Sundance 2013: Documentaries shine in Utah
At the Sundance Film Festival, docs like 'Twenty Feet From Stardom' and 'The Crash Reel' show some of the best the industry has to offer.
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There are many reasons – luck, drive, timing – why these women are not as well known as the famous lead singers, but their pipes are every bit as good. With the rise of rap and synthesized musicmaking, the “big” sound of these women is increasingly in less demand, to the detriment of us all.Skip to next paragraph
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Inspirationalism was also the order of the day for Lucy Walker’s “The Crash Reel,” about Kevin Pearce, the snowboarding champ who has slowly come back from a traumatic brain injury (suffered in a 2009 fall on the Park City slopes). Walker made the movie while Pearce, who at one time wanted to return to big-time snowboarding and now advocates for brain-injury victims, was very much still on the brink. She worried that her film might have this “terrible tragic ending.”
Pearce’s entire family, whose unfailing support is clearly his touchstone, was on hand at Sundance. At a party for documentary films, Pearce wanted to know what I thought of the film and then offered up his own extended review. It was mostly positive. Whew!
I had a very political day and a half when I caught in succession Frieda Mock’s “Anita: Speaking Truth to Power,” about Anita Hill; “The World According to Dick Cheney,” directed by R.J. Cutler and Greg Finton; Alex Gibney’s marvelous “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks”; and Richard Rowley’s eye-opening “Dirty Wars,” which follows reporter/whistle-blower Jeremy Scahill’s investigations into covert military operations conducted by the United States in more than 70 countries, including some that are supposed American allies.
Hill, now an author and a professor at Brandeis University, showed up after the screening of “Anita,” which features ample testimony from the 1991 Senate Judiciary hearings in which 14 white men, headed up by then-Sen. Joe Biden, sat in mostly humiliating judgment of her charges of sexual harassment against US Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. “I feel really good,” she beamingly told the packed house. About the issue of sexual harassment that she so much brought to the fore: “We have to commit ourselves to getting it right in the future.” And about that electric blue dress she wore to the hearings? “It became a fashion statement in Ghana.”
Dick Cheney cooperated on his documentary, which is even-handed even if its subject is not. Asked to name his main fault, he ponders for a long moment before coming up blank. Referred to in the film as “the most powerful unpresidential figure this country has ever known,” Cheney is not in the warm-and-fuzzy business. “If you want to be loved,” he says, “be a movie star.”
Over dinner I asked Alex Gibney about Julian Assange’s reaction to his film, which not only expertly delineates the history of WikiLeaks, the website that rocked the world, but also delves deeply into the psychology of its founder. “He’s already denounced it,” Gibney said. “And he hasn’t seen it.” As a consequence of sexual-harassment charges in Sweden, Assange has thus far escaped extradition by receiving asylum in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. From there he has been furiously tweeting against Gibney and the film.