At Sundance: Great Buzz for Becoming Chaz and Pariah

2011 marks the 20th anniversary of the landmark Sundance Film Festival when Todd Haynes' Poison took the Dramatic Jury Prize and Jennie Livingston's Paris is Burning won the Documentary Jury Prize, a moment that film historians look at as the birth of what critic B. Ruby Rich would call the New Queer Cinema. And Sundance renewed its queer bona fides this year with several films that have received immediate acclaim.

Becoming Chaz, from The Eyes of Tammy Faye directors Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (pictured above with their subject Chaz Bono), came into the festival with a high-profile deal with the new OWN cable network and a high-profile slot as the debut feature for Oprah's Documentary Club, a venture that the media mogul hopes will do for non-fiction films what her Book Club did for the publishing industry. Audiences at early screenings confirmed that the film, about Sonny and Cher's daughter Chastity Bono's journey as a transgender female-to-male to, well, becoming Chaz, merited the hype.

Filmmaker and critic Jenni Olson tweeted that Becoming Chaz was "amazing" and a "must-see," and that the film got a standing ovation at its Sundance debut. Rosie O'Donnell has become a very vocal cheerleader as well, introducing Bailey and Barbato at the Sundance screening before telling Access Hollywood that the film would be a breakthrough in molding the American conversation about transgender issues. (On the narrative side, the trans-themed Gun Hill Road, starring and executive-produced by Esai Morales, was generating lots of talk as well before officially closing a distribution deal today.)

Meanwhile, Dee Rees' Pariah -- about a teenage African-American butch lesbian still living a closeted life with her family in Brooklyn -- has also been racking up tons of enthusiasm at the fest; look for the film to be a major player on the LGBT film festival circuit this summer, along with the sci-fi spoof Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same, a popular midnight entry.

More from Movieline's complete Sundance coverage at the Dockers House sponsored by Java Monster here.

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