Sundance: Day 2, Fri., 1/18/08

Dispatch direct from Sundance
By Cathleen Rountree, critic and film journalist

Continuing docs.

“Bigger, Stronger, Faster” (U.S.), director, Christopher Bell; co-written with Alexander Buono and Tamsin Rawady. With Barry Bonds, Marion Jones, and Roger Clemens in the news and, worse, Chris Benoit’s “’roid rage” slaying of his wife and 7-year-old son, and subsequent self-hanging last year, Bell examines America’s win-at-all-cost malady by exposing his two brothers’ membership in the steroid subculture. The film opens with images of 1980s super-heroes: Rambo, Conan, and Hulk Hogan, but then analyzes the extent of (even rappers and R & B stars admit to using steroids and human-growth-hormones) and deeper issues surrounding these drugs: ethics in sports and the ramifications on both psychological and physical health.

“The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo” (U.S.), director Lisa F. Jackson sees Congolese women’s bodies as a wartime battleground; in fact, rape is a key destabilizing method in a corrupt cycle. Jackson interviewed women who survived rape in war-ravaged remote villages of the Congo, thereby, giving us an intimate glimpse into the atrocities that dominate their lives.

“An American Soldier” (U.S.), directed and written by Edet Belzberg. Five years into the war in Iraq, with no mandatory draft to fill its depleting ranks, the U.S. Army is more dependent than ever on persuasive recruiters to lure young would-be soldiers to the front lines. Enter Sergeant First Class Clay Usie, from Louisiana, one of the most successful recruiters in America today. In vérité-style, Belzberg chronicles Usie’s activities during a nine-month period. To high school youths facing a future of unemployment, or low-paying jobs, Usie appears to offer a reasonable alternative –– until their deployment to Iraq.

Three exciting American-produced bio-docs premier this year:

“Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson” (U.S.), director, Alex Gibney. Following on the heels of Jann Wenner and Corey Seymour’s oral history of Thompson, Gibney (director of the award-winning “Taxi to the Darkside” and “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room”) creates an intimate and revealing portrait of writer Hunter S. Thompson. Focusing on the decade from 1965 to 1975 and using never-before-seen clips of Thompson’s home movies, newly discovered audiotapes and passages from unpublished manuscripts, Gibney creates a three-dimensional portrait of a true American icon.

“Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired” (U.S.), director, Marina Zenovich. In this exploration of the infamous ’70s case, in which acclaimed director Polanski (“Rosemary’s Baby,” “Chinatown,” “The Pianist”) allegedly had sexual intercourse with a minor, Zenovich uncovers a very different story than that of which the legal system –– fired by the media –– convinced the public. Rather than face certain jail time, Polanski fled to Europe, where he remains to this day. Will this documentary resolve the myth and mystery that have haunted this professionally respected, personally reviled, controversial character?

“Patti Smith: Dream of Life” (U.S.), director, Steven Sebring. Legendary musician/poet/painter/activist and sometime lover of Sam Shepard, Smith once wrote: “Life isn’t some vertical or horizontal line. You have your own internal world, and it’s not neat.” Amen to that. Sebring tracked this punk pioneer and spiritual child of Rimbaud, Blake, and Burroughs for 11 years through intimate personal revelations at her home to mesmerizing public performances.

TBC . . .


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