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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.

Sundance Goes National

On Thursday, January 28, 2010, eight filmmakers and their films will be dispatched from Park City to cities across America, thanks to the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. The Sundance Institute will start the series/tour, Sundance Film Festival U.S.A, where select films that premiere at the 10-day Festival will also have simultaneous screenings nationwide starting that night of , January 28yh to theatres in eight cities, while featuring coinciding premiere screenings and topical events at the Festival in Utah.   

For the first time the fest will provide audiences the opportunity to experience screenings direct from the Festival in their home town art houses and to engage in live conversation with Festival artists. An introduction video featuring Robert Redford and highlights from the Festival will precede the screenings. 

Selections for films and filmmakers traveling to the eight cities will take place shortly after the programming announcement in December. All films will be selected from the official Sundance Film Festival program.

The Sundance Film Festival presents dramatic and documentary feature-length films from emerging and established artists, innovative short films, filmmaker forums and panels, live music performances ranging from solo acts to film composer events, cutting-edge media installations, and engaging community and student programs. And the Festival brings together the most original storytellers of our time with film industry players of every stripe.

Supported by the non-profit Sundance Institute, the Festival has introduced global audiences to some of the most ground-breaking films of the past two decades, including sex, lies, and videotape, Maria Full of Grace, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, An Inconvenient Truth, Trouble the Water, and Central Station and, through its New Frontier initiative, has brought to audiences the cinematic works of media artists including Isaac Julian, Doug Aitken, Pierre Huyghe, Jennifer Steinkamp, and Matthew Barney.

Tickets will be available through each theater’s individual box office.

Southwest Airlines is the official airline partner of Sundance Film Festival U.S.A.

Sundance Film Festival U.S.A. Across America participating cities and their theatres are:

Michigan Theater
Ann Arbor, MI

Coolidge Corner Theatre
Brookline, MA

Brooklyn Acadamy of Music
Brooklyn, NY

Music Box Theatre
Chicago, IL

Downtown Independent
Los Angeles, CA

Sundance Cinemas Madison
Madison, WI

The Belcourt Theatre
Nashville, TN

Sundance Kabuki Cinemas
San Francisco, CA

4th Annual Romanian Film Festival

The rising prominence of Romanian film reached a high-water mark last year with 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, writer-director Cristian Mungiu's 2007 Palme d'Or-winning drama set in Communist Romania in the waning days of Nicolae Ceausescu. It went on to international acclaim and a bevy of top-10 lists as it unfurled across the globe.

Romanian cinema,
which reaches back to the 19th century and includes some of the earliest efforts of the emerging medium, also impressed the world by winning the Best Short award at Cannes in 2004 and 2008.

Hooked (Pescuit sportiv), directed by Adrian Sitaru

With this new-found attention came the city-specific Romanian Film Festival in NY, beginning 2006. Now in its fourth year, the festival is a collaboration of the Romanian Cultural Institute in New York, The Tribeca Film Festival and The Transylvania International Film Festival.

This year's festival, the fourth annual, runs December 4-6, 2009, at Tribeca Cinemas in New York City. A companion film series will air nationally on Link TV and in New York on CUNY TV.

Titled "4 Years, 3 Days and 2 Decades Later," the festival features some of the most recent films from Romania's unique and critically exalted national body of contemporary cinema, keyed to the 20th anniversary of the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. To this end, festival curator Mihai Chirilov has created a retrospective section, "Waving at the Revolution," which includes the opening night film Videograms of a Revolution

Attending the festival will be actor Vlad Ivanov (Police, Adjective and The Other Irene), winner of the 2007 award for Best Supporting Actor of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association for 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days; director Horaţiu Mălăele (Silent Wedding), actor Andi VasluianuThe Other Irene), and, producer/director Tudor Giurgiu (Katalin Varga and Australia). (

"The Actors of the Romanian New Wave," a festival event Monday, Dec. 7, at 7:30 p.m., features a  conversation with Ivanov, Mălăele and Vasluianu. It will be held at the Romanian Cultural Institute in New York, 200 East 38th St. (at Third Avenue), and admission is free.

