Who Won the Poster War at Sundance Yesterday?
The simple of act of having your film accepted into Sundance isn't always enough -- as festival veterans know, you gotta work it. In a bid to gauge which filmmakers are flogging their wares the hardest, Movieline will periodically check in to see who's got the most posters up on Main Street, a democratic-yet-crucial metric for building buzz. So which films were yesterday's winners, and what are they about?
Yesterday was a fairly quiet start to the festival, and Main Street was all but deserted thanks to the one-two punch of Opening Night and sheets of snow. Yet, as this poster-covered sample suggests, three documentaries were marketed ubiquitously enough to win yesterday's war. Let's meet 'em!
Secrets of the Tribe
World Cinema Documentary Competition
The field of anthropology goes under the magnifying glass in this fiery investigation of the seminal research on Yanomami Indians. In the 1960s and '70s, a steady stream of anthropologists filed into the Amazon Basin to observe this "virgin" society untouched by modern life. Thirty years later, the events surrounding this infiltration have become a scandalous tale of academic ethics and infighting.
The origins of violence and war and the accuracy of data gathering are hotly debated among the scholarly clan. Soon these disputes take on Heart of Darkness overtones as they descend into shadowy allegations of sexual and medical violation.
Director José Padilha brilliantly employs two provocative strategies to raise unsettling questions about the boundaries of cultural encounters. He allows professors accused of heinous activities to defend themselves, and the Yanomami to represent their side of the story. As this riveting excavation deconstructs anthropology's colonial legacy, it challenges our society's myths of objectivity and the very notion of "the other."
12th and Delaware
U.S. Documentary Competition
On an unassuming corner in Fort Pierce, Florida, it's easy to miss the insidious war that's raging. But on each side of 12th and Delaware, soldiers stand locked in a passionate battle. On one side of the street sits an abortion clinic. On the other, a pro-life outfit often mistaken for the clinic it seeks to shut down.
Using skillful cinema-vérité observation that allows us to draw our own conclusions, Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing, the directors of Jesus Camp, expose the molten core of America's most intractable conflict. As the pro-life volunteers paint a terrifying portrait of abortion to their clients, across the street, the staff members at the clinic fear for their doctors' lives and fiercely protect the right of their clients to choose. Shot in the year when abortion provider Dr. George Tiller was murdered in his church, the film makes these fears palpable. Meanwhile, women in need become pawns in a vicious ideological war with no end in sight.
A Small Act
U.S. Documentary Competition
As an impoverished boy in Kenya, Chris Mburu's life was dramatically changed when an anonymous Swedish woman sponsored his primary and secondary education. Now a Harvard-educated human-rights lawyer, he hopes to replicate the generosity he once received by founding his own scholarship fund to aid a new generation. The challenges Mburu faces instituting his new program seem at times insurmountable but lead him down the path to discovery. Who is Hilde Back, the person who signed the checks that gave him a chance to succeed?
With clarity and grace, Jennifer Arnold's film bears cinematic witness to the lasting ramifications of a small ripple of human kindness. Using a strong narrative thread, she unearths fascinating accounts and weaves them together seamlessly. It doesn't hurt that her subjects have pure motivations and back stories to match. The secret of A Small Act was destined to be discovered, if only to remind and inspire others to take such a chance--and change a life.