The U.S. documentary competition at this year’s Sundance Film Festival is filled with movies touching on themes of greed, poverty and political change. Our colleagues at Participant Media, TakePart’s parent company, have worked tirelessly on their own entry in this year’s festival, Finding North. Directed by Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush, the powerful doc about hunger in America premiered Sunday night.
Meanwhile, here are some of our other choices for must-see documentaries playing at this year’s festival.
Credit: Jill Orschel/Sundance Film Festival
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
First on the list: Contemporary artist Ai Weiwei has been making waves in China as a political activist by freely criticizing the Chinese government’s stance on issues of human rights and democracy. The dissident has prompted countless “Ai Fans” across the country, which surprising for a country with such strict government control. Director Alison Klayman leads viewers through the risks in Ai’s life, his run-ins with the police, and his provocative artwork, making this a worthwhile film to watch.
The Invisible War
Director Kirby Dick eloquently tackles the topic of military rape in his investigative documentary focusing on the heartbreaking, terrifying stories of several U.S. servicewomen. From interviews with congressional members to military officials, this film explains how the rape epidemic developed and what it will take to produce change.
ESCAPE FIRE: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare
This impressive documentary tackles a big question: How can we save our broken healthcare system? Directors Matthew Heineman and Susan Froemke explore the pitfalls of the American system, particularly the focus on big-profit quick fixes rather than patient-driven care and prevention. Leaders across different industries, from the military to medicine to government, are trying to find a way to change the status quo. Covering tearful patient stories as well as offering key statistics, this documentary will move you to action.
The Other Dream Team
America’s famous “Dream Team” dominated the 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics with what was considered the greatest basketball team ever. But there was another “Dream Team,” with a dream of political and social freedom. Lithuania, a newly independent nation, presented an underdog basketball team that managed to pull off the impossible: winning the bronze over Russia, its former oppressor. This David vs. Goliath film, mixed with a healthy dose of Grateful Dead and democracy, is a must-see.
Directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, Detropia highlights the problems and evolution of Detroit. Representative of the collapse of the U.S. manufacturing base, Detroit’s problems represent a city struggling in the current economic depression. While the film also features the city’s fascinating diverse culture, the plight of its residents is the bigger issue at hand.
How to Survive a Plague
Directed by David France, this documentary sheds light on the untold story of the AIDS researchers and scientists who fought to make sure being HIV-positive was not a death sentence. These activists helped create a model for current healthcare activism—an important story that proves meaningful today.
Love Free or Die: How the Bishop of New Hampshire Is Changing the World
Director Macky Alston brings a happy note to this year’s Sundance, exploring the world of gay Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. Robinson, whose election as a Bishop in the Episcopal church was controversial, has paved the way for a greater acceptance toward openly gay people in the church. And Alston, who comes from a long line of ministers, is the perfect person to discuss the topic.
The D Word: Understanding Dyslexia
A (relatively) lighter offering compared to many of the documentaries at this year’s Sundance, The D Word underscores the challenges of dyslexic kids who see letters as a completely foreign language. Check out the myths, emerging research and the lives of dyslexic students and successful business leaders in this engaging film.
Big Boys Gone BANANAS!*
Swedish filmmaker Gertten not only directs, but stars, in this bizarre turn of art-imitates-life depicting the freedom-of-speech battles between himself and Dole Food Company. Dole sued Gertten after his previous documentary, BANANAS!*, explored a lawsuit between Nicaraguan plantation workers and Dole. This follow-up thriller takes viewers through all of the legal tactics, bullying and media control a multinational company employs to wage its wars.
A contender in the World Cinema Documentary Competition, 1/2 Revolution perfectly epitomizes the tumultuous political violence that defined 2011. This year’s riots in Egypt and the rest of the Middle East captivated the attentions of the international community, and directors Omar Shargawi and Karim El Hakim manage to brilliantly capture the emotions and dangers of the Egyptian revolution.