The Sundance Film Festival is the biggest cultural event of the year in Utah and we want to make sure that everyone is involved. Every year we get questions about what films are appropriate for families to take their kids too. It's exciting to get these questions because it means that parents are exposing their families to the arts at a young age and cultivating them to be future film lovers, as well as introducing them to different cultures and social issues of global concern. This year we have pulled together a list of family friendly films, the very same films we are showing to High School students in the Festival High School Screening Program. Below is a list of films, their descriptions, and flags on pieces of content you might want to be aware of.
The Atomic States of America
*Two instances of strong language
Based on Kelly McMasters's memoir about growing up in a nuclear-reactor community, this stirring film illustrates the dire health consequences for many residents in Shirley, her Long Island hometown. Yet despite the known risks of utilizing nuclear power, our country's rapidly increasing energy needs are fueling a nuclear renaissance.
Acutely topical-given the recent Fukushima disaster in Japan, The Atomic States of America convincingly encapsulates both the history of this allegedly clean source of energy and our collective denial of a potentially looming disaster at our aging sites. Firsthand narratives from people connected to the nuclear industry blend with the behind-the-scenes debacle of maintaining legitimate regulation.
Potent, emotionally powerful, and highly revealing, Don Argott and Sheena Joyce's film does an outstanding job of opening our eyes to the reality of nuclear power. "We all live downstream from something," McMasters reminds us in this cautionary call to action.
Queen of Versailles
With the epic dimensions of a Shakespearean tragedy, The Queen of Versailles follows billionaires Jackie and David's rags-to-riches story to uncover the innate virtues and flaws of the American dream. We open on the triumphant construction of the biggest house in America, a sprawling, 90,000-square-foot mansion inspired by Versailles. Since a booming time-share business built on the real-estate bubble is financing it, the economic crisis brings progress to a halt and seals the fate of its owners. We witness the impact of this turn of fortune over the next two years in a riveting film fraught with delusion, denial, and self-effacing humor.
Lauren Greenfield instinctively knows what questions to ask, when to ask them, and, more importantly, where to put her camera to mine this overflowing treasure of events. She constructs a series of glowing metaphors to concoct a fascinating character study of parents, children, pets, and household employees as their privileged existence turns upside down. The end result is a portrait of a couple who dared to dream big but lose, still maintaining their unique brand of humility.
*One instance of mild language
America has lost its way in taking care of its own. The shocking fact is that one in six Americans doesn't get enough to eat on a regular basis. Even more disturbing is the fact that this new face of hunger is largely invisible. There are no breadlines in the streets, but increasing numbers of soup kitchens and food banks are feeding people who-though employed full-time-can't make ends meet.
Finding North unveils the human stories behind the statistics: a rancher juggling two jobs and a small-town policeman rely on food pantries to survive between paychecks; a single working mom can't afford consistent meals for her children; a short-order cook must travel more than an hour to purchase fruits and vegetables.
As it unravels the real societal costs and applies transparency to the causes of this hunger crisis in the richest country in the world, Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush's bracing film explores ways that we as a nation can correct this alarming and unnecessary state of affairs.
We're Not Broke
With the United States in the grip of the worst economic recession since the Great Depression and an unprecedented budget deficit, the conclusion that our country is broke seems unquestionable. At least that's what politicians and pundits want ordinary citizens to believe.
Karin Hayes and Victoria Bruce's searing exposé reveals that, strangely absent from this rhetoric, is the infuriating fact that multibillion-dollar corporations are based in the U.S., make money from American consumers, and often even receive lucrative contracts from the government, yet pay nothing in U.S. income taxes. By exploiting tax-law loopholes and spending millions on lobbyists to pressure politicians to protect their interests, corporations pocket billions while the less-connected middle class disappears, and the poor get poorer.
We're Not Broke explores how the government has allowed this inequality to develop and the growing wave of discontent that it has fostered. Presaging the larger wave of protests from the international Occupy movement, the film follows a number of activists who have had enough and are demanding that corporations finally pay their fair share.
*Two instances of strong lauguage
When National Geographic photographer James Balog asked, "How can one take a picture of climate change?" his attention was immediately drawn to ice. Soon he was asked to do a cover story on glaciers that became the most popular and well-read piece in the magazine during the last five years. But for Balog, that story marked the beginning of a much larger and longer-term project that would reach epic proportions.
In this breathtakingly beautiful documentary, filmmaker Jeff Orlowski follows the indomitable photographer as he brings to life the Extreme Ice Survey (EIS)-a massive photography project that placed 30 cameras across three continents to gather visual evidence of the Earth's melting ice. Chasing Ice tells the story of a visionary artist who, in facing his own mortality, bequeaths the magic of photography and the adventure of the expedition to a new generation and captures the most visible sign of climate change on the planet today.
