Truth Dump: A Few Promising Sundance Docs

Saying you go to "Sundance for the docs" may come off as sincere as "I read Playboy for the articles," what with all the voluptuous scripted indie delights so tantalizingly within reach; but time and again, the non-fiction competition proves to be where the meat of this festival lies. Last year's standouts included The Cove, Afghan Star, and Burma V.J., and this year's lineup looks to be equally promising . Here's a few we have our eyes on.



The What: A year with the U.S. Army's Second Platoon dug in at Afghanistan's Korengal Valley. Move over Pandora -- this is the most hostile environment known to man, with an indigenous population known as Al Qaeda. They are very hard to kill.

The Who: The first film from best-selling author and journalist Sebastian Junger, who wrote The Perfect Storm, and award-winning British photojournalist Tim Heatherington.

The Why: Being touted as the first true glimpse at what life is like for soldiers stationed in the most treacherous regions of the Middle East, Restrepo promises to be as harrowing, emotional, and viscerally exciting as The Hurt Locker -- and it's all real.


A Film Unfinished

The What: A film about a film -- but not just any film. The subject is the infamous Warsaw Ghetto documentary produced by the Nazis and found unfinished after the war. The discovery of a new reel pulled back the curtain to reveal how its makers staged scenes, coercing, for example, its fearful subjects to step callously over dead bodies as they headed to an elegant evening at the theater. A Film Unfinished features interviews with Warsaw Ghetto survivors and one surviving cameramen.

The Who: Israeli filmmaker Yael Hersonski.

The Why: We've seen Triumph of the Will, but never have we been provided a clear glimpse inside the mind's eye of the Nazi filmmaking machinery. After Quentin Tarantino turned the topic into a fast and funny cinematic fantasia, this horrific reality check is what the world needs now.



The What: An examination of the U.S.'s failing public education through the eyes of five children -- all academically gifted, but who nonetheless find their growth stunted by a system in dire need of revision.

The Who: Davis Guggenheim, whose last film brought together three generations of guitar rock gods in It Might Get Loud.

The Why: Besides health care, is there any domestic issue repeated as often by politicians, but so sorrily neglected by government, than this? This is Sicko, but the enemy isn't HMOs, it's overcrowded classes and high failure rates, and with a filmmaker who doesn't insist on being the star.


The Tillman Story

The What: Arizona Cardinals safety and unparalleled patriot Pat Tillman left the NFL to join the United States Army Rangers following the WTC attacks of 2001. He'd be felled by friendly fire in Afghanistan, in an event many suspect was obfuscated and manipulated by the Army to best serve their needs. This film interviews his family and fellow soldiers to provide a closer portrait of the man who's become less a person and more a weighted symbol over the years.

The Who: Amir Bar-Lev, director of 2007 preschool artworld expose, My Kid Could Paint That.

The Why: Intellectual, gifted athlete, brave soldier, and martyr, Tillman could be the most fascinating American icon we know almost nothing about.


Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child

The What: The story of the unlikely 1980s art superstar and visual genius who died at 27 from a drug overdose.

The Who: It's told, and directed, from the point of view of his close friend -- veteran director of music videos, film (Billy Madison!) and TV, Tamra Davis.

The Why: It's been nearly 15 years since Jeffrey Wright's memorable characterization, but Davis's access to private footage and intimate knowledge of the man himself promise an unprecedented glimpse at the brief, bright light shed by the James Dean of modern art.


  • JM says:

    Felix Leiter as Basquiat? How did I miss this.
    All of those look excellent. Despite last decade being kind of crap, I think documentaries came out of it rather strong. Good stuff.