2016 Sundance Docs in Focus: UNLOCKING THE CAGE

unlocking the cageThe final film in the Doc Premieres section brings this week’s Sundance doc profiles to a close: UNLOCKING THE CAGE, Chris Hegedus and DA Pennebaker’s thought-provoking look at a legal team’s efforts to advocate for animals.

Festival Section:
Documentary Premieres

Sundance Program Description:

Renowned filmmakers DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus follow determined animal rights activist Steven Wise into the courtroom for an unprecedented battle that seeks to utilize the writ of habeas corpus to expand legal “personhood” to include certain animals. Wise’s unusual plaintiffs – chimpanzees Tommy and Kiko, once famed showbiz stars – are now living in filth, struggling to survive. Wise and his impassioned legal team take us into the field, revealing gripping evidence of such abuse and plunging us into the intricacies of their case as they probe preconceived notions of what it means to be a non-human animal.

Propelled by one man’s life mission of 30 years, the filmmakers mine this obsession and dedication to a cause that many experts feel is ripe for skepticism. Heartwarming and challenging, this powerfully crafted story does a remarkable job breaking down the science, legalities, and psychology behind a battle that, against all odds, has the potential to transform our legal system and effectively break down barriers between humans and animals.

Some Background:
Directors: Chris Hegedus and DA Pennebaker
Pennebaker is one of the pioneers of Direct Cinema and the recipient of a prestigious Academy Honorary Award for his lifetime contributions to the art and craft of nonfiction filmmaking. Hegedus, an experimental filmmaker, turned to documentary and began collaborating with Pennebaker in the late 1970s before the couple married in 1982. Together, they were nominated for the Best Documentary Feature Oscar for THE WAR ROOM. Among their extensive output, the duo has previously brought their films ONLY THE STRONG SURVIVE (2002), STARTUP.COM (2001), JIMI PLAYS MONTEREY (1987), and SHAKE: OTIS AT MONTEREY (1987) to the festival. They also received support from the Sundance Institute’s Documentary Film Program for this project.

Producers: Chris Hegedus and Rosadel Varela; Associate Producer: Julia McInnis
Varela previously produced Sundance alum CONTROL ROOM (2004), which was directed by Hegedus’ STARTUP.COM co-director. McInnis formerly worked for Pennebaker Hegedus Films for several years.

Executive Producer/Producer: Frazer Pennebaker
Frazer Pennebaker is DA’s eldest son, and, since 1980, the producer of all of Pennebaker Hegedus Films’ projects, including the four Sundance alumni noted above, and an Emmy winner for the duo’s ELAINE STRITCH AT LIBERTY.

Executive Producer: Sheila Nevins; Senior Producer: Sara Bernstein
HBO Documentary Films’ head Nevins is also in Park City with fellow 2016 docs MAPPLETHORPE: LOOK AT THE PICTURES, SUITED, BECOMING MIKE NICHOLS, and NOTHING LEFT UNSAID: GLORIA VANDERBILT & ANDERSON COOPER. Her alumni credits last year were GOING CLEAR: SCIENTOLOGY AND THE PRISON OF BELIEF, LARRY KRAMER IN LOVE & ANGER, KURT COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK, and THE JINX: THE LIFE AND DEATHS OF ROBERT DURST

Also for HBO, Bernstein’s credits this year also include MAPPLETHORPE and SUITED, while recent past Sundance credits include COBAIN, THE CASE AGAINST 8 (2014), and WHICH WAY IS THE FRONT LINE FROM HERE? (2013).

Editor: Pax Wassermann
The Emmy-nominated Wassermann counts among his credits several Sundance projects, including last year’s award-winning CARTEL LAND, THE NOTORIOUS MR BOUT (2014), PUSSY RIOT – A PUNK PRAYER (2013), WHAT REMAINS (2006), and DEVIL’S PLAYGROUND (2002).

Why You Should Watch:
Hegedus and Pennebaker demonstrate the reason for their well-earned acclaim with this fascinating chronicle of Wise’s noble legal crusade. Grounded in his nuanced, yet impassioned, arguments for non-human animal personhood, their film appeals to logic as much as it does to emotions to upend standard conceptions of the divide between species.

More Info:
Website
Facebook

For Sundance screening dates and times, 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 2016 Twitter list.

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

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