From Silicon Valley and Taylor Swift to Deepwater Horizon and a Las Vegas dive bar, these are the most exciting documentaries screening at Sundance.
The Sundance Film Festival has premiered some of the highest profile documentaries of the last few years, including 2019’s Leaving Neverland, Apollo 11 and Knock Down The House.
Film prediction, like all prediction, is a fickle game, but gauging anticipation is a little easier. We took a pass through the 2020 Sundance program — 118 feature-length films from a pool of nearly 4,000 submissions — to highlight the 10 docs you’ll want to watch.
Plot summaries courtesy of Sundance.
Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen / Courtesy of Sundance Institute
1. Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen
U.S.A. (Director: Sam Feder, Producers: Amy Scholder, Sam Feder) — An investigation of how Hollywood’s fabled stories have deeply influenced how Americans feel about transgender people, and how transgender people have been taught to feel about themselves. Cast: Laverne Cox, Mj Rodriguez, Lilly Wachowski, Yance Ford, Chaz Bono, Jamie Clayton. World Premiere
2. The Dissident
U.S.A. (Director: Bryan Fogel, Screenwriters: Mark Monroe, Bryan Fogel, Producers: Bryan Fogel, Jake Swantko, Mark Monroe, Thor Halvorssen) — When Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi disappears after entering Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul, his fiancée and dissidents around the world are left to piece together the clues to a brutal murder and expose a global cover up perpetrated by the very country he loved. World Premiere
3. The Social Dilemma
U.S.A. (Director: Jeff Orlowski, Screenwriters: Vickie Curtis, Davis Coombe, Jeff Orlowski, Producer: Larissa Rhodes) — Never before have a handful of tech designers had such control over the way billions of us think, act, and live our lives. Insiders from Google, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube reveal how these platforms are reprogramming civilization by exposing what’s hiding on the other side of your screen. Cast: Vincent Kartheiser, Skyler Gisondo, Kara Hayward. World Premiere
4. Crip Camp
U.S.A. (Directors: Nicole Newnham, Jim LeBrecht, Producers: Sara Bolder, Jim LeBrecht, Nicole Newnham) — Down the road from Woodstock in the early 1970s, a revolution blossomed in a ramshackle summer camp for disabled teenagers, transforming their young lives and igniting a landmark movement. World Premiere.
5. The Reason I Jump
United Kingdom (Director: Jerry Rothwell, Producers: Jeremy Dear, Stevie Lee, Al Morrow) — Based on the book by Naoki Higashida this immersive film explores the experiences of nonspeaking autistic people around the world. World Premiere
6. Be Water
U.S.A., United Kingdom (Director: Bao Nguyen, Producer: Julia Nottingham) — In 1971, after being rejected by Hollywood, Bruce Lee returned to his parents’ homeland of Hong Kong to complete four iconic films. Charting his struggles between two worlds, this portrait explores questions of identity and representation through the use of rare archival interviews with loved ones and Bruce’s own writings. World Premiere
7. Us Kids
U.S.A. (Director: Kim A. Snyder, Producers: Kim A. Snyder, Maria Cuomo Cole, Lori Cheatle) — Determined to turn unfathomable tragedy into action, the teenage survivors of Parkland, Florida catalyze a powerful, unprecedented youth movement that spreads with lightning speed across the country, as a generation of mobilized youth take back democracy in this powerful coming-of-age story. World Premiere
8. The Cost of Silence
U.S.A. (Director: Mark Manning, Producers: Mark Manning, Langdon Page, Reuben Aaronson) — An industry insider exposes the devastating consequences of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, uncovering coordinated efforts by government and industry to silence the victims of a growing public health disaster. The stakes could not be higher as the Trump administration races to open the entire US coastline to offshore drilling. World Premiere
9. Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets
U.S.A. (Directors: Bill Ross, Turner Ross, Producers: Michael Gottwald, Chere Theriot) — In the shadows of the bright lights of Las Vegas, it’s last call for a beloved dive bar known as the Roaring 20s. A document of real people, in an unreal situation, facing an uncertain future: America at the end of 2016. World Premiere
10. Taylor Swift: Miss Americana
U.S.A. (Director: Lana Wilson, Producers: Morgan Neville, Caitrin Rogers, Christine O’Malley) — A raw and emotionally revealing look at one of the most iconic artists of our time during a transformational period in her life as she learns to embrace her role not only as a songwriter and performer, but as a woman harnessing the full power of her voice. Cast: Taylor Swift. World Premiere.
11. A Thousand Cuts
U.S.A., Philippines (Director and screenwriter: Ramona S. Diaz, Producers: Ramona S. Diaz, Leah Marino, Julie Goldman, Chris Clements, Carolyn Hepburn) — Nowhere is the worldwide erosion of democracy, fueled by social media disinformation campaigns, more starkly evident than in the authoritarian regime of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Journalist Maria Ressa places the tools of the free press—and her freedom—on the line in defense of truth and democracy. World Premiere
South Africa, Canada (Directors and Screenwriters: Diana Neille, Richard Poplak, Producers: Bob Moore, Neil Brandt) — Charting the recent advancements in weaponized communication by investigating the rise and fall of the world’s most notorious public relations and reputation management firm: the British multinational Bell Pottinger. World Premiere
13. Into the Deep
Denmark (Director: Emma Sullivan, Producers: Mette Heide, Roslyn Walker) — In 2016, a young Australian filmmaker began documenting amateur inventor Peter Madsen. One year in, Madsen brutally murdered Kim Wall aboard his homemade submarine. An unprecedented revelation of a killer and the journey his young helpers take as they reckon with their own complicity and prepare to testify. World Premiere
14. Happy Happy Joy Joy – The Ren and Stimpy Story
U.S.A. (Directors and Screenwriters: Ron Cicero, Kimo Easterwood, Producer: Ron Cicero) — Exploring the rise and fall of the groundbreaking animated series Ren & Stimpy and its controversial creator, John Kricfalusi, through archival footage, show artwork and interviews with the artists, actors and executives behind the show. Cast: John Kricfalusi, Robyn Byrd, Vanessa Coffey, Chris Reccardi, Richard Pursel, Bobby Lee. World Premiere
15. The Truffle Hunters
Italy, U.S.A., Greece (Directors: Michael Dweck, Gregory Kershaw, Producers: Michael Dweck, Gregory Kershaw) — In the secret forests of Northern Italy, a dwindling group of joyful old men and their faithful dogs search for the world’s most expensive ingredient, the white Alba truffle. Their stories form a real-life fairy tale that celebrates human passion in a fragile land that seems forgotten in time. World Premiere
The 2020 Sundance Film Festival runs Jan. 23 – Feb. 2.