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: Sundance Announces 2009 Doc Entries

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The documentary entries at the upcoming Sundance Film Festival were announced recently, and it’s quite an impressive list. There are so many great-sounding docs: I am happy to see the return of Joe Berlinger, the director of Brother’s Keeper, with Crude, a doc about an environmental lawsuit battle being waged in Ecuador. There’s also The September Issue, a film by R.J. Cutler about Vogue editor Anna Wintour, which should be interesting. I’ve spoken with Cutler in the past and I’ve been impressed at how he’s managed to create a doc factory with his Actual Reality production company. I just wonder how he’ll finesse making the film not feel dated, now that the magazine industry is in such a severe recession since he was shooting in 2007 — and because there have been recent rumors that Wintour will be stepping down.
SundanceThere’s a bunch of other compelling docs to look out for, including Liz GarbusShouting Fire: Stories from the Edge of Free Speech which takes her out of prisons and more intimate settings into a more macro arena; Dirt! The Movie (sounds good to me — I’m there); and I’m definitely going to see Good Hair, in which Chris Rock grapples with the very important political issue of African-Americans and their hair. This could be one of the most popular docs of 2009. In fact, I wonder if Rock tackles the hair on the subject of the other hotly anticipated doc-to-see in 2009, the one about Barack Obama.
But as psyched as I am to see most of the Sundance docs, I couldn’t help thinking about how there were just 16 films picked out of 879 submissions. You’ve got a better chance of getting into Harvard than Sundance. And when I look at the list of 16 filmmakers, I see that there’s just a small handful of really fresh faces, unconnected to the powers-that-be at Sundance. This is not a criticism of the festival, because they are one of the best stages for getting docs a platform to distribution. They do what they can. It’s just a sad testament to those filmmakers without connections or a strong track record or without a famous last name (William Kunstler‘s kids made a movie about him that happens to be in the fest).
Oh, and just a follow-up from my last post about Milk and the ensuing discussion in which I mentioned Proposition 8: it’s worth checking out this short for a laugh.

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
  • Simon Kilmurry

    FOREIGNID: 18166
    Hi Tom:
    Interesting post, but I must take issue with your somewhat peevish final comment about “filmmakers without connections or a strong track record or without a famous last name” particularly in your very patronizing reference to “Kunstler’s kids.”
    Have you seen the Kunstler film? You seem to be insinuating that they got into Sundance because of their last name. I highly doubt that. It’s a terrific film — nuanced, artful, intimate and disturbing — and it is precisely their personal connection to the subject that makes it stand out from the usual biographical fare.
    Sure Sundance is exceptionally competitive, and P.O.V. has a similar ratio of rejections to acceptances. To assume that someone gets one of the precious few Sundance slots on the basis of their last name illustrates a lack of understanding on how curatorial processes work. When you make insinuations like that please cite some evidence to support your claim, otherwise you undermine the credibility of all your other thoughtful commentary.

  • Doc Soup Man

    FOREIGNID: 18167
    Whoa. Are you trying to tell me that you don’t think a documentary that is made by someone with a recognizable name, or by someone who knows people within the community of film festival curators, or someone who has worked under a Barbara Koppel or Albert Maysles, etc. has a better chance of getting noticed by said inner-sanctum curators? That their films won’t find more champions? That so-and-so fest person won’t be more likely to watch just another ten minutes of a film to give it a fair chance? Not to diminish my own point, but it’s just common sense. I think we all know that connections help in all aspects of the way the world works, and documentary isn’t very different.
    I made no comment on the quality of the films themselves. In fact, I applauded Sundance for doing what it can. And I’m a long-time champion of a variety of Sundance docs (by connected and unconnected filmmakers.) The post is hardly a reason to get your back up. I’m confounded by your reaction.
    Or was there a fly in your soup?