10 Sundance films to entertain, spark family discussion

By Blair Howell

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, Jan. 19 2012 12:00 p.m. MST

Sundance Institute president and founder Robert Redford speaks during a press conference at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012. (AP Photo/Danny Moloshok)

Associated Press

PARK CITY, Utah — The mission of the Sundance Film Festival is to showcase independent filmmaking from “risk-taking storytellers.”

That objective may not always align with traditional, broad-interest family fare that would receive the support from large studio organizations.

But there have been come-out-of-nowhere films from Sundance that advance family values and offer topics that promise an ample source of rewarding family discussion.

Here’s a list of 10 films to come out of Sundance that easily fit in that category:

“The Brave Little Toaster” (Special Jury Recognition at Sundance 1988; rated G)

Before there was “Toy Story,” there was “The Brave Little Toaster.” Isn’t it fun to imagine what inanimate objects say and do when we aren’t watching?

A story filled with love and courage, the first completed project from Hyperion Pictures follows the Brave Little Toaster, Blanky (an electric blanket), Lampy (a desk lamp), Kirby (a vacuum cleaner) and Radio as they find fun in doing chores each day. But that doesn’t eradicate the void they feel from having long been separated from “The Master,” the bespectacled boy who calls these items his own. “The Brave Little Toaster” made history as the first animated film ever exhibited at Sundance. It’s a charming gem. (Too bad about the mediocre sequels.)

“Visually the movie has a smooth-flowing momentum and a lush storybook opulence that is miles away from the flat, jerky look of Saturday-morning cartoons. … It exudes a sweetness and wit that should tickle anyone, regardless of age.” — Stephen Holden, New York Times

Cautions: Dark and threatening; violence directed at household appliances.

“Buck” (Audience Award Documentary, 2011; PG)

Buckshot Brannaman is an aw-shucks hero who never claims to be more than an ordinary man. Yet he is a living legend in the horse world.

After abuse at the hand of his father and the early death of his mother, Brannaman was rescued by a foster family. He found safety and solace in horses, and became something of a shaman — and a real-life inspiration for the novel and movie “The Horse Whisperer.” Horse owners pay hundreds of dollars when they’re lucky enough to attend one of his four-day horse-training clinics.

“Buck” has the understated eloquence of the man himself.

“You don’t have to be a horse nut to fall for ‘Buck,’ one of those rare documentaries whose subject is so inherently fascinating that a fictional character could hardly compete.” — John DeFore, Washington Post

Cautions: Discussion of child abuse, mild language and an injury.

“For All Mankind” (Audience Award Documentary, Grand Jury Prize Documentary, 1989; NR)

There wasn’t enough room in the Lunar Module for all of us, so the filmmakers behind “For All Mankind” sifted through six million feet of film recorded by NASA throughout the Apollo missions to piece together a cinematic ride through the cosmos. Instead of being a newsy, fact-filled documentary, “For All Mankind” focuses on the human aspects of the space flights. The only voices heard in the film are the voices of the astronauts and mission control. It is easily the most visually stunning and unconventional approach to documenting the nine Apollo missions.

“‘For All Mankind’ is awe-inspiring, proof-positive that with enough talent and determination, even the most seemingly insurmountable task can be overcome.” — Adam Tyner, DVD Talk

“The Great Buck Howard” (2008; PG)

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