All eyes are on this week’s Sundance Film Festival, debuting a host of the most anticipated documentaries that we’ll all be talking about over the next year. But before we get too gaga with the high altitude buzz, I wanted to highlight a spectrum of the most exciting documentaries rolling out in 2015. The list below includes some docs I’ve already seen and want you to know about, three that will be at Sundance, and a couple leaps of faith.
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The Look of Silence
Joshua Oppenheimer’s follow-up to the brilliant but controversial The Act of Killing is the flip side of the equation. Before, he featured the perpetrators of the genocide in Indonesia in the 1960s. Here, he examines the survivors. Honestly, there was something rather straightforward about this film for its first hour, but then Oppenheimer turns up the stakes and the film becomes another emotionally gut-wrenching trip into the terror that has plagued Indonesia. This is a must see. I question the release plan for this film — it made the rounds of the festivals in the past year and now we have to wait for it to come out in July. I hope it gets the attention that it deserves.
The Vanquishing of the Witch Baba Yaga
Is there a theater or VOD distributor willing to show the world a poignant, lyrical documentary that ponders humanity’s relationship to nature while showing beautiful images of a eastern Europe and telling an animated folk tale? I sure hope so. This film was also shown on the festival circuit last year. I heard funny rumors that are too second-hand to repeat here, but I’m not sure this great doc is going to actually make it to the public the way it should, which would be a shame.
The Cult of JT LeRoy
This little doc, which played at DOC NYC and seems to have gone fairly unnoticed so far, should be on your list. First, what a story! The literary sensation, author JT Leroy — a truck stop hooker who learned to write and seduced celebrities of every stripe — turns out to be a fraud, a creation by a twisted couple of wannabes. How did it happen? What did it feel like to be duped? How did it go on for so many years? And how did it all fall apart? It’s all here in this riveting, well-told tale. This gem doesn’t have a release date or even a distributor, so someone better get on it quick.
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
Director Alex Gibney is one the most gifted documentary filmmakers working today. But he’s become a machine, producing several docs a year, and his work remains tight — but lacking in singular inspiration. I imagine he had to give this profile of former members of the Church of Scientology his all. You. Don’t. Mess. With. These. Guys… Unless you’re willing to take on years of litigation and Xenu’s eternal rage.
Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck
I’ve been waiting for this film for years! Director Brett Morgen has too: He’s been dancing with Courtney Love, widow of Kurt Cobain, for a decade — toying with the idea of him making a documentary about Cobain, with access to the Nirvana singer’s music, various home movies and other scraps. Morgen can do this right. It could be the rock doc to blow away all rock docs.
The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst
I’m filled with both dread and anticipation for Director Andrew Jarecki’s serialized portrait of Robert Durst, the scion of a billionaire family, who has been accused of several murders but never convicted. This is going to be aired on HBO but it’s getting its first showing at Sundance where I imagine it’ll cause quite a stir. An episodic serialization of nonfiction that features death and mayhem gives me the creeps, but it’s thrilling to see Jarecki take nonfiction down this slippery slope. I’m probably going to write more about it in a later post. For now, I can’t wait to see it.
Certainly Sounds Good
I’ve written before about POV alum Yance Ford’s debut film about the tragic killing of her brother and the subsequent exoneration of his killer, and I remain convinced that Ford will deliver the goods. But I haven’t seen the film, just snippets. Since Ford declined to pursue a Sundance premiere, I’m dying to see which festival will be in the fortunate position to show Strong Island first. I bet they’ll be crowing about it for years to come.
That other festival that’s kicking off this week, Slamdance, is featuring a little documentary about a boy with leukemia who gets quite a wish out of the Make a Wish foundation: to be like Batman. The organization, and a whole city, put on a full-on production for the kid in this story that must be quite a tearjerker. It’s hard not to root for this one.