The festival line up is:

Hooked (Pescuit sportiv), 2008, directed by Adrian Sitaru (image above)
Katalin Varga, 2009, directed by Peter Strickland
The Other Irene (Cealaltă Irina), 2009, directed by Andrei Grusnickzi
Police, Adjective (Poliţist. adj.), 2009, directed by Corneliu Porumboiu - the Romanian selection for the 82nd Academy Awards. An IFC Films release.
Silent Wedding (Nunta mută), 2008, directed by Horaţiu Mălăele

Special program:  "Waving at the Revolution"
Videograms of a Revolution (Videogramme einer Revolution), 1992, directed by Harun Farocki and Andrei Ujică
The Oak (Balanţa), 1992, directed by Lucian Pintilie
State of Things (Stare de fapt), 1995, directed by Stere Gulea

Australia, 2009, directed by Claudiu Mitcu
The Flower Bridge (Podul de flori), 2008, directed by Thomas Ciulei

11 PM, 2009, directed by Alexandru Sava
Bric-Brac, 2009, directed by Gabriel Achim
For Him (Pentru el), 2009, directed by Stanca Radu
Oli's Wedding (Nunta lui Oli), 2009, directed by Tudor Jiurgiu
Renovation (Renovare), 2009, directed by Paul Negoescu
Tarantyno, 2009, directed by Mircea Nestor

 In partnership with the Romanian Cultural Institute in New York, Link TV will broadcast nationally the complementary film series The Romanian New Wave. The feature films included in this special presentation of Link TV will also air on cable in New York City on CUNY TV (Channel 75) starting Friday, December 4, at 10 p.m. ET with The Paper Will Be Blue. This series is curated by Steven Lawrence, Vice President of Music and Cultural Programming at Link TV. 

The schedule of films to air on CUNY TV is:

The Paper Will Be Blue (Hîrtia va fi albastră), 2006, directed by Radu Muntean, December 4
Stuff and Dough (Marfa şi banii), 2001, directed by Cristi Puiu, December 11
Exam (Examen), 2003, directed by Titus Muntean, December 18
12:08 East of Bucharest (A fost sau n-a fost?), 2006, directed by Corneliu Porumboiu, December 25
Love Sick (Legături bolnăvicioase), 2006, directed by Tudor Giurgiu, January 1

The following films will be broadcast nationally on Link TV. For a full schedule and program information visit:


12:08 East of Bucharest (A fost sau n-a fost?)
directed by Corneliu Porumboiu

Exam (Examen)
directed by Titus Muntean

Love Sick (Legături bolnăvicioase)
directed by Tudor Giurgiu

The Paper Will Be Blue (Hîrtia va fi albastră)
directed by Radu Muntean

Stuff and Dough (Marfa şi banii)
directed by Cristi Puiu


Bar de zi and Other Stories (Bar de zi şi alte povestiri)
directed by Corina Radu

Cold Waves (Război pe calea undelor)
directed by Alexandru Solomon

directed by Răzvan Georgescu

All films will be screened in the original language with English subtitles, introduced by Romanian film critics. 

Tickets: Adult, $10. Student/Senior, $7.  On sale at the box office starting December 4.

For more information:

The 4th Annual Romanian Film Festival in New York
December 4-6, 2009
Tribeca Cinemas
54 Varick Street (at Laight Street)
New York, NY


Israel Film Fest In NYC -- Kudos for A New Generation

The saga of early Israeli cinema is the saga of selfless heroes building a nation, both onscreen and off. Glimpse these mythical creatures in A History of Israeli Cinema, a look back at the country’s 70-plus years of moviemaking. Raphaël Nadjari’s two-part documentary will have its American premiere at The Israel Film Festival (December 5-13, 2009, in New York), which has overlapped with 24 of those years.

As if to underscore how far the national film culture has come from since its birth, 2009 IFF opens with the sumo wrestling comedy, A Matter of Size. Directors Sharon Maymon and Erez Tadmor show Israel’s New Man as a fatso unable to sacrifice a snack, much less his life. The film is slated for an American remake. Today’s anti-heros sell Sabra power like their patriotic forebears could only hope to.

“Israeli film is on the go,” says IFF Founder/Executive Director Meir Fenigstein. “These days Israeli filmmakers believe their film will be in competition in Cannes or Berlin. They deserve to dream, because that’s where the Israeli film industry is now.”

In recent years, such films as Walk on Water (2004), The Band's Visit (2007), Beaufort (2007) and Waltz with Bashir (2008) have won critical international acclaim, with Beaufort and Waltz with Bashir garnering nominations for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

Fenigstein partly credits this breakthrough to the infusion of state and private funding for cinema, nearly a decade in the works. New voices have since found an in, opening the Israeli screen to diversity and innovation. With so much at stake, film advocates geared up for a major battle last July, when the Knesset slashed the industry’s budget proposal of NIS 67 million (roughly $18 million) per year to NIS 25 million. Those shekels sustain the annual production of 14 - 18 feature films and some 120 hours of documentaries, with outlays of $500,000 - $1,000,000 per film and roughly $150,000 per hour of documentary.

