How to Sundance: Screening a Doc

AWARDS WATCH: The 68th Annual Golden Globe Awards will be telecast live Sunday night, January 16 at 8pm EST on NBC and I will be covering it to see what films and actors, like The Social Network and Colin Firth, should win. Click on the Golden Globes page for the complete list of nominations: http://culturetourist.com/golden-globes/.

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The 28 documentary features screening in competition this year have a wide of range of themes: hiphop, the recession, Black Power and Elmo. In all, this year’s slate seem to boast some engaging and thought-provoking films that may help the continuing success of the documentary genre.

A sampling of the documentary competition:

Being ELMO: A Puppeteer’s Journey – Meet Kevin Clash. As an average teenager growing up in Baltimore in the 1970s, Kevin had very different aspirations from his classmates—he wanted to be a puppeteer. More specifically, he wanted to be part of Jim Henson’s team of Muppeteers, the creative force responsible for delivering the magic of Sesame Street on a daily basis. With a supportive family behind him every step of the way, Kevin made those dreams come true. Combining amazing archival footage with material from the present day, filmmaker Constance Marks explores his story in vivid detail, chronicling the meteoric rise of Jim Henson’s Muppets in the process.

Hot Coffee – For many Americans, the famous McDonald’s coffee case has become emblematic of the frivolous lawsuits that clog our courts and stall our justice system. Enter intrepid filmmaker Susan Saladoff. Using the now-infamous legal battle over a spilled cup of coffee as a springboard into investigating our civil-justice system, Saladoff exposes the way corporations have spent millions distorting this case to promote tort reform. Big business has brewed an insidious concoction of manipulation and lies to protect its interests, and media lapdogs have stirred the cup.

Page One: A Year Inside the NEW YORK TIMESPage One chronicles the media industry’s transformation and assesses the high stakes for democracy if in-depth investigative reporting becomes extinct. The film deftly makes a beeline for the eye of the storm or, depending on how you look at it, the inner sanctum of the media, gaining unprecedented access to the New York Times newsroom for a year.

We Were Here – In the early 1970s, in the shadow of the Stonewall riots and the free-love movement, gay men and lesbians flocked to San Francisco to find acceptance. They formed a thriving, tight-knit community until the arrival of AIDS in the early 1980s drove them under siege. Director David Weissman chronicles this transformative era through the stories of five individuals who lived through the best and the worst of it.

Hell and Back Again – In 2009, U.S. Marines launched a major helicopter assault on a Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan. Immediately upon landing, the marines were surrounded by insurgents and attacked from all sides. Embedded in Echo Company, filmmaker Danfung Dennis captures the action with visceral immediacy. As he reveals the devastating impact a Taliban machine-gun bullet has on the life of 25-year-old Sergeant Nathan Harris, Dennis’s film evolves from being a war exposé to becoming a story of one man’s personal apocalypse. A shell of the man he once was, will Harris ever return to the happy life he shared with his loving wife, Ashley?

Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure – In 1987, Eddie and Mitch, two young punks from the Midwest, moved into a low-rent shithole of an apartment in the Lower Haight district of San Francisco. Through paper-thin walls, they were informally introduced to their middle-aged alcoholic neighbors, Raymond Huffman, a raging homophobe, and Peter Haskett, a flamboyant gay man. Night after night, the boys were treated to and terrorized by a seemingly endless stream of vodka-fueled altercations between the two unlikely roommates. For 18 months, Eddie and Mitch hung a microphone from their kitchen window to chronicle the bizarre and violent relationship between their borderline-insane neighbors.

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