[Above: KOKOMO CITY]
By Stephanie Ornelas
Every day is a new opportunity to advocate for what’s right. Today is World Day of Social Justice, a day which serves as a platform for raising awareness of social justice issues worldwide. One powerful way to bring awareness to a particular issue is through independent film. You might be wondering what you can do to honor this day or help ignite change — it all starts with education and enlightenment. And the movies listed below can help with that.
We’ve compiled a list of recently released films that will captivate you and keep you informed, not just today, but all year long. Get to know these films including Oscar-nominated projects, Sundance Festival premieres that will be heading to big screens soon, and movies you can stream right now. Some of these titles were also just introduced to audiences at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival — films to look out for that have now been acquired, so you can stay educated on social justice issues all year long.
Director Simon Lereng Wilmont received an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary for A House Made of Splinters, which premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. In the documentary, based in war-torn eastern Ukraine, a group of women run an organization where they work to create a warm environment for children placed out of home due to violence or alcohol abuse.
“I began researching this topic and found out that there were a lot of kids being removed from their homes and being put in these temporary shelters,” says Wilmont during his post-premiere Q&A at the 2022 Festival. “These families were really struggling. It was sort of what you’d expect. These places were institutionalized.”
The film was recently acquired by Giant Pictures, so look out for its release. Until then, read more about the film and the post-premiere Q&A at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.
This 2022 Sundance Film Festival documentary shines a light on the disproportionate number of Black women who are failed every year by the U.S. maternal health system. It centers on the loved ones of Shamony Gibson and Amber Rose Isaac, two women who died due to preventable childbirth complications. Directors Paula Eiselt and Tonya Lewis Lee follow Gibson’s and Isaac’s bereaved partners, along with their grieving families, as they fight for justice and build communities of support.
“Of course when you’re talking about an infant’s health, you’re talking about a woman’s health. And we discovered that women weren’t doing so well,” says Lewis Lee during the virtual Q&A following the premiere of her documentary, which took home the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award: Impact for Change. Available to stream on Hulu
Writer-director Saim Sadiq’s debut feature, Joyland, which screened in the Spotlight section at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, centers on the Rana family, whose patriarch yearns for the birth of a grandson to continue the family line. Since its premiere, the Pakistani drama has continued to garner acclaim for its nuanced depiction of queer love and transgender identities.
“Trans people have a big history in Pakistan,” says Sadiq during the post-premiere Q&A last month at the Festival. “They were actually part of royal courts. They were poets, they were artists, and they were very respected. It was after colonization that the discrimination came in, so we kind of have to unlearn that in our own way.”
Be on the lookout for the release dates of Joyland, which was just acquired by HBO.
In writer-director Maryna Er Gorbach’s film Klondike, violent tensions disrupt the lives of an expecting couple living in Donetsk after flight MH17 crashes in eastern Ukraine.
“All of us in the Ukraine were stressed about the situation because the war was starting and I had a newborn baby,” says Er Gorbach during the virtual post-premiere Q&A at the 2022 Festival. “And then there was this huge aircraft catastrophe. As time passed after the catastrophe, the news and international media stopped talking about it even though it was still continuing. And that was what gave me the inspiration to make Klondike.”
Sundance Film Festival audiences finally got to see the film on the big screen during its encore screening at the 2023 Festival last month. It was recently acquired by Samuel Goldwyn Films, so be sure to read up on the post-premiere Q&A ahead of the film’s release date.
Smith took home the NEXT Innovator Award presented by Adobe as well as the Audience Award: NEXT for KOKOMO CITY at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Her powerful documentary follows the lives of four Black trans sex workers in Atlanta and New York.
“It took a lot of trust, because we were very vulnerable in our situations,” says Dominique, one of the documentary’s subjects, when the women were asked during the post-premiere discussion about putting their trust in Smith as a documentarian. “But she assured us that it was gonna be portrayed in the best light, and we were gonna look good.”
KOKOMO CITY has just been acquired by Magnolia Pictures and will be available to watch soon. Until then, get to know more about the film and what inspired Smith during the post-premiere Q&A at the 2023 Festival.
This documentary captivated virtual audiences at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival and is now nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary. Daniel Roher’s film details the 2020 assassination attempt of Russian opposition leader and former presidential candidate Alexei Navalny.
“I want every single human being on the planet Earth to know the name Alexei Navalny, and I want that name to be associated with a grotesque injustice being perpetrated by the Russian state against a man who survived a murder attempt and then was arrested for merely surviving,” Roher says during the film’s post-premiere Q&A at the Festival. Available to stream on HBO Max
Alex Pritz’s film was a huge eye-opener for many virtual Festgoers at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, where it was honored with the World Cinema Documentary Audience Award and the World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award: Documentary Craft.
In the film, when a network of Brazilian farmers seizes a protected area of the Amazon rainforest, a young Indigenous leader and his mentor fight back in defense of the land and an uncontacted group living deep within the forest.
“I had watched what happened under the Trump administration in the U.S., and what had happened to protected areas — areas of ecological and cultural significance — to different groups here. And watching the election campaign unfold in Brazil, I understood that this would be a really difficult time for frontline communities in the Amazon if he were to win,” says Pritz during the virtual post-premiere Q&A at the 2022 Festival. “So that started a conversation with our Brazilian producer Gabriel Uchida as well as Neidinha Cardozo.” Available to stream on Disney+