I'll go ahead and say what anyone who went to the Sundance film festival or followed the coverage is thinking: this year was fairly drab for narrative films. Going into the festival the most buzzed about films were documentaries (American Teen, An American Soldier/the Recruiter), the first sale was a documentary (Up the Yangtze), the most controversial films were documentaries (Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, Art Star and the Sudanese Twins) and the most raucous Q&A was at a documentary screening (Stronger, Better, Faster).
Documentaries also covered a much wider breadth of subjects than the narratives' increasingly cliched parameters of "dysfunctional family forced out of their comfort zone and is forced to confront their differences which brings them closer together". There were portraits of artists that took creative license with the concert film form (CSNY: Deja Vu, Patti Smith: Dream of Life, U2 3D), the ecological (Flow: For Love of Water, Fields of Fuel), horrific moments in history coming to roost (the Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo, Traces of the Trade, Nerakhoon), cannibals (Stranded: I've Come From the Plane that Crashed in the Mountains) and the black helicopter contingency (I.O.U.S.A., Secrecy).
There were also two docs in particular that embodied what I love in scrappy, low-budget documentaries. Be Like the Others about transgender people in Iran (where it's illegal to be gay but not to have a sex change operation) and Slingshot Hip Hop about political Palestinian rap groups (bringing a total of four concepts and themes that make many Americans extremely uncomfortable) tell intimate, personal stories that never could have been on a large scale. Neither film has secured distribution deals yet but I hope to be writing soon about their forthcoming theatrical and dvd releases.
After the jump are the winners of the Sundance documentary awards.
Related: PopMatters, Documentaries Rule at Sundance.