While much of the attention during Sundance Film Festival seems to go to the dramatic competition and premiere section, there’s also a wealth of notable documentaries. This year at Park City we were able to check out nearly a dozen of the selections and have provided a brief take on each, with topics including comedy (times two), Marlon Brando, paralyzing nightmares, potential alien invasions, the environment’s rapid decline, and more. Check out our thoughts on all ten documentaries below and see our complete Sundance 2015 coverage here.
6 Desires: DH Lawrence and Sardinia (Mark Cousins)
A laborious documentary that explores author D.H. Lawrence’s journey to Sardinia in 1921, filmmaker Mark Cousins spends most of his time guessing at what Lawrence might have been thinking at different points during his trip. Not without its moments of beauty, Cousins’ film too often feels like a self-parody of experimental documentary. Fictitious conversation Cousins (who narrates most of the time) imagines with “Bert” (Lawrence’s nickname) are lengthy and lacking in detail. The author is a fascinating subject, no doubt, and deserves a more focused piece of filmmaking. [C-] – Dan M.
Call Me Lucky (Bobcat Goldthwait)
Do you know Barry Crimmins? It doesn’t really matter if you do or you don’t, by the end of Bobcat Goldthwait‘s Call Me Lucky you’ll have trouble getting him out of your mind. Crimmins, a tough-nosed, politically-minded comedian, founded two comedy clubs in Boston and helped foster the careers of many now-famous comedians, including Goldthwait himself. All the while, Crimmins was harboring demons from his past, which gradually crept into the forefront of his life, both on and off the stage. As these revelations come to light in the film, what begins as a semi-serious, mostly-funny portrait of a never-was becomes something much more dramatic and much more important. [A-] – Dan M.
Dark Horse (Louise Osmond)
It’s no surprise Dark Horse won the audience award in its respective category at this year’s Sundance. The ultimate crowdpleaser (and I mean that in the best way possible) tracks the feel-good story of a small village in Wales who banded together at the behest of a local barmaid to breed a racehorse. With each of them pitching in to train it, they would split the profits, if any were to arrive. While one could easily track down the story, we’ll only say that Osmond’s up-and-down tale has one hooked on every word, thanks to the endearing personalities of the townsfolk and their captivating story. I certainly shed a few tears of joy during this one, and I’d imagine most audiences will as well. [B+] – Jordan R.
Listen to Me Marlon (Steven Riley)
Some iconic talents of cinema rarely gave an interview, while others were relegated to the routine press circus. Regardless of where one falls on the spectrum, the bite-sized, often pre-packaged tidbits of one’s career do little to paint an accurate portrait of a life, and it’s effectively unfeasible to get such a look apart from the talent itself. However, the new documentary Listen to Me Marlon provides something vastly more extensive and intimate than a standard interview. Given access to hundreds of hours worth of previously-concealed audio interviews/musings with Marlon Brando, director Stevan Riley magnificently produces one of the best documentaries about a legendary figure — all without a single talking head. Ahead of his time, we begin with Brando predicting the future of filmmaking: actors will soon be motion-captured and their essence created in a computer screen for projection. We then witness the man resurrected through such a digital form, incorporating the audio from his interviews, giving an ethereal effect interspersed throughout the film. [A-] – Jordan R. (full review)
The Nightmare (Rodney Ascher)
With Room 237, director Rodney Ascher provided a highly entertaining exploration of over-analyzation as it pertains to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. He now returns to Sundance Film Festival a few years later aiming to petrify with a perhaps more relatable documentary for some scourged individuals. The Nightmare, which explores the phenomenon of sleep paralysis, is an intriguing feature, but one that ends up dulling your senses with repetitive talking heads and recreated scenarios. [C+] – Jordan R. (full review)
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