This year’s Sundance Film Festival, which kicks off on Thursday, is filled with documentaries that must be seen. When I say, “must,” I don’t mean the one about basketball player Jeremy Lin (Linsanity) or the one about actor Mariel Hemingway’s messed up family (Running from Crazy), or the one about the rock band, The Eagles (History of The Eagles Part 1). As compelling as those films are, and I look forward to seeing each of those, I mean to address the films that, if enough people are moved by them, would benefit the world.
I recently spoke to the festival’s head programmer, Trevor Goth, for a story for The New York Times about the thousands of films that don’t get into Sundance, and he said that what weighs on him the most about rejecting a film is when it’s a documentary about a significant subject that the world has to see. And, indeed, it appears that the World Documentary category (as opposed to the U.S or Premiere categories) is especially full of such films.
There’s A River Changes Course, about the rapid development and destruction of Cambodia, on both human and environmental levels. Also, there’s Salma, about a Muslim girl in India who overcame decades of oppression to become an inspiring poet. Pussy Riot-A Punk Prayer is about the punk rockers in Russia who went through a very public trial for speaking out. This may fall into the cool, diverting film category, considering the rockers at its core, but Russian president Vladimir Putin is no joke; his iron grip on this vast and powerful nation has allowed him to inflict many unchecked human rights abuses on his own people.
And the one film that I’d put to the top of your must-see list is Fire in the Blood. This World category entry, directed by Dylan Mohan Gray, who’s based in Mumbai, is about how Western pharmaceutical companies block access to cheaper medicines in developing nations, in turn denying people access to AIDS-combatting drugs. Gray speaks to survivors, doctors, and activists. He lays it all out, chronicling the history of the development of AZT and how U.S. policy has hindered its spread to helping people who can’t afford it. And there is a solution – breaking down restrictive international agreements so that cheap generic drugs can be distributed to the millions of people who need it.
This may be a must-see film but don’t think of it as spinach. (Or, if it is, it’s as if it were prepared by Alain Ducasse.) Gray crosses the planet and manages to set up a lot of breath-taking wide shots of faraway places that make this a beautiful film to watch. And he talks to people who give great interviews, including Bill Clinton and several mavericks who’ve led the fight against the pharmaceutical companies.
Really, Fire in the Blood should be considered a companion film to David France’s much-championed Oscar-nominated film, How to Survive a Plague, about the AIDS activist movement of the 1980s and 1990s. That was history. But the plague continues in the rest of the world.
Fire in the Blood begins screening at the festival on January 20th. You should see it—not because you must, but because you will be moved and enraged, and happy that you did.