Dispatch from Sundance: Criminals, Corporate and Otherwise

Posted on: Friday, January 25 2013

By Kim Bender, BAVC Development Director/Sundance Correspondent

Sundance at its best provides a snapshot of the cultural zeitgeist: new questions, new information, new connections, and new enthusiasm about the role of media in catalyzing change. The corporatization of America is a theme running through so many films this year, both documentaries and narrative features. As funders want more and more data on the impact of their investments in social issue docs, the calls to action are becoming more sophisticated. It's fascinating to see how each film handles its call to action, if there is one; how filmmakers view their roles in social change; and the outreach campaigns that are being developed to capitalize on their Sundance exposure. 

Citizen Koch connects the landmark 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling "Citizens United" with events in Wisconsin over the last two years, showing how the mobilized right wing wealthy 1%-- epitomized by the titular Koch brothers-- is systematically dismantling labor unions as part of their longterm election strategy. It's deeply frightening. Award-winning directors Tia Lessin and Carl Deal participated in the Mozilla sponsored hackfest, along with three other teams, at Silverdocs back in June. It was great to see the final product and note that many of BAVC's supporters/partners also funded this critically important film: Chicken & Egg Pictures, The Fledgling Fund, Ford Foundation: Just Films, MacArthur Foundation, Active Voice and more. The Citizen Koch website is a model for taking action in response to the film, providing key resources for fighting back.  

Manhunt: The Search for Osama bin Laden netted much controversy during the Q&A yesterday about the value of torture, or "enhanced interrogation techniques." Two CIA agents who played prominent roles in the film joined director Greg Barker onstage, and as you can imagine, defended waterboarding and other enhanced techniques (though an FBI agent interviewed the film left the bin Laden manhunt because he disagreed about the value of torture). There's a good Daily Beast article in which these same CIA agents are interviewed. One of the film's most interesting revelations was the "Sisterhood" of women who dedicated 10-20 years of their lives to finding bin Laden; they were very sympathetic, courageous characters. Barker's stance was that the film's role is to encourage public debate on the topic, and he encouraged the audience members to push for the declassification of crucial documents in order to better form their own opinions.

The Stuart Hall Project was an unexpected highlight and respite from the topical urgency of so many of this year's films. Directed by veteran British filmmaker John Akomfrah, the film explores the life of the U.K. intellectual and cultural critic Stuart Hall, matching Hall's ideas about the impact of cultural events on individual experience/identity with the music of Miles Davis. This is an absolutely gorgeous film, crafted from 50 years and 8,000 hours of BBC archival footage of historical events and Hall's television program about cultural phenomena. In the Q&A, Akomfrah was extraordinarily articulate about Hall (a friend and great influence), the film, his process, Miles Davis, and his goal  of "translating" Hall, who is now in his '80s, to keep alive his contribution to our understanding of self.

Very excited to see the three BAVC Producers Institute alumni projects in the next 24 hours: American PromiseWhen I Walk and Coral: Rekindling Venus.

Instagram Image of The Stuart Hall Project director John Akomfrah being interviewed courtesy of Selavie.