While Sundance is committed to documentary, its audience is a little less crazy about the international kind. Still, it gets you out of the Park City snow and you’re unlikely to be sitting behind Harvey Weinstein. This year’s picks range from the Cambodian killing fields to a Brazilian dump to the Warsaw ghetto. In all likelihood, they will have about six laughs between them. Roll your sleeves up and prepare to take your medicine …
Enemies of the People
Spalding Gray once likened the Cambodian genocide to the farmers of upstate New York killing everyone in Manhattan. Two million people died when the Khmer Rouge’s turned the clock back to Year Zero. The country has struggled to both recover and forget. This doc follows Phnom Penh Post reporter Thet Sambath, who befriended the former Rouge leaders in order to learn why his entire family had to die. Sambath gets close to a unique heart of Khmer darkness, but puts his own home life in jeopardy.
A Film Unfinished
After herding the Jews into the Warsaw Ghetto, the Nazis proceeded to make a film lauding what they called their humanitarian effort. The movie was never completed, but academics have pored over the rushes, often oblivious to its propaganda purpose. Using the original footage and interviews with the surviving cameramen, Yael Hersonski shows how reality was whitewashed and learns the stories behind the faces found on film.
Kick in Iran
It seems like only a decade ago when Iran was enjoying an artistic boom which belied the West’s image of ayatollahs and burkas. The nation’s liberal streak is still evident in today’s street protests. Filmmaker Fatima Geza Abdollahyan looks at another anomaly—Iran’s first female professional athlete. Sara Khoshjamal won a gold medal at the International Taekwondo Tournament. In this portrait, she takes the case for equality all the way to Beijing Olympics. Ninjas have been warned.
Last Train Home
For 130 million migrant workers, the Chinese New Year means a lengthy exodus to be reunited with their families. Lixin Fan joined the Zhang family as they battled the crowds to get back home. It makes Planes, Trains & Automobiles look like a trip to the corner Starbucks. The exodus gives Fan a chance to ask questions about China’s super-power status and the sweat it took to get there. Winner of the best feature award at the 22nd International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam.
Olga Konskaya and Andrei Nekrasov were on opposite sides of the 2008 South Ossetia War between Russia and Georgia. In this personal documentary, the filmmakers travel to Georgia to look at the causes and outcome of the conflict. Lessons becomes a tale of its own making, as the two put the film together in their St. Petersburg studio and argue over their movie’s raw materials. The IMDB summary mentions “campaign of terror” and “ethnic cleansing,” so we advise bringing along a teddy bear to cuddle.
Secrets of the Tribe
The Yanomami Indians lived an isolated life along the Brazil-Venezuelan border. Then the anthropologists arrived. They wanted to study a primitive Amerindian tribe. They ended up nearly destroying the people. Tribe examines the controversy that followed after academics refused to return Yanomami blood samples. Did the anthropologists do more harm than good? It’s your best bet if you want to see some unethical professors get seriously spanked.
Brazilian-born artist Vik Muniz has made transient works like a Mona Lisa made of peanut butter and The Last Supper as rendered in chocolate syrup. So it makes sense that he’d visit the world’s largest landfill in search of inspiration. Putting years of Blue’s Clues episodes behind her, Lucy Walker and her camera watch as Muniz works with colorful Rio gleaners known as catadores. Watch trash become cutting-edge art! The poverty on display will make anybody happy they have a warm chalet to go back to.
Tags: A Film Unfinished, Andrei Nekrasov, Enemies of the People, Fan Lixin, Fatima Geza Abdollahyan, Jose Padiha, Kick in Iran, Last Train Home, Lucy Walker, Olga Konskaya, Rob Lemkin, Russian Lessons, Sara Khoshjamal, Secrets of the Tribe, Sundance Film Festival, Thet Sambath, Vik Muniz, Waste Land, Yael Hersonski