Craven: Documentaries At Sundance

Feb 19, 2019

Documentaries stood out at this year’s Sundance Festival – like John Chester’s Biggest Little Farm, with its detailed look at the withering challenges faced by a Santa Monica couple who flees Los Angeles to start an organic farm in the California countryside. Confronted by drought, wildfire, ravenous coyotes, toxic algae and a sick pig, they can only choose to endure. Many Vermonters could relate.

Rachel Lears Knock Down the House, won this year’s Audience Award – and it captures a current moment, as it follows four women candidates who, with little money or establishment support, campaign for seats in Congress. The clear star of the film, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is shown in an emotionally gripping process of transformation from her job as a New York City waitress and bartender to United States Congress woman.

The film also profiles West Virginia coal miner’s daughter Paula Jean Swearengin, who ran because of her belief that neighbors were getting cancer from environmental pollutants. Also Cori Bush, a St. Louis nurse who rushed to help the wounded during the recent Ferguson, Missouri upheaval - and Amy Vilela, a Nevada mom whose 22-year-old daughter died from a brain clot when her local hospital turned the girl away for lack of health insurance.

Each of these women proudly claim their working class credentials and although Bernie Sanders isn’t mentioned in the film, it’s clear that his maverick candidacy played a singular role in moving them to run for office.

Mads Brügger's provocative and chilling documentary, Cold Case Hammarskjold, examines the still unsettled circumstances surrounding the mysterious 1961 plane crash in Africa that killed visionary U.N. Secretary General Dag Hammarskold. This superb documentary appears to uncover an even more unsettling crime linked to a South African white supremacist group who appear to have participated in the downing of the plane – causing me to consider what might have happened if Hammarskjold had lived and been able to facilitate the de-colonization of Africa.

If this fateful crash had not occurred, perhaps many new Vermonters whom we welcome and who came here to escape violence in that very region would instead have been able to enjoy life in their homelands under vastly different conditions of democracy, prosperity and peace.