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What Documentaries to See in Park City at Slamdance and Sundance 2020

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | January 23rd, 2020

Park City 2020 madness is upon us, with both the Slamdance and Sundance film festivals starting this week. Here is a brief preview of just some of what I recommend (all documentaries) based on prior viewing or personal interest. For a list of different choices, equally good, check out our Sundance curtain raiser at Hammer to Nail(where I also write).

SLAMDANCE PICKS

Big Fur: Director Dan Wayne follows champion taxidermist Ken Walker on his journey through the vagaries of life, love and Sasquatch. We watch as he applies his fine artistic skills to the creation of a life-size replica of Big Foot, in whom he ardently believes.

Film About a Father Who: The opening night film of the festival, Lynne Sachs’ documentary about her octogenarian father, Ira Sachs, a real-estate developer dubbed “the Hugh Hefner of Park City,” is disturbing and intimate, filled with uncomfortable truths about family, sex and the human condition.

Jasper Mall: From directors Bradford Thomason and Brett Whitcomb, this documentary profiles a year in the life of a dying suburban mall, located in Jasper, Alabama. It’s a nostalgic look at the once ubiquitous shopping center and what its loss means for some, if not all, of us.

Lovemobil: German director Elke Margarete Lehrenkrauss trains her documentary lens on foreign sex workers outside Wolfsburg, Germany, plying their lonely trade in camper trailers by the side of road. Raw and dispiriting, the movie will transform how one views the oldest profession in the world.

Maxima: Director Claudia Sparrow profiles Peruvian farmer and activist Máxima Acuña, recipient of the 2016 Goldman Environmental Prize, as she fights back against an international conglomerate that wants to destroy her land for the sake of a gold-mining operation. Outspent, she never gives up in this inspiring call to action against corporate greed.


SUNDANCE PICKS

Acasă, My Home: Romanian director Radu Ciorniciuc tells the disturbing and moving tale of a family of 9 – 7 kids plus mom and dad – whose idyll of a life spent in wild nature on the edge of the country’s capital of Bucharest is upended when the government turns their home into an urban park.

The Fight: Directors Eli Despres, Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg embed themselves with ACLU lawyers whose lives became harder and mission more urgent with the 2016 election of Donald J. Trump.

Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on the Exorcist: Director Alexandre O. Philippe is a master of the behind-the-scenes film-based documentaries; witness his 78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Sceneand Memory: The Origins of Alien, to name but two. Now he turns his capable eye on William Friedkin, and the making of his cult classic, The Exorcist.

Okavango: River of Dreams (Director’s Cut): Noted wildlife filmmakers Beverly and Dereck Joubert photograph’s Africa Okavango river delta with breathtaking compositions, capturing the majestic beauty of flora and fauna, alike. Adapted from a three-episode PBS seriesthat premiered in October of 2019.

Once Upon a Time in Venezuela: Venezuelan director Anabel Rodríguez Ríos tells the story of her country’s recent political turmoil as seen from afar, focusing her attention on the residents of Congo Mirador, a small village on the edge of Lake Maracaibo that is on the cusp of disappearing, its residents fleeing the weeds that choke their waterways. Political corruption has real-world consequences, always.

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is Managing Editor at Film Festival Today; lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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