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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Docs at Sundance

Docs at Sundance

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Saturday, February 1, 2020/Categories: natural history, wildlife conservation, video, birds, sustainability, art and design, environment, adventure

                                            Sundance Film Festival 2020 wall poster (credit Sundance)

For nearly 40 years, filmmakers, movie enthusiasts, and film distributors have trekked to the Utah mountain town of Park City to attend the Sundance Film Festival. The annual event is a showcase of American and international independent films crossing categories of dramas, documentaries, workshops, premieres, and frontier filmmaking technologies. Sundance has always had a 'scrappy history' since its inception 1981 and the 2020 offerings continue that tradition.

Documentary films have always been a strong category at the Festival with many non-fiction films going onto theatrical and television acclaim. Docs like Chasing Ice, The Cove, Marianne & Leonard, NUTS, and Hoop Dreams first emerged at Sundance, just to name several. This year more than 40 offerings were presented. Here are three examples:

Okavango, River of Dreams: a film that required nearly 4 years to produce, Okavango is a meditation on the natural world. The Okavango River, the subject of this film, is tracked from its headwaters in Angola to its delta in the landlocked desert of Botswana. Along its nearly 1000 mile journey, the river creates an Eden-like ecosystem that attracts African wildlife of every imagined sort. The filmmakers did not shy away from the impact of predator and pray encounters. Besides its remarkable cinematography, Okavango is a statement on the real need to protect and conserve this wild landscape and its inhabitants.



                   Havana street scene, Epicentro (credit: Sundance Film Festival)

Set in post-Castro Cuba, Epicentro follows two young Cubans as they navigate their urban landscape. The director Hubert Sauper used the French style of cinema verite, where a camera reveals truths in reality, to show beauty, diversity, and confusion of ordinary people living in present-day Havana. The young people offer running commentaries on political and social realities far beyond their 12 years of age while still trying to maintain a sense of fun and playfulness. Sections of Havana are literally crumbling around them and are contrasted to the modern 'pleasure palaces' reserved for tourists from the USA, Europe, and Asia. This visual expose of Havana is bookended by a hurricane violently but beautifully smashing into and flooding a building along Havana's Malecon, the City's famous sea-wall boulevard. The hurricane is a metaphor for events affecting the local people.

The Truffle Hunters: docs at Sundance are always an eclectic mix of subjects and non-fiction storytelling. During the festival, The Truffle Hunters was one of the hardest tickets to find. The doc focuses on the small, quirky, and secretive band of elderly men who train their dogs to find white truffles in northern Italian forests. Often called the 'diamonds of the kitchen', white truffles are only gathered between October to December, which adds mystery to this underground mushroom. The truffles can sell for as much as $3,600/pound making the fungus the most expensive food ingredient in the world. The film was purchased for distribution by Sony Pictures Classics after its first premiere screening. Regarding their acquisition a Sony executive said, “This is one of the freshest, most beautiful films ever and it will be embraced by audiences everywhere. It's an artistic achievement that will make the world smile.”


        The Truffle Hunters poster (credit: Sony Pictures Classics)

Watch for these and other Sundance docs to start appearing at your local independent theater or streaming service soon.



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