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Previewing the 2014 Sundance Film Festival

Published: Thursday, Jan. 9 2014 4:30 p.m. MST

Acclaimed documentarian Sam Green spans the globe in The Measure of All Things, a live documentary inspired, in part, by the "Guinness Book of World Records."

Provided by Sundance Institute

The 2014 Sundance Film Festival kicks off Jan. 16, which means a plethora of new independent films are making their way to Park City.

Because the films at the festival do not carry Motion Picture Association of America ratings, content-conscious viewers may need to dig a little deeper to determine which films are appropriate for them and their families.

A listing of the films, including a schedule of screenings, can be found on the festival's official website. The site contains summaries of the films but not many indicators of what to expect regarding sexual content, language and violence.

There are some ways, however, to navigate the festival lineup with a broader audience in mind.

Hints about content might not be present in the online summaries, but the categories can be helpful.

This year, there is a new category called Sundance Kids (see accompanying story). It features two films: “Ernest and Celestine,” which brings a popular Belgian book series to the big screen in English for the first time; and a comic-to-film adaptation called “Zip & Zap and the Marble Gang,” in Spanish with English subtitles.

The documentaries, in three categories — U.S. Documentary Competition, World Cinema Documentary Competition and Documentary Premieres — may be worth perusing. As detailed in a 2013 Deseret News story, documentaries make up a significant portion of the films chosen to be viewed by students as part of the Utah High School Screening Series. According to the Sundance website, "Rigorous attention is given to ensure films contain content appropriate for this age group."

One documentary that's part of the High School Screening Series is “Cesar’s Last Fast,” which focuses on never-before-seen footage shot during Cesar Chavez’s 36-day water-only fast. Others include "Freedom Summer," which chronicles the efforts of Robert Moses, of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, for voter registration in segregated Mississippi during 1964; “Dinosaur 13," which features a battle over the fossilized remains of a Tyrannosaurus rex; and “SEPIDEH: Reaching for the Stars," about a teenage girl in Tehran, Iran, who wants to become an astronomer.

TV journalist Katie Couric is part of an exposé about the American food industry and childhood obesity in “Fed Up.” Other documentaries that are part of the High School Screening series include "Web Junkie," "The Green Prince," "The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz" and "Last Days in Vietnam."

There are also two narrative films selected for student audiences. “Ping Pong Summer” is the story of a teenage boy who is obsessed with two things: ping pong and hip hop. “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter” follows a young girl who uses a worn-out VHS tape to search for a fictional buried treasure.

One film likely to gain attention, especially locally, is "Mitt," a close-up documentary about Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee. The film is not a magnifying glass on Romney's politics, but rather a closer look at the quiet moments between Romney and his family during pivotal points in his candidacy.

With the disclaimer that not much information is available about potentially objectionable content, here are some other films of note:

• There will be two posthumous biopics — one about film critic Roger Ebert (“Life Itself”) and another about Robert De Niro Sr. (“Remembering the Artist: Robert De Niro, Sr.”), the latter being told in the words of his son, Robert De Niro Jr.

• For sports fans, “Untucked” recounts the story of Marquette’s trendsetting and championship-winning basketball team from 1977. The 1994 documentary “Hoop Dreams” will be featured as part of this year’s “Sundance Collection” and was Ebert’s pick for “best film of the 1990s.”

• One of the festival’s many short films, “Notes on Blindness” follows one man’s experience with losing his sight.

• “Alive Inside: A Story of Music & Memory” will show how one unique method of music therapy is being used to combat dementia in elderly patients.

• “The Better Angels” is a movie based on the younger years of Abraham Lincoln.

• Documentarian Sam Green spans the globe in “The Measure of All Things,” a “live documentary” inspired, in part, by the "Guinness Book of World Records." Green examines the oddities of record-breaking feats across the world.

• A nine-minute video shows footage of a 2013 global dance-a-thon to raise awareness of violence against women (“One Billion Rising”).

achristensen@deseretnews.com

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