As the lineup of the 2017 Sundance Film Festival is revealed, I’ll be including pointers here. The US and World Cinema Dramatic and Documentary Competitions, plus the NEXT section, have just been announced today here.
Pointers for other sections will follow as they are announced over the next week.
New to DVD this week: DESERT MIGRATION
Daniel F Cardone’s look at an enclave of HIV/AIDS survivors had its world premiere at Frameline last year. It also screened at Visions Du Reél, Cleveland, Palm Springs, Adelaide, Open City, Outfest, NewFest, and at numerous other LGBT fests in Denver, Austin, Atlanta, Seattle, Milwaukee, Madrid, Amsterdam, Boston, and Melbourne, among others.
Cardone’s film focuses on 13 men who have lived with HIV for far longer than they initially expected. Until the emergence of protease inhibitors in the mid-1990s, they, like so many others, believed their HIV+ diagnosis was a death sentence. Having moved to the gay oasis of Palm Springs CA, they escaped their supposed fates and instead face the reality of growing older while coming to grips with the personal losses they suffered from the epidemic, in addition to coping with the side effects of their medication. Cardone follows his subjects in their daily routines, as they ruminate on life within this welcoming community, expressed via candid narration against often striking images. While the approach lends a poetic air to the proceedings, audiences may be hard-pressed to distinguish each of the 13 largely very similar men, prompting the question of whether quite so many voices really needed to be included here. Still, the film presents a frank and necessary consideration of issues of mortality, wellness, and aging that are too-often ignored within the mainstream gay community.
Coming to CNN tomorrow, Thursday, December 1: ENLIGHTEN US: THE RISE AND FALL OF JAMES ARTHUR RAY
Jenny Carchman’s portrait of the disgraced self-help guru debuted at Tribeca this Spring. It also screened at Tallgrass, Telluride Mountainfilm, and Poland’s American Film Festival.
Riding a wave of publicity as part of the wildly successful New Age self-help film and book THE SECRET, James Arthur Ray soon built up a career as a motivational speaker and best-selling author, attracting followers seeking personal enlightenment and financial success. For those willing to shell out large sums, Ray organized “Spiritual Warrior” retreats to push them further, including challenges like firewalking, fasting, and, infamously, participation in pseudo-Native American-styled “sweat lodges.” It was at one such event at a ranch near Sedona AZ in October 2009 that led to the death of three followers, as well as the hospitalization of 18 others. While avoiding a manslaughter charge, Ray was convicted of negligent homicide and served two years in prison. Carchman details these events, while also following Ray’s attempted and not wholly successful comeback. Though paying lipservice about regrets and contrition for the deaths, Ray never takes full responsibility and instead seems to be more rueful of the inconvenient impact the episode had on his career, complaining that he wasn’t treated fairly by the justice system. While the film could have gone further, it gives its subject just enough rope to hang himself, resulting in a portrait of a still ambitious yet unlikeable and pathetic man.
Coming to theatres this Friday, December 2: FIRST LADY OF THE REVOLUTION
Andrea Kalin’s profile of a Southern belle turned Central American political figure bowed at Sidewalk Film Festival this Summer. It also has screened at Hot Springs Doc, Rocky Mountain Women’s Film Festival, and theatrically throughout Costa Rica.
Kalin chronicles the 1948 civil war in Costa Rica that presaged radical changes to the Central American nation from the perspective of one of its most unlikely players: Henrietta Boggs. The young woman, born in South Carolina and later a resident of Alabama, was a college student and aspiring journalist when she visited family in Costa Rica in 1940, met coffee farmer José Figueres, and decided to marry him. Over the next few years, Figueres emerged as popular opposition leader to the repressive government. With Boggs at his side as a pivotal behind-the-scenes advisor and confidante, Figueres fled the country in exile before finally coming to power in the aftermath of the 1948 revolution. Together the couple established a new constitution and government, introducing progressive reforms like the abolishment of the nation’s military which led to unprecedented stability and peace. Kalin has found a very appealing subject around whom to frame a largely forgotten but compelling story.
Coming to DVD today, Tuesday, November 29: TOMORROW WE DISAPPEAR
Jimmy Goldblum and Adam Weber’s portrait of a vanishing Indian artist colony debuted at Tribeca in 2014. Screenings followed at Hot Docs, Melbourne, Austin, Aspen, Hot Springs Doc, and Camden, among other events.
For hundreds of years, New Delhi’s Kathputli was home to an eclectic assortment of artists and performers – traditional puppeteers, magicians, acrobats, and jugglers who would ply their craft on the streets of the city. As Goldblum and Weber begin their tale, the artist colony has been sold by the government for real estate development, with plans to install a luxury skyscraper and mall after the dwellings are razed, displacing the nearly 3000 residents. The film follows the different reactions to Kathputli’s impending demise, focused on three of its artists: acclaimed puppeteer Puran Bhatt, who tries to organize resistance to the government’s planned relocation; street magician Rahman Shah, who tires of police harassment and considers leaving the city altogether; and young acrobat Maya Pawar, who welcomes the change, hoping for a better life. Rather than constructing the expected David vs Goliath social activism film, the directors instead opt for a quieter, more poignant study of how the colony responds to change.
Coming to theatres tomorrow, Wednesday, November 30: BOBBY SANDS: 66 DAYS
Brendan J Byrne’s intimate chronicle of the legendary IRA leader’s hunger strike debuted at Hot Docs earlier this year. The film also screened at DOC NYC, Galway, Sheffield, and Antenna Doc, among other events.
I previously wrote about the film for DOC NYC’s program, saying:
In 1981, at the height of the sectarian violence and nationalism in Northern Ireland known as the Troubles, a group of Irish Republican Army prisoners, led by Bobby Sands, went on a hunger strike to demand special recognition as political prisoners. Archival footage, Sands’s prison diary, and testimonials from key players reveal how this desperate tactic would bring the world’s attention to their struggle, elevate him to martyrdom, and shape the conflict for decades to come.
Coming to NYC’s JCC Manhattan as part of its CineMatters series tomorrow, Tuesday, November 29: ON THE MAP
Dani Menkin’s story of the underdog 1977 Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team debuted at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival earlier this year. It went on to screen at DOC NYC, Gold Coast, and Jewish fests in Boston, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Ann Arbor, and Virginia, among others.
In 1977, after years of failing to make it past the initial round of the European Cup basketball tournament, the Tel Aviv team achieved the seemingly impossible, winning against champion CSKA Moscow in the semi-final round. This victory over the Red Army team – which came after the USSR refused to play in Israel, a nation they did not formally recognize at the time – prompted Maccabi leader Tal Brody to declare that this put Israel “on the map” – both in basketball and in world affairs. Menkin’s engaging film, grounded in the context of Cold War politics and Israel’s tumultuous history, provides a comprehensive consideration of the symbolic weight of Brody’s sentiment, revisiting the basketball team that overshadowed all other Israeli events at the time, including the resignation of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin amidst a financial scandal involving his wife.