For more than 30 years, the Sundance Film Festival has been the launching point for some of the world’s best documentary films.
It’s where audiences first saw movies like 2010’s “Waiting for ‘Superman’,” which revealed critical failures of the American education system. In 2000, it’s where people first got to know a group of homeless people living beneath New York City in “Dark Days.” Sundance was also where many first heard the complicated and heartbreaking story of four elderly brothers living together in rural New York in the film “Brother’s Keeper.”
The 2015 Sundance Film Festival kicks off this week and once again features a full slate of intriguing documentaries. Here are seven from this year’s festival that you’ll probably want to add to your streaming queue once they are released later this year:
Director: Daniel Junge
Who isn’t interested in Evel Knievel? Besides having one of the most recognizable names — and costumes — in pop culture history, Knievel fascinated people of all ages by jumping his Star-Spangled motorcycle over buses, landmarks and even live sharks.
This movie, directed by Daniel Junge (2012’s Academy Award-winning short “Saving Face”), chronicles the life of this legendary daredevil. The film features interviews with current action sports athletes who were inspired by his career.
Best of Enemies
Directors: Morgan Neville, Robert Gordon
If you think Fox News Channel or ESPN invented the culture of debate television that we now know, you need to check this movie out. “Best of Enemies” focuses on the televised arguments between conservative strategist William F. Buckley, Jr. and liberal writer Gore Vidal on ABC in 1968. The network saw skyrocketing ratings because of the pair’s engaging back-and-forth and suddenly the style you now see dominating cable news channels was born. Co-director Morgan Neville won an Oscar last year for producing the documentary “Twenty Feet from Stardom.”
Directors: Bryan Carberry, Clay Tweel
America has a fascination with thrift. Television shows like “Extreme Couponing,” “Storage Wars” and “American Pickers” show expert consumers doing their best to get a bargain on great items. “Finders Keepers” tells a cautionary tale about shopping on the cheap.
This movie tells the story of a North Carolina man who bought a used grill at auction before finding a severed human foot in its ashes. It only gets better from there as an amputee recognizes the foot as his own and tries to get it back.
How to Dance in Ohio
Director: Alexandra Shiva
This heartfelt movie follows a group of autistic teenagers in Ohio as they prepare for a school dance. The movie promises an intimate look into the emotions and thoughts of these kids during a stressful but fun time.
Alexandra Shiva, the director of “How to Dance in Ohio,” rose to prominence in 2001 with her award-winning documentary “Brombay Eunuch,” but after only making one other film in the last 14 years, she all but vanished. “How to Dance in Ohio” may represent her glorious return.
Directors: Lyric R. Cabral, David Felix Sutcliffe
This movie is what you’d get if you spent two years following a real-life Jack Bauer around with a camera. Relatively unknown co-directors Lyric Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe team up to tell the stories of an unnamed FBI counterterrorism informant. This ambitious film gives “unprecedented access to a counterrorism sting,” according to Sundance’s website.
3 ½ Minutes
Director: Marc Silver
This may be the most stirring documentary of the entire crop at Sundance 2015. Director Marc Silver (“Who is Dayani Cristal?”) takes a hard look at Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground self-defense laws by centering on the 2012 shooting death of 17-year-old Jordan Davis. Davis, an African American, was killed by a 45-year-old white man named Michael Dunn in a gas station parking lot after Dunn asked Davis and his friends to turn their music down.
In the wake of similar high-profile incidents like the killings of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, “3 ½ Minutes” is guaranteed to turn some heads.
A still from "3 1/2 Minutes." Courtesy: 2015 Participant Media
Welcome to Leith
Directors: Michael Beach Nichols, Christopher K. Walker
Why make a documentary about Leith, North Dakota, a town that had only 24 inhabitants as of 2012? Because one white supremacist moved in, quietly bought several plots of land and attempted to turn Leith into a neo-Nazi’s paradise. Tense and unsettling, this documentary looks at the struggle of this rural town’s citizens as they try to keep ahold of the place they call home.
The Sundance Film Festival runs from Jan. 22 to Feb. 1 in Park City, Utah.
Clint Davis is a writer for the E.W. Scripps National Desk. Follow him on Twitter @MrClintDavis.