There was range to the Sundance Film Festival this year. If you asked attendees to name their top films, you’d hear a lot of healthy variance. As usual, social issue docs had a strong showing, a notable thread that jumped out at me was “writing history.” Three documentaries fit together so well that it made me think “getting it on record” must be part of the Zeitgeist. Since there’s only space for two here, I’ll start by mentioning Reagan, by Eugene Jarecki (The Fog of War and Why We Fight), an exceptionally balanced doc which aims to shed light on the real Ronald Reagan, beyond the mythology of the 48th President that still dominates the conservative political discourse here in the United States.
Some people buy into myths, for a variety of reasons, Jarecki aims to right the scales, to emphasize what Reagan’s son, Ron Reagan Jr., says about his father, “He was both smarter and better than the left think he was, and less the giant than many on the right think he was.” Like Jarecki, two other filmmakers added their takes to history:
How excellent would it be if you were sifting through the vault at a television studio, looking through film reels for a project you were researching, when all of a sudden you discovered a huge archive of mostly unseen 16mm footage documenting a vital piece of history? Making its way to Park City from Scandinavia was The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975, directed by Swedish filmmaker Göran Hugo Olsson and coproduced by Danny Glover. Olsson discovered a trough of pristinely preserved footage about the Black Power Movement while working on a movie about Soul Music. He recalls: “The moment we saw this footage we knew we were going to make this movie. I also saw it as my duty to take these fantastic images and make them accessible to an audience.”
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