Sundance or bust

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Photo credit: Lee Thomas


UVU offers a block class every January/February in which enrolled students, including myself, not only analyze the history and form of documentary film, but are also provided the opportunity to attend a variety of Sundance films for free.

Another year has come and passed for the Sundance Film Festival and this year, like every other, had hundreds of films worthy of viewers’ attention.

I’ve always been a fan of documentaries, but I never gave much thought to the genre as a form. I found them to be informative and usually took them at face value.

We were required to attend six different documentary films as a class, each one different in purpose and scope.

The first film we saw was “The Best of Enemies,” which provided an enlightening view into the world of televised debates in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.

The story is about two famous political pundits, Gore Vidal (who I didn’t realize is so awesome) and Robert Buckley; one liberal and the other conservative, respectively. These men despised each other and each thought the others’ political ideologies were dangerous to society.

The debates were hugely entertaining as both men were clever fellows who hated everything the other stood for. The film was edited with a humorous angle and provided great insight into an era where televised political debate was a new idea.

Later that day, we attended “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution.” This film depicted the rise and fall of the African- American political activist group in the late ‘60s and ‘70s.

This was a tumultuous time in history for African-Americans and the group arose from their desire not just for equality, but also mainly to provide self-defense from our own public law officers who were routinely abusing their power and acting violently toward the African- American community.

It’s thought-provoking to see this film and then realize how little has changed in the wake of what happened in Ferguson, Miss. and the many other police shootings in the last several years.

The next film we attended was entitled “Fresh Dressed.” This film informed on the evolution of hip-hop style and its influence on fashion and culture as a whole.

The film featured several high profile interviews with people like Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, Nas, Diddy, Andre Leon Talley and pretty much everyone involved in hip-hop clothing industry in the late ‘80s and ‘90s. There were a lot of interviews in this one.

It was very interesting to see the how much this genre has affected mainstream fashion and it told another great ‘rise and fall’ story. The ‘90s nostalgia was definitely in full force.

Later that night we watched my favorite film of the screenings we attended. “The Hunting Ground” follows two girls who reported being sexually assaulted on their campuses and then go on to start an uprising, culminating in the release of this film.

The film depicts college rape culture and the ways in which most every school administration turns a blind eye in order to protect their reputations, athletes and male students.

Hopefully getting this film out there will aid in changing campus policies regarding sexual assault and help foster a culture that holds rapists accountable regardless of their social status. This is my absolute must-see pick of the screenings I attended.

A few days later we went to a screening of my second favorite film from the festival, “Chuck Norris vs. Communism.”

This film is about a man who snuck American films into communist Romania in the late ‘80s and held secret screenings of self-dubbed films with 30 or more people crammed in a living room.

It’s illustrated how that glimpse of the outside world helped the people have the strength to overthrow communism.

This serves as a perfect example of why I love documentaries, because I would’ve never known anything about this amazing story if I hadn’t seen this film.

Finally, we attended a film entitled “The Chinese Mayor,” about a Mayor in China (crazy, I know) who is working to relocate his citizens, while he reorganizes and rebuilds the City of Datong. This was an inside-peek into a captivating reality about which I would’ve never been informed had I not attended Sundance.

The Sundance experience is one unlike any other. Seeing these films at the festival was an eye opening and enriching cultural experience for me.

This class has been held every year since 2011 and awareness seems to be fairly low. The cap for the class is ten students, and Critical Intro to Cinema Studies is a prerequisite.

Professor Jans Wager teaches this and the intro class. She instituted the Cinema Studies department in 2008. Her classes are fun because she has good energy and knows how to make her students feel comfortable and that our opinions are valued. She also provides great insight into the analysis of filmmaking.

If you’ll still be around next year, I highly recommend taking this one. It’s a rare opportunity to attend a world famous film festival while earning school credit.