Tom RostonIndependent journalist Tom Roston checks in and writes about the world of documentaries in his column, Doc Soup.

You can follow Tom on Twitter @DocSoupMan.

Doc Soup: Docs Hit the Ground Running at Sundance

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They should call it the Sundoc Film Festival. I get on my flight to Salt Lake City yesterday, and the guy in the row in front of me is wearing a baseball cap and sweatshirt that both say, “Bigger, Stronger, Faster,” aka the title of Christopher Bell‘s documentary about America’s win-at-all-costs pressures, as told through his brothers’ spiraling into steroid use. Turns out, the man in front of me is the Christopher Bell’s dad. He keeps quiet, but proud mom is with him and very forthcoming about a big party Delta Airlines is sponsoring for the film, and how ESPN and other media outlets will be there. It’s a strange thing, though, when your son happens to be a documentary filmmaker who has turned his lens on your own family; it can be a mixed blessing. When she describes her other sons’ steroid use, she says, “That’s not who they are,” while slowly squeezing the back of the seat. My conversation with her made me want to see Bigger, Stronger, Faster and decide for myself.

After I land, talk by the baggage claim is about the first three sales acquisitions to be announced — yup, they’re all docs. HBO snapped up Timothy Greenfield-Sanders and Elvis Mitchell‘s The Black List: Volume One, a set of interviews with notable African-Americans; Fortissimo Films nabbed CSNY Déjà Vu, about Crosby, Stills Nash & Young, directed by Neil Young; and Zeitgeist Films bought Up The Yangtze by first-time documentarian Yung Chang, which tells the story of the building of the Three Gorges Dam in China and its economic and personal impact on two young Chinese workers.

It’s tempting to think that such fast sales (they were all announced on Thursday, the first day of the festival) were already in the works. And, sure enough, the makers The Black List had a previous relationship with buyer HBO, and that the company had been tracking the film progress. I was told by one person close to the film that the purchase came about “quite naturally.”

All three films sound intriguing, but I am most interested in seeing Up the Yangtze. Alas, tonight’s screening happens to be at the same time as Gonzalo Arijon’s Stranded: I’ve Come from a Plane that Crashed in the Mountains, the documentary about survival and cannibalism in the Andes that I was planning to go see. Ah, decisions, decisions.

Oh, wait: and this just in: another acquisition was announced this morning, and this one looks to be a totally fresh, on-the-ground purchase; The Weinstein Company bought international rights to Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, which gets at the roots of the director’s exile that began in the 70s. The film just screened last night.
Things move fast here at Sundance. I’m off for more docs, more parties and more news. I’ll be checking back in throughout the week with more tidbits from Sundance, so stay tuned!

Tom Roston
Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He comes to us as a ten-year veteran of Premiere magazine, where he was a Senior Editor, and where he wrote the column, Notes from the Dream Factory. Tom was born and raised in New York City. He graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom has also written for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, GQ, New York, Elle and other publications. Tom's favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi - Godfrey Reggio 2. Hoop Dreams - Steve James 3. The Up series - Michael Apted 4. Crumb - Terry Zwigoff 5. Capturing the Friedmans - Andrew Jarecki