The Other Dream Team
English and Lithuanian with English subtitles
*Archival footage of USSR violence against Lithuanians
In 1992 the United States sent the Dream Team to the Olympic Games in Barcelona. Considered the greatest basketball team ever assembled, these players were expected to dominate and win the gold-and that's exactly what they did. Meanwhile, on another court, a basketball team from the newly independent nation of Lithuania was chasing a different kind of dream. A tiny country of three million people, Lithuania won the bronze medal, beating Russia, its former oppressor.
Filmmaker Marius Markevicius skillfully crafts an inspirational David-versus-Goliath story, bouncing from the personal struggles of players living behind the iron curtain to their astonishing journey out of the clutches of communism into their unlikely partnership with the Grateful Dead and the glory of the summer Olympics in Barcelona. The Other Dream Team is a triumphant tale of freedom, guts, and pride-a rousing testament to the power of sports as a catalyst for cultural identity.
The D Word: Understanding Dyslexia
The D Word: Understanding Dyslexia skillfully explores the complex and often challenging world faced by those who have this disability. The film focuses on high-school senior Dylan as he shares his early struggles in school and prepares to begin studies at the college of his choice. Interviews with other young dyslexics, as well as highly accomplished businesspeople diagnosed with the learning disability, including Richard Branson, Charles Schwab, and California's Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, are seamlessly incorporated into the story. Two prominent doctors in the field at the Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity help demystify and mitigate the stigma surrounding this syndrome.
Focusing on the positive aspects of dyslexia and incorporating creative animation sequences, James Redford's film emphasizes specific areas where dyslexics excel and suggests thoughtful strategies for their academic success in our often-rigid educational system.
ESCAPE FIRE: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare
Our healthcare system is broken. Potent forces fight to maintain the status quo in a medical industry created for quick fixes, rather than prevention; for profit-driven, rather than patient-driven, care. Healthcare is at the center of an intense political firestorm in our nation's capitol. But the current battle over cost and access does not ultimately address the root of the problem: we have a disease-care system, not a healthcare one. After decades of opposition, a movement to introduce innovative high-touch, low-cost methods of prevention and healing is finally gaining ground.
With consummate skill, filmmakers Matthew Heineman and Susan Froemke interweave dramatic personal stories with the efforts of leaders battling to transform healthcare at the highest levels of medicine, industry, government, and even the U.S. military. Destined to be hailed as the definitive film on American healthcare, ESCAPE FIRE offers a way out-a primer on how to save the health of a nation.
5 Broken Cameras
Arabic/Hebrew with English subtitles
*One instance of strong language
*Footage of violence between Palestinians and Israeli army
Five broken cameras-and each one has a powerful tale to tell. Embedded in the bullet-ridden remains of digital technology is the story of Emad Burnat, a farmer from the Palestinian village of Bil'in, which famously chose nonviolent resistance when the Israeli army encroached upon its land to make room for Jewish colonists. Emad buys his first camera in 2005 to document the birth of his fourth son, Gibreel. Over the course of the film, he becomes the peaceful archivist of an escalating struggle as olive trees are bulldozed, lives are lost, and a wall is built to segregate burgeoning Israeli settlements.
Gibreel's loss of innocence and the destruction of each camera are potent metaphors in a deeply personal documentary that vividly portrays a conflict many of us think we know. Emad Burnat, a Palestinian, joins forces with Guy Davidi, an Israeli, and-from the wreckage of five broken cameras-two filmmakers create one extraordinary work of art.
Russian with English subtitles
*Two instances of strong language
Masha Drokova is a rising star in Russia's popular nationalistic youth movement, Nashi. A smart, ambitious teenager who-literally-embraced Vladimir Putin and his promise of a greater Russia, her dedication as an organizer is rewarded with a university scholarship, an apartment, and a job as a spokesperson. But her bright political future falters when she befriends a group of liberal journalists who are critical of the government, including blogger Oleg Kashin, who calls Nashi a "group of hooligans," and she's forced to confront the group's dirty-even violent-tactics.
In her first feature, Danish filmmaker Lise Birk Pedersen offers a chilling view of modern Russia, its fragile-perhaps illusory-democracy, and Nashi's alarmingly fascist tendencies (mass rallies, book burnings, "patriotic education," and vilification of opponents). But, distinguished by an artful, cinematic aesthetic and astonishing intimacy, the film's emotional weight lies in the evolution of Masha's political consciousness. Putin's Kiss reminds us that all politics are deeply personal.
