Trilogy Part IV / U.S.A. (Director: Brad Besser) – A chance meeting in a parking lot in 1979 between filmmaker Trent Harris and a young man from Beaver, Utah, inspired the creation of an underground film that is now known as Beaver Trilogy. But the film itself is only part of the story.
The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution / U.S.A. (Director: Stanley Nelson) – This feature-length documentary tells of the rise and fall of the Black Panther Party, one of the 20th century's most alluring and controversial organizations that captivated the world's attention for nearly 50 years.
DRUNK STONED BRILLIANT DEAD: The Story of the National Lampoon / U.S.A. (Director: Douglas Tirola) – Three Harvard graduates start the first national humor magazine for adults, launching the careers of some of Hollywood”s most legendary talent. But success and excess among its brilliant and subversive contributors begins to challenge its existence.
Fresh Dressed / U.S.A. (Director: Sacha Jenkins) – The history of hip-hop fashion from its birth in the South Bronx to its rise as a billion-dollar global industry, Fresh Dressed is supported by rich archival materials, in-depth interviews with individuals crucial to the evolution, and the outsiders who study and admire them.
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief / U.S.A. (Director: Alex Gibney) – Going Clear intimately profiles eight former members of the Church of Scientology, shining a light on how they attract true believers and the things they do in the name of religion.
In Football We Trust / U.S.A. (Directors: Tony Vainuku, Erika Cohn) – Four young Polynesian football players struggle to overcome gang violence and poverty as they enter the high-stakes world of recruiting, competitive athletics and family pressures.
The Hunting Ground / U.S.A. (Director: Kirby Dick) – From the makers of The Invisible War comes a startling exposé of rape crimes on U.S. campuses, their institutional cover-ups, and brutal social toll. Weaving together verite footage and first-person testimonies, the film follows survivors as they pursue their education and justice – despite harsh retaliation, harassment, and pushback.
Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Brett Morgen) – Kurt Cobain, lead singer, guitarist, and songwriter of Nirvana, remains an icon 20 years after his death. Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck is a raw and visceral journey through Cobain”s life and his career with Nirvana through the lens of his home movies, recordings, artwork, photography, and journals.
The Mask You Live In / U.S.A. (Director: Jennifer Siebel Newsom) – Is there a “boy crisis” in America? Is our male population suffering due to our emphasis on power, dominance, and aggression? The Mask You Live In explores how our narrow definition of masculinity is harming our boys, men, and society at large and unveils what we can do about it.
Most Likely to Succeed / U.S.A. (Director: Greg Whiteley) – Our current education system is attempting to teach and test skills, that even when mastered, leaves graduates woefully unprepared for the 21st century. This feature-length documentary examines what sort of educational environment is most likely to prepare students for a world changing exponentially.
Prophet's Prey / U.S.A. (Director: Amy Berg) – When Warren Jeffs rose to prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, he bridged the gap between sister wives and ecclesiastically justified rape, befuddling the moral compass of his entire congregation.
Tig / U.S.A. (Directors: Kristina Goolsby, Ashley York, Screenwriter: Jennifer Arnold) – This documentary explores comedian Tig Notaro's extraordinary journey as her life unfolds in grand and unexpected ways, all while she is battling a life-threatening illness and falling in love.
What Happened, Miss Simone? / U.S.A. (Director: Liz Garbus) – Classically trained pianist, dive-bar chanteuse, black power icon, and legendary recording artist Nina Simone lived a life of brutal honesty, musical genius, and tortured melancholy. This astonishing epic interweaves never-before-heard recordings and rare footage, creating an unforgettable portrait of one of our least understood, most beloved artists. DAY ONE FILM