The Big Chill

Brats and Boomers Dominate Sundance Docs

Taking similar content to opposite extremes in Stevie, director Steve James (Hoop Dreams) renders a painstakingly personal look at the title character: an immeasurably troubled working-class felon with a propensity for passing his history of abuse along to others. Come to think of it, maybe all of the docs at Sundance are connected. Indeed, James's voice-over explication of Stevie's "Snake" nickname ("the feared, some would say evil, reptile with the hard, scaly exterior . . . ) nearly appears explicated itself by Jennifer Baichwal's The True Meaning of Pictures: Shelby Lee Adams' Appalachia, whose thorough investigation of unconscious classism in art is fascinating, perhaps particularly so for critics. And yet debates over representation seem trivial in relation to a pair of purely devastating AIDS-crisis docs at the festival: Elaine Epstein's State of Denial, named for the South African president's persistent view of HIV infection as unrelated to the disease; and Weijun Chen's To Live Is Better Than to Die, which questions its own title by maintaining close proximity to a young Chinese family's grueling battles with sickness unto death.

Whether I'm right that the latter of these might even be beyond criticism (it has so far remained beyond distribution), To Live Is Better Than to Die makes the young subjects of Jamie Johnson's Born Rich—those named Newhouse, Trump, Whitney, Bloomberg, and, indeed, Johnson—appear even more obscene than they would otherwise. At press time, a Rich publicist confirmed that Johnson and company were "obviously in a bunch of talks" with distributors—as befits a film, a festival, and an industry that have largely to do with keeping fortunes in the proper hands.

An American family: a home-movie clip in Capturing the Friedmans
photo: Courtesy MPRM
An American family: a home-movie clip in Capturing the Friedmans

Related Articles:

"Evaluating a Movie Lover's Chances of Survival at a Topsy-Turvy Sundance" by Dennis Lim

"Risky Business at Sundance 2003" by Anthony Kaufman

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