Chinese/Sichuanese with English subtitles
*Two instances of strong language
In southwestern China, state athletic coaches scour the countryside to recruit poor, rural teenagers who demonstrate a natural ability to throw a good punch. Moved into boxing training centers, these boys and girls undergo a rigorous regimen that grooms them to be China's next Olympic heroes but also prepares them for life outside the ring. As these young boxers develop, the allure of turning professional for personal gain and glory competes with the main philosophy behind their training-to represent their country. Interconnected with their story is that of their charismatic coach, Qi Moxiang, who-now in his late thirties and determined to win back lost honor-trains for a significant fight.
China Heavyweight artfully captures the playfulness among the trainees, their grueling conditioning, and the guiding principle that athletic achievement is for their country, rather than themselves. Director Yung Chang returns to the Sundance Film Festival (Up the Yangtze screened in 2008) with an intimately observed film that both explores and reflects social change and development in modern China.
French with English subtitles
We are thrilled to show the work of Québécois filmmaker Philippe Falardeau for the first time at the Sundance Film Festival. Exemplifying precise filmmaking and deeply affecting storytelling, Monsieur Lazhar is Falardeau's fourth feature film and Canada's 2011 Oscar submission.
During a harsh Montréal winter, an elementary-school class is left reeling after its teacher commits suicide. Bachir Lazhar, a charismatic Algerian immigrant, steps in as the substitute teacher for the classroom of traumatized children. All the while, he must keep his personal life tucked away: the fact that he is seeking political refuge in Québec-and that he, like the children, has suffered an appalling loss.
Mohamed Fellag as Lazhar delivers a performance full of charm, compassion, and humanity, allowing the story of a beloved teacher to breathe with wit and originality. With Falardeau's gentle humor and elegant touch, Monsieur Lazhar tells a gorgeous story about a man who transcends his own grief and tragedy to help his young students process death and loss in their lives.
It would have satisfied even the most voracious history buffs if Rory Kennedy, youngest child of Robert and Ethel Kennedy, had enlisted her mother's perspective simply as a fresh angle on the Kennedy years. But ETHEL is so much more. Intimate, humorous conversations and never-before-seen images from the family troves uncover an enthralling story of a vivacious, authentic heroine whose transformation from rambunctious Republican firecracker to savvy Democratic campaigner to socially conscious single mother of 11 arcs definitively as her husband's drama unfolds.
The film's power surfaces as Ethel's unique value system and the intrinsic connection between the family's private and public lives come into focus. Tales of the young brood attending Senate hearings, of heartfelt letters RFK wrote as a way of incorporating them into momentous political occasions, and of each child's assignment to a social-justice mission reveal the respect and love that fueled Ethel's household-a microcosm for what this country can be. Ethel Kennedy stands alongside her husband as a beacon of integrity and hope.
Under African Skies
English, Afrikaans, & Zulu Subtitles
Paul Simon's historic Graceland album sold millions of copies and united cultures, yet divided world opinion on the boundaries of art, politics, and commerce. On the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of Graceland's release, Simon returns to South Africa for a reunion concert that unearths the turbulent birth of the album. Despite its huge success as a popular fusion of American and African musical styles, Graceland spawned intense political crossfire. Simon was accused of breaking the United Nations' cultural boycott of South Africa, which was designed to end apartheid.
Renowned filmmaker Joe Berlinger brilliantly intertwines both sides of a complex story as Simon revisits old ghosts and gains insights on his own musical journey. With the compelling perceptions of antiapartheid activists and music legends such as Quincy Jones, Harry Belafonte, Paul McCartney, and David Byrne, Under African Skies is both a buoyant chronicle of unparalleled artistic achievement and a profound rumination on the role of the artist in society.
Slavery by Another Name
Sam Pollard performs a remarkable act of historical reclamation in this documentary, recounting the many ways in which American slavery persisted as a practice many decades after its supposed abolition. It is a story impressive in its sweep and alarming in the way that its larger theme-an American moral failure-has been obscured in history.
Facing economic catastrophe under Reconstruction, as well as freed black citizens' political and social ascendancy, southern states found effective tactics to continue forced servitude in new modes. Techniques such as peonage (forced labor to pay off debts), leasing convicts to private business, or forcing convict labor in state-run enterprises subjected newly freed American citizens to inescapable conditions that insidiously operated under more palatable names than slavery.
Pollard recounts this slowly evolving hidden history, including the activism that powerfully confronted it, with a stirring combination of photographs, reenactments, and the testimony of key historians, bringing to light many shocking details, but more importantly redefining "emancipation" in history and American political life.