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Sundance Checklist: US Documentary Competition

With very few documentaries ever making it to the local bijoux, the festival circuit is the only place to go to get a TV deal, and Sundance is the best spot to go for it. This year’s 16 films were selected from 862 submissions. Each film is a world premiere, or in other words, no one has seen it other than the selection committee and the filmmakers and their friends and families.

This year Competition focuses primarily on two things: Celebrities and the war in Afghanistan. While the former might be worth a looksee, the latter won't be appreciated for at least fifty to a hundred years when history students will look at these for term papers on the early 21st century. There are also a couple of the traditional Why We Suck films.

This year's contestants are:

Directors Jessica Hernandez and Johnny O'Hara
Screenwriter Johnny O'Hara
World Premiere

A riveting journey through the life and work of  recently assassinated Benazir Bhutto, former Pakistani Prime Minister and a polarizing figure in the Muslim world.
Casino Jack & The United States of Money

Director Alex Gibney
World Premiere
A probing investigation into the lies, greed and corruption surrounding D.C. super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his cronies. 

Family Affair                                                                                                                                                
Director: Chico Colvard
World Premiere                                                                                                          
An uncompromising documentary that examines resilience, survival and the capacity to accommodate a parent's past crimes in order to satisfy the longing for family.

Freedom Riders
Director Stanley Nelson
World Premiere
The story behind a courageous band of civil rights activists called the Freedom Riders who in 1961 creatively challenged segregation in the American South.

Director Josh Fox
World Premiere

A cross-country odyssey uncovers toxic streams, dying livestock, flammable sinks and weakening health among rural citizens on the front lines of the natural gas drilling craze.
The Tillman Story
Director Amir Bar-Lev
World Premiere

Pat Tillman gave up his professional football career to join the Army Rangers in 2002— and became an instant symbol of patriotic fervor and unflinching duty. But the truth about Pat Tillman is far more complex, and ultimately far more heroic, than the caricature created by the media. And when the government tried to turn his death into war propaganda, they took on the wrong family. From her home in the Santa Cruz mountains, Pat’s mother, Dannie Tillman, led the family’s crusade to reveal the truth beneath the mythology of their son’s life and death. Featuring candid and revelatory interviews with Pat Tillman's fellow soldiers as well as his family, Amir Bar-Lev’s emotional and insightful film not only shines a light on the shady aftermath of Pat's death and calls to task the entire chain of command, but also examines themes as timeless as the notion of heroism itself.
Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child
Director Tamra Davis
World Premiere

The story of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose work defined, electrified and challenged an era, and whose untimely death at age 27 has made him a cultural icon.
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work
Directors Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg
World Premiere
 Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work takes the audience on a year long ride with Joan Rivers in her 75th year of life; it peels away the mask of an iconic comedian, while laying bare both the struggle and thrill of living life as a groundbreaking female performer. Filmmakers Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg (The Devil Came on Horseback) expose the private dramas of this irreverent, legendary comedian as she fights to keep her career thriving in a business driven by youth and beauty.
Director Jeffrey Blitz
World Premiere
The story of what happens when ordinary people hit the lottery jackpot.

My Perestroika
Director Robin Hessman
World Premiere

An intimate epic about the extraordinary lives of this last Soviet generation, Hessman’s feature doc-debut tells the stories of five Moscow schoolmates who were brought up behind the Iron Curtain, witnessed the joy and confusion of glasnost, and reached adulthood right as the world changed around them. Through first-person testimony, verité footage and vintage home movies, Hessman, who spent many years in Moscow, reveals a Russia rarely ever seen on film, where people are frank about their lives and forthcoming about their country. Engaging, funny, and positively inspiring, in My Perestroika politics is personal, honesty overshadows ideology, and history progresses one day, one life at a time.
The Oath
Director Laura Poitras
World Premiere
Filmed in Yemen, The Oath tells the story of two men whose fateful encounter in 1996 set them on a course of events that led them to Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden, 9/11, Guantanamo, and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Directors Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington
World Premiere
To make their doc Restrepo, award-winning journalists Hetherington and Junger (The Perfect Storm) embedded with the soldiers of Second Platoon, Battle Company, in eastern Afghanistan's rugged Korengal Valley as they fought to build and maintain a remote 15-man outpost in the Korengal, named “Restrepo” after a platoon medic who was killed in action. These two avoid all outside commentary and political context in order to present us war as it is actually lived by soldiers, through their own eyes and in their own words—the backbreaking labor, the deadly firefights, the boredom, the camaraderie.
A Small Act
Director Jennifer Arnold
World Premiere
A young Kenyan’s life changes dramatically when his education is sponsored by a Swedish stranger. Years later, he founds his own scholarship program to replicate the kindness he once received.
Smash His Camera
Director Leon Gast
World Premiere
Oscar-winning filmmaker Leon Gast (When We Were Kings) directs this wildly entertaining portrait of Ron Galella, the self-proclaimed paparazzo superstar who pursued and made art of a celebrity world that despised him. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis sued him, Marlon Brando broke his jaw and Steve McQueen gave him a look that would have killed, if looks could kill. Inherent in the story of this notorious photographer are the complex issues of the right to privacy, freedom of the press and the ever-growing vortex of celebrity worship. He sneaked around and invaded and bribed and held up his camera and shot till he dropped (or someone dropped him). His was the artistry of the sniper. Yet Ron Galella found something essential in his real-life subjects, and he gave it permanence.
12th & Delaware
Directors Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing
World Premiere
The abortion battle continues to rage in unexpected ways on an unassuming corner in America.
Waiting for Superman
Director Davis Guggenheim
World Premiere
Waiting for Superman
examines the crisis of public education in the United States through multiple interlocking stories—from a handful of students and their families whose futures hang in the balance, to the educators and reformers trying to find real and lasting solutions within a dysfunctional system.

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