Sundance launched Michael Moore back in 1989 and rolled out the red carpet for both Ralph Nader and Al Gore, whose film, An Inconvenient Truth, has since become the third-highest-grossing documentary of all time. A movie that’s both good for you, and profitable—maybe that’s why politics has the spotlight in the 2007 lineup: When festivalgoers roll in for the opening-night film January 18, they’ll be greeted with Brett Morgen’s Chicago 10, a documentary about the events around the turbulent 1968 Democratic National Convention. Not to be outdone, closing night will feature Nelson George’s HIV drama, Life Support.
Sandwiched between them will be Sundance’s most politically ambitious slate of films to date, featuring well over 40 works with political themes. Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman’s Nanking explores the 1937–38 “Rape of Nanking”; The Devil Came on Horseback attacks the genocide in Darfur through the eyes of a U.S. Marine. Daniel Karslake’s For the Bible Tells Me So confronts, with whimsy and hellfire, the clash between religion and homosexuality. Everything’s Cool picks up where An Inconvenient Truth left off, assuming that we understand the problems and charting environmental groups’ attempts to do something about them. And the festival that introduced Iraq in Fragments and The Ground Truth premieres Charles Ferguson’s Iraq-war history No End in Sight, as well as Rory Kennedy’s Ghosts of Abu Ghraib.
But three of this year’s most intriguing political works take on subjects even closer to home—like the distressing reality of immigration in New York: David Kaplan’s rotoscoped animation Year of the Fish follows a young woman trying to find a new life in Chinatown, and Christopher Zalla’s drama Padre Nuestro focuses on illegal Mexican immigrants. “It’s pretty rare to see poor and working-class characters in American film nowadays,” says Nelson George. The Brooklyn filmmaker’s very personal Life Support features Queen Latifah in an understated performance as an HIV-positive mom seeking to hold her family together; George based her character on his own sister, then cast real-life HIV activists from New York. “The independent-film community has been better than the music community in its activism,” says the writer-director, once a music journalist. “But let’s also give Bush his due. Aggressive Republican presidents tend to be good for art.”