Sundance and Slamdance 2013: powerful docs

Faith and frustration: Slamdance standout 'Bible Quiz'

Scroll on up Pixel Vision for Jesse Hawthorne Ficks' previous Utah festival reports.

In recent years, Sundance has become well-known for its strong documentary offerings — to the point of overshadowing its dramatic films. And with good reason, when docs like Martha Shane and Lana Wilson's After Tiller are among the selections.

The film follows the four remaining doctors in the United States who continue to perform third-trimester abortions; it's a decidedly direct character study that uncovers the complex and difficult choices these physicians go through on a daily basis. (Not to mention the element of danger they face, as the title's reference to the murder of Dr. George Tiller suggests. With that in mind, there was a protective police presence at all of After Tiller's Sundance screenings.) The doc's impact didn't end when the lights came up; for days after the screening, I found myself drawn into fascinating conversations with folks who were eager to discuss their feelings about the film and the issues it explores.

Roger Ross Williams's God Loves Uganda has the same type of power to ignite discussion. It follows the misguided and even diabolical misrepresentation of homosexuality that's been perpetuated by American missionaries in Uganda — an Evangelical Christian crusade that has encouraged the African country to impose the death penalty on gay people. An indictment of how religion can lead to hate crimes, God Loves Uganda uncomfortably uncovers a modern-day witch hunt that's brought tragic results.

On a happier note, Zachary Heinzerling's Cutie and the Boxer shares the 40-year love story between Ushio and Noriko Shinohara, married artists who have been through everything together and yet still keep their passion alive. The look and feel of this film is just as artistic as the subjects themselves (which is saying a lot — I was lucky enough to see their work first hand at the J GO Gallery in Park City). Don't miss this feel-good film — winner of the US Documentary Directing Award — when it's released by Radius/TWC later this year. The closing credits alone are one of the most exhilarating moments of 2013!

Down the road at Slamdance, Nicole Teeny's sensitive Bible Quiz, which won the Grand Jury Sparky Award for Feature Documentary, stuck with me like no other film this year. It's a quiet, moving look at a Tacoma, Wash. team of teens deeply involved in the titular competition, which involves memorizing and reciting verses and even entire books of the Bible.

But while the film achieves the same kind of drama that earned Jeffrey Blitz an Oscar nod for his spelling-bee tale Spellbound (2002), director Teeny has much more up her sleeve here. The real subject of the film is 17-year-old Mikayla, whose heartbreaking honesty is a reminder that every new generation has to learn things the hard way to survive high school and beyond. Programming Bible Quiz was a major coup for Slamdance — it was the best documentary at the fest and topped any at Sundance, too. It has the potential to be a film that people will remember for years to come.


I'm very curious as to the lack of discussion around the Sundance doc winner "Blood Brother". No one writing about "God Loves Uganda" has noted that "Blood Brother" is, ironically, a missionary film, about an American conservative evangelical (Rocky Braat, a member of the ultra-conservative Pittsburgh Church of Christ) who is in India to save souls, the same sort of activity that "God Loves Uganda" describes.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 12, 2013 @ 12:51 pm

The lack of discussion probably has something to do with the fact that the film chooses to focus on the journey Rocky Braat takes in discovering his love and passion for helping HIV orphans in India. What does him sharing his faith with those children, and his affiliation to a certain church, have to do with the activity in "God Loves Uganda". Religion, or even conservative religion in no way implies fundamentalist or extremist behavior; like that of "God Loves Uganda". Acting as though the idea that "saving souls" through religion, is negative, is contrary to human society's way of coping with life since the beginning of time. These children need love, guidance, and family. Rocky offered them himself, and also happens to be a devout christian.

Posted by Blood Bother. on Oct. 29, 2013 @ 9:00 pm

I don't know... I get the impression the directors were offering an open discussion on the late-term abortion industry, but I have yet to see anything representing these four abortionists as anything but heroes. That's not opening any dialogue that I can see.

LeRoy Carhart's Germantown, MD office is just miles from our house. He is quoted in our local paper as saying 100% of his late-term abortions are due to poor fetal diagnosis, yet we've met joyful mothers who changed their minds with a few minutes of info. on options that returned with beautiful, healthy babies. He said being at his clinic is like when he was in Viet Nam: "They wanted me dead too," yet not one person who has been present every Monday for the past 26 months wants him dead. In fact, he is quoted in our paper mocking their genuine prayers for him saying God is on his side.

I'm sure this film succeeds in presenting women grappling with tremendous anxiety and uncertainty about their choice. What does it do to present in a positive light the real options available to women that let the baby live - help parenting, with education, other needs; adoption for so many couples waiting to begin a family?

I've seen a clip where Shelley Sella says NEVER has a woman expressed regret; that she doesn't know if women have regret weeks, months, or years later. Just go to Operation Outcry and see over 5,000 legal declarations of unspeakable regret and pain - from flashbacks to nightmares, lack of esteem, repeat abortions, depression, suicidal tendencies, difficulty bonding with future children, inability to maintain healthy relationships... These are REAL, let alone women who suffer physical complications that impact their ability to have future children OR the tragedy of people like Jennifer who died after a 33 week abortion at LeRoy Carhart's office just two weeks ago (Feb. 7, 2013).

A sincere look at late-term abortion and those four doctors who perform them is not complete without looking at the real pain and suffering these women live with for the rest of their lives. Your opinion of these four has grown ten fold while they bank millions and demonize people giving of their own time, energy, resources to help women know implications they are not understanding in these clinics.

Put it this way: If 98% of pregnant women walk in these clinics and end up getting abortions, it sure doesn't match the experience we've seen at Carhart's office where a woman who simply needed directions changed her mind in a matter of 5 minutes hearing of help that's available. Carhart (and I'll guess the others) are NOT helping women have REAL choice.

This is very disturbing to me. Harmful to the discussion that needs to take place.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 23, 2013 @ 5:59 pm