Sundance documentaries offer broad view of the world

Wed Jan 26, 2011 12:23pm EST
 
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By Christine Kearney

PARK CITY, Utah (Reuters) - Violence inflicted on Iranian protesters, big business infiltrating the U.S. justice system and an inspiring portrait of race car driver Ayrton Senna are all subjects of documentaries that are winning fans at Sundance 2011.

More than two dozen nonfiction films are being showcased at the Sundance Film Festival this week in Park City, Utah. Some are competing for prizes and aiming to score distribution deals, others are seeking media hype to gain traction with audiences, and still more simply want to entertain and inform.

Sundance backer, actor and activist Robert Redford, is an avid supporter of the movies, helping make the festival a key venue for documentary filmmakers worldwide.

Four of this week's Oscar-nominated docs -- "Gasland," "Restrepo," "Waste Land" and "Exit Through the Gift Shop" -- premiered at Sundance 2010. And when Oprah Winfrey chose to unveil her new documentary club for her OWN TV network, she chose this year's festival as the venue.

With such powerful influence, when a doc screens at Sundance, people notice.

Some of the non-fiction films here have been propelled by their subject's fame, such as "Troubadours," which follows the time of singers Carole King and James Taylor. "Becoming Chaz" tell of singer Cher's daughter undergoing a sex change, and "Reagan" examines the former U.S. President's contradictions just ahead of what would have been his 100th birthday, February 6.

Others, such as Morgan Spurlock's "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" and Oscar-winner James Marsh's "Project Nim," attracted audiences due to the director's notoriety. And then there were some that gained fans the old-fashioned doc way -- stirring hearts and minds and exposing injustice.

FILMS THAT EXPOSE & INSPIRE

"Senna," six years in the making and reduced from 5000 hours of initial footage, lifted audiences for its inspiring and tragic portrait of the Brazilian race car driver's famed battle with former nemesis, Frenchman Alain Prost, while taking on the politics of Formula One race car driving.

Considered by many the greatest ever Formula One driver, the film gives viewers a thrilling, helmet-view of what the triple world champion saw on the track and how the charismatic sportsman inspired Brazilians in harsh economic times.

"He connects with people on a very wide level. It's not just Formula One fans. There is something about him which is incredibly inspirational," producer James Gay-Rees told Reuters. The film shows Senna both passionate and modest, and already has plans for release in parts of Europe and Asia.

"The Green Wave," the rawest account yet of the Iranian uprising after the 2009 election, integrates real footage from protesters with animated visualizations of blogger testimonials about being brutally rounded up, imprisoned and beaten.

"What was taking place in Iran's prisons were horrible and you can't really visualize what people testified to, what was going on there," director Ali Samadi Ahadi, who moved to Germany from Iran at age 13, told Reuters.

The film offers abstract animated images to accompany word-for-word testimonials of fear and in some cases torture, including a 21-year-old's account of being crammed into a cell where everyone was beaten, several of them to death.

It argues the west should pursue human rights violations against Iran instead of focusing its nuclear threat.

"Hot Coffee" has also won fans for exposing how the famed McDonald's coffee-spilling case was wrongly used by companies and politicians for tort reform, including caps on compensation payouts that have hurt ordinary families shown in the film.

It shows former U.S. President George W. Bush and Karl Rove as major players behind tort reform, which it argues lessens people's rights to seek full compensation.

"The Last Mountain," about the devastating effects of mountaintop coal removal, gained buzz among environmentalists. "The Redemption of General Butt Naked" about a brutal Liberian warlord turned evangelist, displayed a fascinating character.

The list goes on: assisted suicide is covered in "How to Die in Oregon," the depiction on women in media is questioned in "Miss Representation" and the Web's impact on news gets a look in "Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times."

More details on the docs can be found www.sundance.org.

(Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)

 
<p>Director Morgan Spurlock poses for a portrait while promoting his documentary "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" during the Sundance Film Festival, January 23, 2011. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>