2018 Sundance Docs in Focus: AMERICA TO ME

Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Participant Media

AMERICA TO ME
Steve James explores the intersection of race and educational achievement in this expansive yet intimate docuseries following a year in a diverse suburban Chicago-area high school.

Festival Section:
Indie Episodic

Sundance Program Description:

This 10-part documentary series spends a year at Oak Park and River Forest High School, a diverse and high-achieving school outside of Chicago. Digging deep into the experiences of black students, AMERICA TO ME sparks extremely candid conversations about what has succeeded and what has failed in the quest to achieve racial equality and overcome bias in our education system.

Award-winning filmmaker and Sundance Film Festival veteran Steve James (HOOP DREAMS, LIFE ITSELF) crafts a humble and daringly honest portrait of these students and the systemic racism they face. Part observational character story and part high school confessional, James captures critical moments within this vibrant high school ecosystem.

The Festival is excited to present the first five episodes of this captivating docuseries, which aims to bring us one step closer to change and understanding by confronting our fear head-on.

Some Background:
Director/Executive Producer:

  • Steve James
    Past Sundance docs:

    THE NEW YORKER PRESENTS (2016, episode director)
    LIFE ITSELF (2014)
    THE INTERRUPTERS (2011)
    REEL PARADISE (2005)
    STEVIE (2003)
    HOOP DREAMS (1994/2014)

    The acclaimed Chicago-based documentarian has had a long association with Sundance and with fellow executive producers at Kartemquin Films. He is also an executive producer for 2018 US Documentary Competition title MINDING THE GAP.

Segment Directors:

  • Bing Liu

    Liu also makes his feature directorial debut at this year’s festival with MINDING THE GAP.

  • Rebecca Parrish

    Parrish made her directorial debut with RADICAL GRACE. This is her first Sundance credit.

  • Kevin Shaw

    This also marks Shaw’s first Sundance project. Previous projects have screened on ESPN, PBS, and Showrtime, including most recently PRISON FIGHTERS: 5 ROUNDS TO FREEDOM, which he executive produced.

Executive Producers:

  • Participant Media’s Jeff Skoll and Diane Weyermann
    Combined past Sundance docs:

    AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL: TRUTH TO POWER (2017)
    MELTING ICE (VR) (2017)
    3 1/2 MINUTES, TEN BULLETS (2015)
    A PLACE AT THE TABLE (2012)
    CANE TOADS (2010)
    COUNTDOWN TO ZERO (2010)
    WAITING FOR “SUPERMAN” (2010)
    CASINO JACK AND THE UNITED STATES OF MONEY (2010)
    CHICAGO 10 (2007)
    THE WORLD ACCORDING TO SESAME STREET (2006)
    AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH

    Philanthropist and social entrepreneur Skoll is the founder and chairman of Participant Media. His Skoll Foundation has been a major partner of the Sundance Institute for several years. He is also an executive producer of 2018 US Documentary Competition title KAILASH.

    Weyermann, Participant Media’s president of documentary films and television, was previously the director of the Sundance Institute’s Documentary Film Program for several years and the director of the Open Society Institute’s arts and culture program before that. She also executive produced this year’s KAILASH.

  • Gordon Quinn
    Past Sundance docs:

    LIFE ITSELF
    THE INTERRUPTERS
    A LION IN THE HOUSE (2006, consulting editor)
    STEVIE (producer/executive producer)
    HOOP DREAMS (co-producer/executive producer)

    Quinn is a co-founder and the longtime artistic director of Kartemquin Films. He is also one of the executive producers of this year’s MINDING THE GAP.

  • Justine Nagan
    Past Sundance docs:

    STRONG ISLAND (2017)
    MOTHERLAND (2017)
    QUEST (2017)
    LIFE ITSELF
    THE INTERRUPTERS

    Nagan is the executive director of American Documentary, whose long-running POV series on PBS frequently includes Sundance alumni as part of its lineup. She previously served as Executive Director of Kartemquin, and is also an executive producer for MINDING THE GAP.

  • Betsy Steinberg

    Steinberg has been Kartemquin’s executive director since 2015. This, together with MINDING THE GAP, marks her first Sundance credit.

Producers:

  • John Condne

    Condne has taught film and video at Oak Park and River Forest High School for more than a decade. This marks his first project at Sundance.

  • Risé Sanders-Weir

    Sanders-Weir is Kartemquin’s director of production. She has previously worked on the crew of Sundance alumni narrative feature HAPPY CHRISTMAS and on THE INTERRUPTERS. She has a background producing for A&E, History, NatGeo, PBS, and MSNBC, among other networks.

Co-Producer:

  • Janea Smith

    Smith also has a background in television, including working on series or specials for CNN and BET. This is her first Sundance project.

Associate Producer:

  • Stephanie Rae Smith

    Smith worked in advertising as a commercial producer for national brands before turning to teaching, returning to her alma mater, Oak Park and River Forest High School, as a substitute teacher. This too is her first Sundance credit.

Editors:

  • Leslie Simmer

    Simmer is Kartemquin’s director of editing/senior editor. She previously worked on post for STEVIE, REEL PARADISE, and THE INTERRUPTERS.

  • David E Simpson
    Past Sundance docs:

    MAYA ANGELOU: AND STILL I RISE (2016)
    LIFE ITSELF
    WHEN BILLY BROKE HIS HEAD… AND OTHER TALES OF WONDER (1995, director/producer/editor, Freedom of Expression Award)

Co-Editor:

  • Alanna Schmelter

    Schmelter worked on RADICAL GRACE, as well as previous Kartemquin projects, but this marks her first Sundance credit

Associate Editor:

  • Rubin Daniels Jr

    This too is Daniels’ first Sundance project. He participated in the Sundance Institute’s Documentary Edit and Story Lab in 2017.

Why You Should Watch:
James demonstrates masterful command of nonfiction storytelling as he balances profiles of compelling, diverse characters with a look at the efforts of the administration and parents to address the continuing systemic obstacles to equity for all students, regardless of racial or socioeconomic differences.

More Info:
Website
Sundance’s Meet the Artist

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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