Sundance: Documentaries

We've seen such a wide array of films, it reminds me that cinema is an art form through which so many different worldviews, experiences and visions can be expressed that it's simultaneously exciting and mind-boggling. Possibly the best thing about Sundance, or any film festival for that matter, is the ability to take in so much in a short amount of time and it feels like we've seen very little, though in the past five days we've seen an opera and 11 films, with a day off in the middle where we didn't attend anything except the fridge and the bar.
Since I'm so behind, I'm going to use this one post to cover the three documentaries we've seen, all of which were completely different in execution and theme that it seems weird to write about them all in a single post but there you have it.
Utopia in Four Movements: San Francisco filmmakers Sam Green and Dave Cerf presented a "live documentary" of the human quest for utopia, or at least hope. Using three musicians to accompany the film, this work-in-progress has Green narrating it live in front of the audience as images and footage of a world seeking cohesion and spiritual unity unfurl across the screen. Beginning with the theory behind Esperanto and its practioners and adherents, Green and Cerf take the audience through a thoughtful and evocative tour of the human spirit. If this comes to your town, it would be well worth experiencing, though it's more of a presentation than an actual film in its current form
His and Hers: Director Ken Wardrop filmed 70 women ranging in age from toddlers to octogenarians and asked them about the men in their lives. Capturing the thoughts and moods of the women provides moments that touching, humorous and poignant. Wardrop's idea is a brilliant one, though I wished he filmed it with a more diverse group of women. By using a small geographic area in rural Ireland as his sole source of interviewees, many of these women come across as living very similar lives (indeed, their kitchens often look like they all had the same decorator) and they share variations of similar experiences. I wish he had filmed additional women in London, New York, Cairo and rural China as well as well as a hundred other places. Wardrop's film is charming and intimate, but ultimately it's a wee bit too small for a feature length film.

Bhutto: Jessica Hernández and Johnny O'Hara's portrait of the first woman to be the leader of a Muslim country is one of the slickest, best-made documentaries I've ever seen. Unfortunately it borders on hagiography, making it seem like the death of Benazir Bhutto is something that has doomed any prospect for a peaceful outcome to the "clash of civilizations." If you know little of the history of modern Pakistan or of Bhutto and her family, this film is an interesting, lively and involving primer. However, there are some noticeable skims over the reasons why Bhutto was in exile for eight years or why she stepped-down from her second term. Everyone on camera (and it's an impressive group) has an agenda in shaping the Bhutto legacy and the implications her assassination has for Pakistan's future. In the end however, it tells us nothing about what Pakistan lost the day she was killed because the one thing the film never tells you was what she wanted to do beyond "restore democracy." It's a great package, put together by people close to Bhutto and her political machine, but in the end it feels like it's selling a politician (albeit a fascinating one)- not documenting history nor making a case for why Bhutto was such a pivotal figure.