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Sundance Wrap-Up

Chicago 10
Editor's Note: Part 1 of this series offered a preview to the Sundance Film Festival.

Chicago 10, the opening film of the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, set an ebullient tone for the 10 days of film screenings and celebrity preening in Park City, Utah.

It also reflected the ascendancy of documentary film at Sundance, one of the world's preeminent showcases of independent film.

In terms of connecting with and moving audiences, pound for pound, the documentaries outweighed the narratives.

Chicago 10, depicting the days of unrest outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, is a hybrid documentary, as the director Brett Morgen calls it, frenetically switching between archival footage, animation, actors' narration and music. The film weaves a loud, loose and unapologetically activist position on the events, which culminated in police violence and a kangaroo court trial that turned seven antiwar demonstrators into national celebrities.

This is not a film with talking heads. Morgen said he sought to create a "film experience" of the thrill of the protest and anger over the Vietnam war, while rallying more outspoken opposition to the war in Iraq.

Morgen, 38, was born weeks after the 1968 convention.

"I made the movie because it was the kind of movie I wanted to go see, to mobilize the youth of this country to get out there and stop this ... war!" Morgen shouted after the premiere to loud applause. "Let's go out there and get it started, right here and right now."

Much Sundance buzz inevitably revolves around distribution deals or celebrity sightings, actor and Sundance founder Robert Redford acknowledged in remarks to reporters before the premiere. But "by opening the festival with this film, we are making a statement about the importance of documentary film."

The festival certainly featured numerous outstanding narrative films, including the dramas Grace is Gone, Dark Matter and The Good Night, all of which have planned or expect to have theatrical releases.

But this year's narrative films were widely perceived as a critical letdown compared to some previous festivals. A 1989 festival winner, Steven Soderbergh's sex, lies, and videotape, is said to have invigorated and revolutionized the independent film movement; no such clear innovator was present this year.

Midway through the festival, Sundance attendees had a mood boost after the Academy Award nominations were announced. Among the contenders are nine for films that premiered at the 2006 festival, including Little Miss Sunshine, An Inconvenient Truth and Iraq in Fragments.

Cinema Verite

Chicago 10 Director Brett Morgen
Photo: Myles Aronowitz

The best documentaries I saw at Sundance offer a vital or fresh lens on the world.

The simultaneously heart-rending and uplifting War Dance explores the violent and grief-stricken lives of three Ugandan children as they prepare for a national dance competition.

Crazy Love is the bizarre tale of a violently tortured and dysfunctional relationship of two New Yorkers.

Manda Bala (Send a Bullet), which won the Documentary Grand Jury Prize, is a frightening exploration of the connections between extreme violence and corruption in Brazil.

Ghosts of Abu Ghraib (expected to air on HBO) investigates how the infamous U.S. prison in Iraq became synonymous with torture, and is powerfully told from the perspectives of the American guards who perpetuated the abuses.
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