This year’s IFF showcases the varied complexion of Israeli filmmaking via 28 features, documentaries and shorts. Kirot, by Danny Lerner, ventures into genre territory with the story of a sex worker who becomes a hit woman in hopes of returning to her native Ukraine. Shmuel Beru’s Zrubavel also investigates crime, but from the perspective of an Ethiopian family seeking to blend in with Israeli culture.

Several of the films invoke Arab-Israeli affairs, whether in the political or romantic sense. Seven Minutes in Heaven reconstructs the bus explosion and subsequent events that injured director/writer Omri Givon’s protagonist and ultimately killed her boyfriend. Mid-Eastern variations on Romeo and Juliet surface in two selections: Jaffa, by Keren Yedaya, shoots cupid’s arrow at the daughter of an Israeli car repair shop owner and a Palestinian mechanic; and in Dror Zahavi’s For My Father, a Palestinian botches his suicide mission and falls for a Tel Aviv beauty raised in an Orthodox Jewish home.

Bruriah takes a different angle on an Orthodox daughter. Avraham Kushnir’s nonfiction debut is a modern drama loosely inspired by the 2nd-century legend of Bruriah, a sage whose rabbi husband sent a student to seduce her as proof that "women are lightheaded.”

American director Paul Schrader also unearths a dark tale from the past for Adam Resurrected, in this case a 1968 novel by Yoram Kaniuk about a charismatic patient of an Israeli asylum for Holocaust survivors. Rounding out the fiction slate are Seven Days, Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz’s melodrama of Jewish mourning, and Mrs. Moscowitz & the Cats, a sentimental education among retirees, from Jorge Gurvich.

Itself past 60, Israel continues to evolve apace. Its changing social landscape crops up in several documentaries, like David Ofek’s Tale of Nicolai, about Romanian workers who run afoul of Israeli law, and Ilan Aboody’s The "Shakshuka" System, which probes Israeli wealth and power through the lens of the elite Ofer family.  

Few come to the IFF for an escape from reality, but rather to check in with that reality, from proliferating points of view. Ideally, a work’s impact “stays with them for ten minutes,” as Fenigstein recalls former Festival honoree Miloš Forman couching his goal as a filmmaker.   

This year’s honorees include actor Elliott Gould (Lifetime Achievement Award), who emceed Opening Night Awards at the 4th Annual IFF; writer/director Paul Schrader (Achievement in Film Award); and Don Krim (Visionary Award), president of Kino International distribution company, whose Israeli titles include Renen Schorr’s Late Summer Blues, Amos Gitai’s Kadosh and Kippur, Cannes Camera d’Or winner Or, Joseph Cedar’s In the Time of Favor and Beaufort as well as this year’s submission from Israel to the Academy Awards, Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani’s Ajami.

Opening night honors and Festival screenings will take place at the SVA Theatre, at 23rd Street and 8th Avenue. (IFF program and ticketing information is available at

Presented by IsraFest Foundation, Inc., in association with the Consulate General of Israel in New York, IFF seeks to promote cultural interchange through American-Israeli encounters and the medium of Israeli cinema. In keeping with its mission, the Festival will bring in 15 special guests to attend the 2009 festivities and conduct post-screening discussions. And ever-attuned to tomorrow’s talent, it will showcase student productions, this year from seven Israeli film schools.  

In the near future, the IFF faces its Silver Anniversary. “What do you do with a milestone like that?” Fenigstein wonders. “Maybe someone from the audience has a good idea.”

Inviting community input, itself, would seem a good idea. As Israeli cinema continues its ascent, forcing the IFF to compete with more powerful siblings like Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Sundance and now TriBeca, the Festival -- like Israel -- may be ripe for some soul searching. “It used to be that I was the only kid on the block,” says Fenigstein, “but we have to adjust to the situation.”

Israel Film Festival (New York)
December 5-13, 2009
Israfest Foundation, Inc.

6404 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1240

Los Angeles, California 90048

Phone: 323-966-4166 


All Screenings

SVA Theater

333 West 23rd Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues

New York, NY 10011


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