2015 Sundance Docs in Focus: PARIS IS BURNING

paris is burningThe final profile for this year’s Sundance comes From the Collection, celebrating one of the most enduring documentaries about subcultures: PARIS IS BURNING, Jennie Livingston’s classic look at NYC’s drag ball culture.

Sundance Program Description:

In the most poignant moments of Jennie Livingston’s groundbreaking documentary PARIS IS BURNING, Venus Xtravaganza and Octavia St Laurent reveal their dreams. Octavia wants to be a high-fashion model; Venus would like to be wealthy, live in the country, and be loved and admired. If they were middle-class white girls, these goals might be attainable, but Octavia and Venus are male, black or Hispanic, and gay, relegated to the fringes of society.

Livingston spent years constructing this intimate portrait of New York’s subterranean transsexual/transgender community and the parties – known as balls – its members use to express themselves and forge fragile, but resilient, identities. These balls, like Paris is Burning, feature “voguing,” an energetic fusion of break dancing, gymnastics, and runway parading borrowed from fashion modeling. “You can become anything and do anything,” one participant tells us. “It’s our fantasy of being superstars.”

PARIS IS BURNING maintains a rare balance between fly-on-the-wall objectivity and compassionate interaction with its subjects. The film shared the documentary Grand Jury Prize at the 1991 Sundance Film Festival and won multiple other awards. This new, digitally restored print, a collaboration between Sundance Institute, the UCLA Film & Television Archive, and the Outfest Legacy Project, restores the original 16mm aspect ratio. Special thanks to Miramax for permission to screen the film.

Some Background:
In addition to the 1991 Sundance Grand Jury Prize, Livingston’s film also picked up awards at the Berlin, Frameline, and Seattle film fests, as well as the Gothams, IDA Awards, and the GLAAD Media Awards in its initial festival circuit and theatrical release. Earlier this month, Livingston was the recipient of the Cinema Eye Honors inaugural Legacy Award. She is currently working on a new project, EARTH CAMP ONE, an essay film about loss. Executive producers were BBC Television’s Nigel Finch, who went on to direct Sundance fiction film alum STONEWALL (1996), though he died shortly after production wrapped; and WNYC-TV’s Madison Davis Lacy, an Emmy-winner whose credits also include EYES ON THE PRIZE II, RICHARD WRIGHT: BLACK BOY, and BEYOND TARA: THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE OF HATTIE MCDANIEL. The project’s editor, Jonathan Oppenheim, has had several additional projects in Park City, including THE OATH (2010), SISTER HELEN (2002), CHILDREN UNDERGROUND (2001), and LIVES IN HAZARD (1994).

Why You Should Watch:
I previously wrote about the doc here.

More Info:
For more information, visit the film’s website and Facebook page. Check out the original theatrical trailer. For its Sundance screening date and time, click the link in the first paragraph.

To experience the festival through the eyes of this year’s filmmakers, follow my Sundance filmmaker class of 2015 Twitter list.

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Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Recommendations, Sundance

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