The Sundance Film Festival kicks off today and, as always, there’s an astounding slate of documentaries that will be premiering there. These are the docs that we’ll be hearing about all year: Weiner, about Anthony Weiner’s unsuccessful mayoral bid and sexting scandal implosion; Jim: The James Foley Story, about the American journalist who was beheaded by ISIS in 2014; and Spike Lee’s latest, Michael Jackson’s Journey from Motown to Off the Wall.
Of the many high-profile docs that will be playing, I’m champing at the bit to see Werner Herzog’s Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World. The man who could make staring at lint a profound experience, has gone from looking at ancient cave drawings to Lo and Behold, a meditation on the Internet, and it’s bound to be insightful. Other must-sees from perennial favorites include Nothing Left Unsaid: Gloria Vanderbilt & Anderson Cooper by Liz Garbus; veterans Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey’s Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures; legends Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker’s Unlocking the Cage, about an animal-rights activist’s campaign to secure legal personhood for intelligent mammals; and Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You, tonight’s opening-night documentary.
Just as deserving of the limelight are Robert Greene’s Kate Plays Christine in which hybrid director (he hates the term but I’m sticking him with it) once again threads fiction and nonfiction with this look at an actress playing the part of a real television host who committed suicide on air in the ’70s; The Lovers and the Despot, which is about a South Korean director and actress who were kidnapped by North Korea where they were forced to make propaganda films—fascinating; director Will Allen tells the inside story of a cult with Holy Hell; and Oscar winning Roger Ross Williams makes the latest doc about autism, Life, Animated, and this one may stand apart, as its subject is a boy who communicated with his parents—his dad is Pulitzer Prize winning journalist—through Disney movies.
I know I should, but I don’t know if I could stand the emotional impact of watching Newtown, about the grieving process of the town devastated by the school shooting there. But if I consider watching it along with Under the Gun, which is about why the discourse about gun control is and isn’t influenced by the perennial mass shootings in this country, then I might be able to handle the sadness with a strong dose of indignation and hope for action.
And last but not least…In fact, I’m more curious about this film than any other—is Author: The JT LeRoy Story. Director Jeff Feuerzeig made a hell of a film with The Devil and Daniel Johnston, but can he do the same with the equally quixotic JT LeRoy, a made-up author who duped his fans and friends? Did Laura Albert, the woman who pretended to be author JT LeRoy and who provided access to Feuerzeig, get the best of her director? Is she going to regret letting him tell her tale? I can’t wait to see.