Dispatch From Sundance 2018

Once again, the #NFF Team headed to Sundance to check out this year's top offerings in independent film. Read more below about some of their favorites, and keep an eye out for these titles potentially coming to #NFF18!

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MYSTELLE BRABBÉE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR:

THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS is a festival and personal favorite documentary about triplets born in New York and given away to separate families to be raised without awareness of one another.  By pure chance they are brought together 19 years later and become instant media stars. The wild plot unravels further when we go on the journey about why they were separated at birth.  

WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR explores the history and legacy of America’s favorite neighbor, Mister Fred Rogers.  Academy Award-winning filmmaker Morgan Neville (NFF Alum, 20 FEET FROM STARDOM) has said he wants to show that Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood still has lessons for today. Watching the Sundance premiere, I found myself remembering the characters, songs and most importantly the lessons.  I only wish current and future generations could have Mister Rogers as their neighbor too.

More of a colorful celebration of Robin Williams’ extraordinary career than it is a lament of his loss, director Marina Zenovich weaves together rare footage with the late comedian’s own voice for ROBIN WILLIAMS: COME INSIDE MY MIND.  This loving documentary fills in more of the blanks to the general storyline of Williams’ life and also offers priceless outtakes showing his unique train of thought and how he was always reaching for some beautiful moment of ridiculousness and truth. 

BASIL TSIOKOS, FILM PROGRAM DIRECTOR:

Among the standout documentaries at this year’s Sundance is MINDING THE GAP by director Bing Liu and executive producer Steve James, a previous recipient of NFF’s Special Achievement in Documentary Storytelling and now an Oscar nominee for ABACUS: SMALL ENOUGH TO JAIL. MINDING THE GAP has been likened to BOYHOOD in its look at the lives of three skateboarding friends followed over several years as they grow up dealing with issues with their fathers and domestic abuse.

The inventive, magical realist doc 306 HOLLYWOOD by Elan and Jonathan Bogarín was one of Sundance's Day One screenings. The sibling filmmaking team constructs an utterly charming, irresistible portrait of their late grandmother, largely through the eclectic belongings found in her longtime New Jersey home at the film’s titular address.

AMERICAN ANIMALS similarly offered Sundance viewers a fresh perspective. Writer/director Bart Layton, known for the documentary THE IMPOSTER, makes his fiction debut with this true story of four young men who attempt to steal valuable rare books from their local university library. The film weaves in interviews with the real-life subjects - and their conflicting memories of the event - as a counterpoint to the dramatic retelling featuring actors like Evan Peters and Barry Keoghan.

COLETTE, among several films to score distribution deals at the festival, presents the empowering and all-too-topical story of the celebrated French woman novelist, played by Keira Knightley, as she finds her voice and fights for recognition under the shadow of her husband who takes credit for her words. This sumptuous period piece is the most recent film from writer/director Wash Westmoreland, whose previous film, STILL ALICE, earned Julianne Moore an Oscar for Best Actress.

OPAL H. BENNETT, ASSOCIATE PROGRAMMER:

In OUR NEW PRESIDENT, Maxim Pozdorovkin uses found footage of Russian propaganda edited to maximum "cautionary tale" effect, painting a broad picture of the deft efficiency of manipulative messaging. A sequence in which the supposed ill-health of then-candidate Hilary Clinton is "reported" on Russia Today as news, only to be repeated by people on the streets of Moscow as fact bears eerie resemblance to some of the media-sponsored fallacies reported in US news outlets. Pozdorovkin skillfully walks a tight rope in this film - using the footage both to illustrate and to indict - and won a Special Jury Award for Editing at Sundance.

Lauren Greenfield's doc GENERATION WEALTH picks up where her last feature, THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES, left off - investigating the culture of success/excess in America. While surveying her life's work, Greenfield explores where her area of focus - the perils of extremes - dovetails with her own life. Putting its thesis aside, I found myself more drawn to the portions where Greenfield is vulnerable in revealing her personal journey as the daughter of an ambitious mother, and, in turn, as an ambitious mother and wife to her own family. 

Flynn McGarry has been called the "Justin Bieber of food," rising from precocious elementary schooler to internationally-recognized culinary talent, as beautifully chronicled in Cameron Yates' documentary CHEF FLYNN. His portrait combines archival material from when he began hosting multiple-course meals for friends at 10 years old with current footage of his breakthrough as a teen chef gracing the cover of the New York Times Magazine. Along the way, we see the challenges Flynn has faced both in the kitchen and at home. Flynn's story is an inspiring one where talent and passion combine and yield unforgettable results.

In SHIRKERS, Sandi Tan weaves a tale of youthful talent, precocious passions, DIY filmmaking, mentor sabotage, and a decades-long mystery solved. Tan was a teenager growing up in Singapore and obsessed with independent film. Under the tutelage of a mysterious mentor, she filmed her original script, SHIRKERS over several months, only to see it vanish. Part-memoir, part-mystery, SHIRKERS takes viewers on Tan's journey to becoming an artist and overcoming obstacles, and won a Directing Award at Sundance.

In CRIME + PUNISHMENT, Stephen Maing employs brilliant verité and provides unparalleled access to the NYPD 12 - a group of whistle-blowing cops who expose the ongoing, illegal practice of arrest/citation quotas being carried out by police across New York City precincts. Putting their careers and even their safety on the line, these officers demonstrate how they were coerced into engaging in this activity, and, when they dared to push back, were targeted for systematic retribution. CRIME + PUNISHMENT won a Special Jury Award for Social Impact Filmmaking at the festival.