Our shorthand notions of a “Sundance” movie – small-ish, character-driven comedy/drama, usually directed by an earnest first-timer or up-and-comer, and with a cast of indie regulars, screen newcomers, and/or stars looking for recognition as Serious Actors – are almost all tied to the narrative features of the fest’s Dramatic, Premiere, and NEXT competitions. But nearly half of their feature slate is comprised of documentary films, and while they might not be the buzziest movies at the fest, they’re often the best. Here’s a quick peek at what your film editor took in this year.
SWING AND A MISS
Our New President
Maxim Pozdorovkin’s profoundly depressing documentary details, with copious clips, the propaganda campaign waged on Russian television and web outlets during the 2016 Presidential campaign, a parade of Clinton smears and Trump hagiography so flagrantly false, they’re almost hilarious. The outcome makes it a bit less of a knee-slapper, particularly since Pozdorovkin digs up clips of Putin and his “journalists” all but bragging about swinging the election. At its best, President is a witty repurposed media collage, its mixture of juxtapositions, music cues, and archival clips displaying a pronounced Atomic Café influence. But it’s also far too scattershot, with some dodgy digressions and far too many YouTube videos of tributes, testimonials, and (gulp) songs. They’re not institutional, they’re individual – vapor trails, but not the engine – so they’re far less compelling (it feels like the filmmakers were just padding the already-slender 77 minute running time). And it ends far too abruptly, though perhaps because this is still very much a story in progress.