5 Sundance Documentaries You’ll Want to Check Out This Year
Less than a week ago I returned home from my absolute favorite week of all year — watching movies in the beautiful Park City, UT at the Sundance Film Festival. I may be sick as a dog now from the freezing temps and lack of sleep, but I consider it to be highly worth it. I skip all the parties, events, shopping and basic meals and sleep to view as many films as possible in whatever time I can spend there each year. Normally, this averages out to about 35 films at a usual rate of four a day. It’s a bit of madness, but it’s my favorite kind!
Today I want to share a few films from the festival that I think everyone who loves Care2 will enjoy seeing. While there were many, many other excellent films playing, I’m going to focus on documentaries here and have narrowed it down to five. All should be made available at some point this year, whether in theaters, on Netflix or On Demand or straight to DVD. Keep your eyes peeled!
Dementia, as you well know, continues to affect millions of elderly Americans. This sweet and beautiful film reveals a remarkable, music-based breakthrough spearheaded by social worker Dan Cohen and captured on camera over the course of three years. What we learn is that songs from a patient’s past can awaken memories and emotions that have been dormant for years. For example, when Alzheimer’s patient Marylou hears, “I Get Around” by the Beach Boys, she started dancing around her living room, shocking her husband. The film provides proof, many times over, that music stimulates activity in dementia-affected parts of the brain and transforms the quality of life of those often left to languish in silence.
Yo-yo dieters and parents, take heed: Fed Up unearths a dirty secret of the American food industry. Filmmaker Stephanie Soechtig and TV journalist Katie Couric lead us through a film exposing why — despite mass media attention, the public’s fascination with appearance and government policies to combat childhood obesity — your children will live much shorter lives than you or your parents.
A mix of expert interviews and sharp examination of data, the film features Couric narrating the story of a 30-year campaign by the food industry to mislead and confuse the American public, resulting in one of the largest health epidemics in history. The film also follows three obese children fighting to lose weight.
Ivory Tower brought up questions I ask myself every month as I try to pay down my seemingly never-ending student loan bills. Questions like… “is it even worth it to go to college in the U.S. anymore, unless you’re wealthy or can go on scholarship?” The price of higher education has increased more than any other service in the U.S. economy since 1978. Tons of college grads are struggling to find even menial employment while new student loans over the next 10 years will total $184 billion. Yikes! Through interviews with Andrew Delbanco, Anya Kamenetz, and Internet education pioneer Daphne Koller, cofounder of the revolutionary online platform Coursera, the film looks to other solutions for getting ahead after high school.
This beautiful and award winning documentary focuses on a small town off Interstate 49 in Missouri — Rich Hill, population 1,396. While it’s tiny nature may be easy to overlook, it represents many of the small, poor towns scattered across our country. Filmmaking cousins Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo created this immersive and dazzlingly cinematic journey into the lives of Andrew, Harley, and Appachey, three Rich Hill boys navigating the often-treacherous road between childhood and adolescence. Though they are poor and without the resources so many of us fortunate enough to watch their film have, they long for the same things we all want: a nice house, dinner on the table, and a healthy, loving family. The filmmaker’s intimate connection to their subjects serves as a window into a too-often bleak environment, where simply getting by is considered a success, though hope for something greater lives on.
This is one of those quieter docs that rocks you to your core. In a rural village far from Tehran, a teenage girl named Sepideh dreams of becoming a renowned astronomer. Attached to her personal telescope, Sepideh spends her nights stargazing, inspired by Anousheh Ansari, the first Iranian in space. She knows that the chances of attaining her goal are small for someone in her circumstance, but she dreams on. Her uncle disapproves of her unladylike behavior, and her widowed mother warns that she cannot pay for the necessary schooling she so desires. When she’s passed over for a college scholarship that would help her pave the way, her determination is tested. Will she make it where she wants to go? You’ll have to tune in to find out…
Tell us: what awesome documentaries have you seen lately? Are you planning to check out any of this year’s Sundance film festival flicks?