6 days, 20 films, 10 parties, several panels (it’s all a blur), many double espressos and very little sleep, Sundance 2020 did not disappoint. From opening day to my final screening this morning at 9am before heading to the airport, here are my highlights.
Opening Night was extraordinary and it was hard to imagine how anything else could top the World Premiere of Crip Camp (pictured above), directed by the Bay Area’s very own Jim LaBrecht and Nicole Newnham. With the longest ovation I can recall, this film will in fact change the world. A star subject is Judy Heumann, one of the most important civil rights leaders of our time (she also happens to be Jewish). The film is an incredibly fun ride, but Judy reminded us in the Q&A that we all need to do the work to make our world as amazing as Crip Camp. After all, we are all temporarily able-bodied. (Netflix in March)
Friday after Opening Night, JFI hosted our official Sundance partner event and announced the call for entries for the inaugural year of the JFI Completion Funding Program. Word spread fast and we heard about exciting Jewish-subject films currently in production from many emerging and established filmmakers. Our panel with Lance Oppenheim, one of the youngest filmmakers to have a feature doc at Sundance was inspiring and engaging (view the full panel). Only a 22-year-old with three Op-Docs under his belt, could stalk Darren Aronofsky into executive producing Some
Kind of Heaven, one of the first projects of the newly minted New York Times Film and Television division.
As always Sundance delivered some groundbreaking moments. Disclosure directed by Sam Feder is one for the history books. A must see for all, the film is an illuminating and epic journey though cinema history with a transgendered lens. The Woman at Sundance celebration has grown so big, it had to be held in a transformed bowling alley. The snow and the long line around the block did not seem to deter anyone. Of course, Gloria Steinem and Hillary Clinton addressed the crowd as both attended the Premieres of films/series about their lives, The Glorias by Julie Taymor and Hillary by Nanette Burstein.
Steinem shared the importance of telling our stories in whatever way we can. And Clinton opened by saying “she was thrilled to be at Sundance. There was only one other place she would rather be.” But for me, Eva Langoria and Joy Buolamwini were the most impactful. Langoria shared the stunning stats on the absence of Latinx directors in the Director’s Guild (3.4%) and made the connection between the lack of loving Latinx families on film and television shows and the inhuman separation of children and parents on our border.
Joy Buolamwini, a researcher at the MIT Media Lab featured in Coded Bias, discovered that most facial recognition software does not recognize darker-skinned or female faces and reveals the implications of this in HR, housing and banking applications. She makes the airtight case for a new kind of civil rights movement that must take on the unregulated “wild, wild, west” of the tech world. And the entire film team from On the Record, which tackles sexual assault and rape in the hip hop industry, was at the event in full force with Drew Dixon and Kimbell Crenshaw providing an education in Intersectionality that will forever stay with us.
As it turns out, the final film I saw this morning before heading home did match the power of Opening Night and was the most inventive documentary I have seen in years. Dick Johnson is Dead by Kirsten Johnson is a perfect film. It brings to mind Jan Oxenberg’s Thank You and Goodnight and Debbie Hoffman’s Complaints of a Dutiful Daughter (all lesbian filmmakers). Johnson grapples with her father’s dementia using the best tools of movie magic, including stunt doubles and over-the-top fake blood, as she stages his death over and over again to prepare herself for the inevitable. A show of hands after the screening revealed that most of us know someone with dementia, and we also know that a high percentage of us will have dementia in the future. I cannot think of a better film to help us navigate the terrain with eyes wide open. I left the screening with the determination to live in the present and work toward acceptance. (Netflix later in 2020) Long Live Dick Johnson and Long Live Sundance.