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Kate Plays Christine
Film is art all by itself, yes. But at Sundance this year, a number of films show art in front of and behind the camera, particularly in documentaries. They run the gamut from capturing the lives of photographers and plastic artists to singers, actors and more.
Robert Greene’s Kate Plays Christine was the winner of the Jury Award for Writing. Kate Lyn Sheil portrays Christine Chubbuck, a local Florida TV personality who committed suicide live on air. Sheil approaches Chubbuck as a role for which she prepares in depth. We not only get an insider glimpse at the acting process, but also view an examination of the real story that surrounds the 42 year old tragedy.
Greene’s interest in the acting process extends to his 2014 film Actress, following Brandy Burre’s attempts to jump start her acting career after putting it on hold to start a family. As with the current film, Greene pulls back the curtain on more than an artist’s process, but on societal norms and conventions that hold us back from the truth.
Swedish visual artist Sara Jordenö made her feature documentary debut at this year's Sundance. Kiki combines artistic vision with social concerns. She spotlights a new generation of voguers in New York. Fun to watch and not too referential to Paris is Burning, Jennie Livingston's 1991 documentary that introduced the term to an unenglightened audience. The voguing and dancing here are the gateway to the real lives of LGBT youth of color today.
Journalist Ron Suskind discovers that Disney animation is the only way to connect with his autistic son Owen. It seems a strange premise for a film, but Life, Animated uses this "quirk" to bring us into the life of Owen, as he grows up and struggles to connect with his parents. The cartoons take Owen from a space only he knows into a relationship, not just with his family, but with the world at large. Director Roger Ross Williams won the U.S. Documentary Directing Award at the festival.
In Uncle Howard, director Aaron Brookner sets out to find a lost film on William S. Burroughs that was made by his late uncle, director Howard Brookner who died of AIDS in 1989 at age 35. That film, Burroughs: The Movie, was a critical success. He interviews other artists who worked with Howard, and in the process examines New York culture of a certain era, as well as the artistic mind of a life cut short.
Sky Ladder: The Art of Cai Gui-Qiang was directed by Kevin Macdonald and produced by Wendi Deng, ex-wife of Rupert Murdoch. The film follows this artist, best known for his work on the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics in 2008, as he attempts to create a massive celestial sculpture using fireworks, his material of choice. Cai lives in New York, but is influenced by contemporary Japanese art. As he looks for financial support, the question arises: how does an established artist continue to challenge himself?
Sonita,directed by Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami, won the World Cinema Documentary Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award. Who knew someone like Sonita existed? A young woman rapper in Iran, she gathers all her strength to make it, raging through her music against the injustices in her country as well as her own family, who want to marry her off. A portrait of the artist as a young woman and then some.
You can’t make this stuff up: Film director Shin Sang-ok and his leading lady (in work and in life), actress Choi Eun-hee were the toast of South Korea until they were kidnapped by North Korea and forced to work on a film project which is the brain child of dictator cinemaniac Kim Jong-il. According to The Lovers and the Despot directed by Robert Cannan and Ross Adam, this is what happens when art, love and megalomania collide!
Film Hawk, directed by JJ Garvine and Tai Parquet, is a love letter to the father of independent cinema, Bob Hawk. Saying he is a consultant is understating the matter by miles. He is the nurturer and champion of indie films and discovered the likes of Kevin Smith and Ed Burns. The filmmakers had a treasure trove of interview subjects, because who wouldn’t want to talk about Bob, who still is a vibrant presence in the indie scene.
Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato is a direct look at the work of the controversial photographer through interviews of those closest to him. Although the Congress/National Endowment for the Arts battle that his work was a part of started a generation ago, his work still stands – and so does the NEA. This is not a searing X-ray of the iconoclast, but a quiet look at some of the people that helped Mapplethorpe become Mapplethorpe.
In addition to searing social issue nonfiction, filmmaker Liz Garbus has made documentaries about artists, including Marilyn Monroe and Nina Simone. With Nothing Left Unsaid: Gloria Vanderbilt & Anderson Cooper, Garbus crafts a film about an artist with a huge family burden: Gloria Vanderbilt truly seemed to suffer from the privileged life she led, but beyond a short acting career – and a fashion entrepreneur with those famous jeans – she created art for herself and others and in the end seems to have made art out of her life. Which we can only wish for all of us, to be honest.
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