When most people think of Sundance, a few thoughts generally come to mind: Robert Redford, indie movies, skiing, star-studded events, snowboots and brand activations. It is known as the most prestigious film festival in the United States and for good reason, with cutting-edge virtual reality, innovation-driving panels and events, Oscar-ready movies, the best in emerging and established talent and a consistent pool of films that aim to make a difference in the world. While many folks may be most excited about hitting the slopes, we’re looking at their program of movies that highlight social good.
An Inconvenient Sequel
A decade after Al Gore’s landmark climate change documentary An Inconvenient Truth brought the issue into the hearts and homes of the world, he’s back with An Inconvenient Sequel. Untethered from the powerpoint presentation that guided the first film, this new doc follows Gore around the world, training an army of climate champions and influencing international climate policy. He pursues the empowering notion that while the stakes have never been higher, the perils of climate change can be overcome with human ingenuity and passion.
Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities
Emmy-winning documentarian Stanley Nelson (Freedom Riders, The Black Panthers) brings forward yet another essential chapter of American history with his latest film, Tell Them We Are Rising, the first-ever project of its kind on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). The role of HBCUs in America’s history and its future are pivotal in ensuring that higher education not be denied to anyone. The film explores the role HBCUs have played in the ascent of African-Americans and their families – from slavery to the present day – spanning over 150 years of American history, culture, and national identity. The two-hour film and multi-platform project is set to air on PBS next fall, but we can’t wait to check it out at this year’s Festival!
Bending the Arc
As the poorest nations battled intractable diseases, a fledgling group of unstoppable health advocates took on a seemingly impossible mission: healthcare as a human right. In 1980s Haiti, in a remote region devastated first by tuberculosis and later by AIDS, Harvard medical student Paul Farmer, idealistic physician Jim Yong Kim, and activist Ophelia Dahl successfully raised funding and opened a clinic. After little success using conventional methods, the team implemented a dramatically hands-on community health model, Partners In Health, that has since saved millions of lives around the globe. From a deadly multidrug-resistant TB epidemic in 1990s Peru to the first Ebola cases in Rwanda, this approach, and the intrepid team that envisioned it, transformed global health. This doc, inspired by the New York Times best seller Mountains Beyond Mountains and executive produced by Matt Damon and Damon Lindelof, follows the group’s beginnings working toward global health equity.
Focusing on a subject that has been ever-present in the news for years, The Force takes on the issue of policing. In 2014, after over a decade of federal monitoring for misconduct and civil rights abuses, the Oakland Police Department hired Chief Sean Whent – an idealistic young officer – with the hopes of mending a notoriously tense relationship between its officers and the community they serve. Plagued with a scandal-ridden past and a time when accusations of misconduct and harassment continue to pour in, how can one man’s demand for transparency win? With an insider’s degree of access, the doc gives audiences an unprecedented view of some of law enforcement’s most dangerous jobs and a police department aching to leave its corrupt image behind.
Cries from Syria
Later set to air on HBO after its Sundance bow, Cries from Syria promises an affecting portrayal of a dire situation: a potent record of the events that have transpired in Syria since 2011. Inspired by the Arab Spring, Syrians were hopeful they could end their country’s 40-year reign of brutal dictatorship. Instead, their efforts yielded horrific consequences as the government swiftly punished those in opposition. From cutting off the food supply to the use of chemical weapons and targeted airstrikes on hospitals and schools, those fighting for freedom have endured a grave humanitarian crisis. Incorporating gripping firsthand accounts from activists, child protesters, and a former army general who joined the uprising, the doc frames the resiliency of people as they continue to make a stand for good in the wake of their exposure to unthinkable crimes against humanity.
With these five movies and others, it’s hard not to feel optimistic about the future of storytelling and its power to incite change. Whether surrounding the environment, civil liberties, education, healthcare or human rights, we tip our hats to the the filmmakers who are telling these urgent stories, and make movies that matter.
What movies are you looking forward to at this year’s festival?
For more information on these and other films playing at Sundance, www.sundance.org.