Welcome to Part 2 of our 2023 Sundance Film Festival Most Anticipated list! This time, we’re covering the documentaries of the festival. Included below are sixteen selections from the Premieres and competition sections of the festival.
The Deepest Breath – Directed by Laura McGann
This one screams Free Solo as two divers attempt a seemingly impossible physical feat. Alessia Zecchini and Stephen Keenan seek to free dive through an 85-foot tunnel, more than 185 feet below the Red Sea. Without oxygen tanks. The feat may seem impossible, and the tension seems impossible to ignore.
Murder in Big Horn – Directed by Razelle Benally & Matthew Galkin
A documentary series coming to Showtime in February follows the murders of indigenous women in Big Horn County, Montana. The harrowing stories and family interviews make this a truly emotional experience. Simultaneously, directors Razelle Benally and Matthew Galkin explore the systems that enable abuse and violence against women.
Plan C – Directed by Tracy Droz Tragos
Last year, Sundance featured films that warned about what a Post-Roe life would return to (Call Jane, Happening). Director Tracy Droz Tragos confronts the reality of that world with Plan C. In the months since Roe was overturned, organizations continue to fight right-wing attempts to assert government control over family planning. Yet some organizations have found new methods of fighting anti-abortion and anti-feminine healthcare methods.
Judy Blume Forever – Directed by Davina Pardo & Leah Wolchok
Few authors help bridge the gap between childhood and adolescence quite like Judy Blume. With more than a dozen iconic novels in her bibliography, Blume helps women deal with the awkward and cringy moments of growing up. This is a more personal pick, as Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing remains one of my all-time favorite books. Yet Blume’s impact on the work cannot be ignored. Davina Pardo and Leah Wolchok, two of our rising stars in the documentary world, help Blume tell her own story for the first time ever.
Food and Country – Directed by Laura Gabbert
Director Laura Gabbert directed one of the very best food documentaries of all time. When City of Gold premiered in 2015, she created a gorgeous portrait of one of the greatest film critics of all time. She returns to the restaurant world, this time accompanied by Ruth Reichl. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Reichl began exploring how small farms, chefs, and others were attempting to change our thinking on food. At what point does cheap food lead to irreparable harm to how we eat in the future?
US DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION
The Disappearance of Shere Hite – Directed by Nicole Newnham
Shere Hite became a lightning rod for controversy when she published The Hite Report in 1976. A seminal book in understanding and changing attitudes about sexual satisfaction in women, The Hite Report also drew controversy for Hite’s supposed bias in reading her data. Yet decades later, Hite seems all but forgotten. Nicole Newnham, one of the Oscar-nominated directors of Crip Camp, helms the story and explores Hite’s life and the controversial report.
AUM: The Cult at the End of the World – Directed by Ben Braun and Chiaki Yanagimoto
The name of this documentary already got me interested, but reading the synopsis caught my attention. A yoga studio founded in 1980s Japan evolved into a doomsday cult, eventually using Sarin gas to attack the Toyko Subway system. The footage has already been described as chilling. Knowing nothing about the cult or the attacks makes this one of the most interesting stories of the festival.
The Stroll – Directed by Kristen Lovell
Few cities evolve as quickly as New York City, which adds weight to the history of our neighborhoods. Director Kristen Lovell tells the history of the Meatpacking district through the eyes of transgender women who shaped its culture. Lovell’s directorial debut directly confronts the gentrification of the area, which quickly evolved from a world of sex work into a corporatized neighborhood. Yet that process of change ignores the lives that lived and died to make this area accessible in the first place.
Bad Press – Directed by Rebecca Landsberry-Baker & Joe Peeler
In 2015, the Free Press Act was repealed by the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. In a bizarre turn of events, the national tribal officials gutted the press within the Nation, instead forcing the newspaper to report to the Secretary of the Nation and Commerce. Directors Rebecca Landsberry-Baker and Joe Peeler dive into the fight for truth, showcasing Angel Ellis’ struggle as a journalist in intimate detail.
Victim/Suspect – Directed by Nancy Schwartzman
There is already a power imbalance and an unfair burden of proof placed on women who report sexual assault. However, women charged with “making a false report” for struggling to make the report only lessen the chances that victims will report the initial crime. Journalist Rae De Leon realized the growing trend straight out of Unbelievable as the prevalence of these trends continues to grow.
WORLD DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION
5 Seasons of Revolution – Directed by Lina
The story of courageous journalism in areas that need it most should always take center stage. In the case of 5 Seasons of Revolution, Lina goes above and beyond. Embracing the idea of using multiple journalistic personalities, Lina faces years in the trenches of journalistic freedom. Given the one-name credit for the director, this could be 2023’s Flee.
20 Days in Maripul – Directed by Mstyslav Chernov
One of the more upsetting documentaries set to premiere at the festival, AP video journalist Mstyslav Chernov reveals what it was like on the ground in Maripul when the Russian forces began invading Ukraine. Already the stills from this feature have been upsetting. Expect this to be a difficult watch but a necessary one to understand the war in Ukraine.
The Eternal Memory – Directed by Maite Alberdi
Few films at Sundance look primed to devastate quite like The Eternal Memory. Following a couple facing the devastation of Alzheimer’s, the story seems primed to look at their love story, the cultural events of Chile over the past twenty years, and Pinochet’s crimes. Sprawling but personal stories are the best, and The Eternal Memory is primed to pull on the heartstrings.
Smoke Sauna Sisterhood – Directed by Anna Hints
Director Anna Hints makes her directorial debut with one of the more experimental films in competition. Smoke Sauna Sisterhood follows Estonian women who partake in a ritualistic process of cleansing their bodies. The process of going into a sauna to spill doubts and secrets bodes well for the stories captured by Hints. Yet the exciting ways many are describing the tone and cinematography of the film make this one of the more exciting features of the festival.
Against the Tide – Directed by Sarvnik Kaur
Tradition versus modernity clash in the story of two young men. Against the Tide focuses on two indigenous fishermen struggling to make ends meet. Director Sarvnik Kaur focuses on an emotional struggle between friends, families, and legacy. In doing so, Against the Tide uses the Koli tribe to tell a universal story, despite its hyper specificity.
The Longest Goodbye – Directed by Ido Mizrahy
The next step of humanity is still very much in the air. We continue to make scientific discoveries to better the planet (and save it while we’re at it). Yet we also seek a world beyond the stars, with even non-billionaires questioning why we have not gone to Mars. However, the isolation and loneliness of space travel opens the door for mental health issues that far eclipse the isolation we’ve all experienced over the past three years. Director Ido Mizrahy follows one of the psychologists attempting to understand what such a trip would do to the human mind.