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SUNDANCEdaily | Our Critics’ Favorite US Competition Docs

SUNDANCEdaily | Our Critics’ Favorite US Competition Docs

As the Sundance Film Festival is wrapping up, it’s time to reflect on the highlights of this year’s fest. Manohla Dargis’s report from the fest was in today’s New York Times. In it, she notes the face of the festival in the persisting recession and new leadership under director John Cooper. Here at indieWIRE, after collecting a number of reviews from our team of highly esteemed and respected critics here in Park City, many docs are rising up as critics’ favs in the fest’s U.S. Documentary Competition. We’ve already covered our #3 (“Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work“) and #4 (“Restrepo“) highest rated docs in SUNDANCEdaily. Early responses from our critics show “My Perestroika” and “The Oath” as potential must-sees, but not enough have seen these films to be included in this list. Today’s SUNDANCEdaily culls the Internet to find out what the critics are saying about these three films: Josh Fox’s “Gasland,” Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing’s “12th & Delaware,” and the #5, “Smash His Camera” by Leon Gast. For a complete list of criticWIRE ratings at Sundance, visit iW‘s Sundance Critic’s Poll.

GasLand

Variety‘s Robert Koehler has big dreams for the film, “Who could have anticipated that one of the most effective and expressive environmental films of recent years would be the work of a Gotham theater director who’s never before made a doc? Nobody, perhaps least writer-director Josh Fox, whose “GasLand” may become to the dangers of natural gas drilling what “Silent Spring” was to DDT. The rare example of cinema art that is also an organizing tool, the pic has a level of research, gutsiness and energy that should generate sensational response everywhere it plays. Distribs with a social conscience have a gem to buy, if they dare.”

Sean Means, in the Salt Lake City Tribune, says, “Fox, armed with a banjo and a droll sense of humor, investigates the environmental dangers of “fracking” and raises heartfelt questions about what energy companies are doing to the national soul in the name of chasing money.”

indieWIRE‘s interview with Josh Fox is here.

12th & Delaware

Kenneth Turan in the L.A. Times sums up the film’s subject, “On one side of the street is an abortion clinic, and on the other is an anti-abortion crisis pregnancy center (or CPC), one of more than 4,000 such places in the U.S. set up to look like clinics but with the purpose of persuading women to continue with their pregnancy.’ In an interview with the filmmakers, he says, ‘Both women also feel strongly that at its heart this struggle, in Grady’s words, ‘has nothing to do with babies. Its about control, it’s about the power of women and women’s roles, what the purpose of the female gender is, the absolute core of the identity of a woman. It’s so profound and so deep.'”

For a film on this subject, Scott Weinberg pays it the highest compliment, “Most impressive about 12th & Delaware are the numerous frank and touching moments with the potential mothers. I can only assume that Ms. Grady and Ms. Ewing are warm and trustworthy people, because their camera is privy to some powerfully personal moments. I don’t know many women who’d open up to a documentary film crew on their way to an appointment at an abortion clinic, but it’s a testament to the co-directors that their film is so damn … real. So while it’s always important for a documentary to give both sides of an issue a fair shake (and this one absolutely does), it’s even more important for a film to find the human equation amidst a sea of stats, facts, and figures. 12th and Delaware also does that remarkably well.”

Directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady wrote a piece about their premiere at Politics Daily, saying, “At times the audience squirmed uncomfortably. Then there would be a giant burst of anger. Some laughter. It was a dynamic experience. The question-and-answer session after the film was quite lively, with people from various political and cultural persuasions weighing in on the film. A Swedish audience member seemed confused by all the hubbub surrounding the issue and informed the crowd that abortion “is not an issue in my country at all,” to which the audience gave him a collective snort and eye-roll. Welcome to America, my Swedish friend, where abortion remains the most intractable conflict on the block.”

iW‘s interview with the directors is here.

Smash His Camera

indieWIRE‘s Eric Kohn, comments on the film and its subject, “The legacy of the paparazzo has never been a pretty one, but Leon Gast’s “Smash His Camera” boldly suggests its artistic merits. Granted, his subject—quintessential New York photographer Ron Galella—has been around a lot longer than today’s combative TMZ cameramen, but he’s got a few battle scars of his own and never misses the opportunity to reminisce about their origins. However, beyond Galella’s amusing tales of routinely stalking Jacqueline Onassis and getting slugged by Marlon Brando, his devotion to the process turns him into a de facto chronicler of cultural memory.”

In the L.A. Times, Mark Olsen says, “Gast mostly seems amused by Galella, and so portrays his more extreme tactics, and in particular his wildly reckless driving, as cute and harmless fun. The film touches on, but never explore[s] in depth, issues raised by Galella’s work and his subsequent notoriety — what makes an artist, where is the line between private and public life, and what’s the relationship between the media and its subjects.”

Katherine Monk in the Vancouver Sun sums up the photog’s commentary on his work, “Galella says some photographers are eager to bring the stars down a few notches by making them look human and ordinary, but that’s not what he’s about. He says his favourite shot is called ‘Windblown Jackie’ and features the former wife of John F. Kennedy without sunglasses and what Galella calls a Mona Lisa smile. ‘That’s my best picture. It has everything, because it was spontaneous and real, but it’s also got the environment … the background. It’s the moment. So what if I had to hide in the back of a taxi to get it?'”

S.T. Vanairsdale shows a video with Sundance originator Robert Redford with context, “Galella was also a dedicated tracker of Sundance founder Robert Redford. The film features a certain level of détente between Galella and Redford — enough so that the shutterbug actually gets close enough to hand Redford his latest book — but it definitely wasn’t always that way.”

Click here for an interview with “Smash His Camera” director Leon Gast.

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