Sundance gives rise to "star docs"

Mon Jan 19, 2009 6:11am EST
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By Bob Tourtellotte

PARK CITY, Utah (Reuters) - Since the 1994 box office hit "Hoop Dreams," documentaries have come a long way from basic reporting with expert witnesses to fictional-style storytelling more like feature films in movies such as 2005's "Murderball."

But this year at the Sundance Film Festival, which kicked into high-gear this weekend and has long championed non-fiction film as an art form, something new appears to be afoot -- the rise of the celebrity documentary, or "star doc."

With big-names backers like Ben Affleck with "Reporter" and Chris Rock with "Good Hair," this year's Sundance is filled with documentaries that have gone Hollywood.

The reasons stars ventured into documentary filmmaking varies, but they say they all share a common desire to tell real-life stories in ways that feature films can't.

"There's an axiom, 'if you put it in a movie, no one will believe it,'" Affleck told Reuters. "There's a power to seeing something that you know is true, and that lends a kind of urgency" to the subject.

Sundance is the top gathering for independent films and throughout its 25-year history, founder Robert Redford has pushed festival programmers to reach out and find the best documentaries from around the world.

"Hoop Dreams," about the struggles of young basketball stars, was among the first films Sundance championed that proved audiences will turn out for documentaries in theaters, he told reporters at a news conference last week.

Perhaps Sundance's biggest success was premiering the 2006 environmental doc, "An Inconvenient Truth," which earned the Oscar for best documentary and returned former vice president Al Gore to the media spotlight.   Continued...

<p>Executive producer Ben Affleck (L) and New York Times reporter Nicholas D. Kristof (R), who is the subject of the documentary film "Reporter," sit for an interview about the movie at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah January 17, 2009. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok</p>