Oh, how optimistic we all were this time a year ago, when Sundance went online—as we hoped, just that one time. Twelve months later, and omicron continues to run around ruining pretty much everything. Thus it forced Sundance online once again this year, and I had to enjoy whatever films I could from the comfort of my home rather than the chill and elevation of Park City.
So be it, and the focus is supposed to be on the films themselves rather than the parties, celebrity encounters and hullabaloo of Sundance (or any film festival, for that matter, in the “before times”). However, I still managed to enjoy some really great films that played at 2022’s Sundance and Slamdance festivals, and you should look for these, too (I’m also including one bonus pick that didn’t play at either festival but is coming out soon).
Director: Isabel Castro
Doriz Munoz is a first-generation Mexican-American with an ear for talent. Through the force of her personality she once managed the artist Cuco, and she seemed to be on her way until Cuco fired her. Now at a turning point, this documentary sees Munoz, just 26, struggling to find her way—and new talent to manage. Through social media she meets a Houston artist called Jacks, and Munoz believes guiding the upstart talent is her next logical step. All this while covid rages, forcing live music essentially into hibernation. Furthermore, Munoz’s parents are undocumented and her brother has already been deported. It’s more than any woman her age should have to handle, but Munoz is a study in not only perseverance but equanimity.
Director: Ham Tran
From Vietnam comes Ham Tran’s “Maika,” which is like a darker rendition of “E.T.” but somehow still good for kids. “Maika” stars Truong Phu as a boy who lost his mother to illness and now lives a lonely life with his father. One day a spaceship lands, and out steps a young girl (Chu Diep Anh), whose innocence in the ways of humankind may just be what the boy, and his father, need to move forward. Heartfelt and with much to say about loss and grieving, “Maika” is perfect for approaching that most tender of subjects with children.
“ᎤᏕᏲᏅ (What They’ve Been Taught)”
Director: Brit Hensel
Brit Hensel’s short documentary explores the meaning of identity and family in this examination of Cherokee culture, as told through the eyes of Keli Gonzales. Hensel, the first Cherokee woman to direct a film selected at Sundance, is a talent to watch.
“Stranger Than Rotterdam”
Directors: Lewie Klosterm and Noah Kloster
Decades ago Sara Driver worked with Jim Jarmusch on “Stranger Than Paradise,” and the success—or failure—of the project depended on Driver’s getting a film canister onto an airplane. This short film is semi-animation and part-documentary, but whatever it is, it sure is interesting.
Directors: Regan Linton & Brian Malone
This rather unique documentary shows how a group of artists with various disabilities stage a spirited rendition of “Chicago” on stage. None of the performers in “Imperfect” allow their disabilities to halt them from allowing the joy of performance and the magic of theater to lift not only their own spirits, but also those who behold their decidedly professional rendition of “Chicago.” This documentary serves as a perfect rejoinder for anyone who says ‘you can’t.’”
Director: Krzysztof Kasior
Aleksandra Rola has trained for years to be an MMA fighter in her native Poland, enduring the doubts of her family, a toxic relationship with her manager and boyfriend as well as her own self-doubts. Early on, we learn that Rola has already experienced several suicide attempts, which may or may not explain why she continues to get back into the ring and endure such physical punishment. But then things begin to look up, and Rola flies to Las Vegas to compete in the big time, but the reprieve from her spiraling path proves only temporary.
As destructive as Rola’s life seems to be, we can’t help but root for her, not just in the ring but in life as well.
COMING SOON TO VOD
“La Liste: Everything or Nothing”
Director: Eric Crosland
Jérémie Heitz and Sam Anthamatten are what might generally be called “extreme” athletes. They climb some of the world’s most dangerous mountains just to ski back down again. Frequently, they are injured, and often in places where help is hours away. Director Eric Crosland’s aerial cameras capture the daredevils as they “free-ski” some of the most forbidden peaks that—for good reason—have remained off the path of most skiers. “La Liste” is insanely well shot, even if you can’t help but avert your eyes as they ski on the edge of thousand-meter falls to certain doom below.
The documentary recently premiered at the Banff Film Festival, and will be available on VOD and on Apple TV+ Feb. 15.