2018 Sundance Docs in Focus: KING IN THE WILDERNESS

Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Flip Schulke Archives/Getty Images

Peter Kunhardt explores the final years of Martin Luther King Jr, against a backdrop of America’s social and political turmoil.

Festival Section:
Documentary Premieres

Sundance Program Description:

Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s leadership during the the bus boycotts, the sit-ins, and the historic Selma-to-Montgomery marches is now considered the stuff of legend. But left out of the history books is much of what happened afterward, during the last three years of his life. KING IN THE WILDERNESS reveals a conflicted leader who, after the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965, faced an onslaught of criticism from both sides of the political spectrum; the Black Power movement saw his nonviolence as weakness, and President Lyndon B Johnson saw his anti-Vietnam War speeches as irresponsible. King’s fervent belief in peaceful protest became a testing point for a nation on the brink of chaos.

Thanks to revelatory conversations with his inner circle of friends, KING IN THE WILDERNESS unearths a stirring new perspective into Dr King’s character, his radical doctrine of nonviolence, and his internal philosophical struggles prior to his assassination in 1968. With clarity and compassion, filmmaker Peter Kunhardt invites a sense of penetrating intimacy and insight into one of the most profound thinkers of our time.

Some Background:
Director/Executive Producer:

  • Peter Kunhardt
    Past Sundance docs:

    JIM: THE JAMES FOLEY STORY (2016, executive producer)

    The Emmy-winning founder of Kunhardt Films has directed and/or executive produced documentaries for HBO, PBS, ABC, and Discovery over the past three decades.


  • George Kunhardt and Teddy Kunhardt
    Past Sundance docs:


    Peter’s sons George and Teddy are part of Kunhardt Films where they have extensive producing credits for AOL’s MAKERS series, PBS’s FINDING YOUR ROOTS, and other television work for PBS and HBO. They are Emmy winners for JIM.

Associate Producer:

  • Mila Matveeva

    Matveeva has a background curating and promoting the work of artists, as well as working in production for WNET and HBO, and with film festivals and organizations, including DOC NYC and IFP. This is her first Sundance credit.

Executive Producers:

  • Taylor Branch

    Branch is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the civil rights era history trilogy, AMERICA IN THE KING YEARS (1989, 1999, 2006), and THE KING YEARS: HISTORIC MOMENTS IN THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT (2013). This is his first Sundance project.

  • Trey Ellis

    Ellis is an Emmy-nominated screenwriter, novelist, and playwright. He is well-known for his influential 1989 essay, “The New Black Aesthetic,” and for the phrase he coined within it, “cultural mulatto.” Ellis previously wrote the screenplay for the 2003 Sundance narrative feature GOOD FENCES, but this marks his first documentary credit at the festival.

  • Jackie Glover
    Past Sundance docs:

    LARRY KRAMER IN LOVE & ANGER (2015, supervising producer)
    HOW TO DIE IN OREGON (2011, supervising producer)
    AMERICAN HOLLOW (1999, supervising producer)

Five-time Emmy winner Glover is SVP at HBO Documentary Films.


Assistant Editor:

  • Mélinda Tenenzapf

    This also marks Tenenzapf’s first Sundance project.

Why You Should Watch:
Timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of MLK’s assassination, Kunhardt’s well-crafted profile reveals a different side of Dr King, humanizing the civil rights icon while still underscoring his deeply-held principles of nonviolence and equality.

More Info:
For Sundance screening dates and times, click the film title in the first paragraph.

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

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