True Stories

Real life ruled at Sundance, where documentary films shone.


This year’s Sundance Film Festival may have produced a crop of undistinguished narrative films, but the nonfiction films turned out to be the best in years. “Documentary filmmakers are becoming more sophisticated,” says Cara Mertes, the director of the documentary film program at Sundance. “They’re making really cinematic stories, using hybrid techniques. These are big-screen films, polished productions. We hadn’t really seen that before.” Alex Gibney, the director of Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, which premiered this year (Gibney’s two previous films, 2005’s Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and 2007’s Taxi to the Dark Side, were both nominated for Oscars), was equally impressed. “There’s just been an explosion of creativity in documentaries,” he says. “Real life turns out to be wildly fascinating. You couldn’t make this s— up.” Herewith, some of our Sundance favorites.

Marina Zenovich:

Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired

Alex Gibney:

Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

Christopher Bell:

Bigger, Stronger, Faster*

James Marsh:

Man on Wire

Nanette Burstein:

American Teen

Tia Lessin and Carl Deal:

Trouble the Water

Hair, makeup and grooming for Marina Zenovich and Christopher Bell: Michelle Tabor for Cherie represents using Nars; hair, makeup and grooming for Nanette Burstein, Alex Gibney, James Marsh, Tia Lessin and Carl Deal: Bryan Lynde for RJ Bennett