Each year documentaries at the Sundance Film Festival are among the best movies here, and in 2012 nonfiction works on subjects from the healthcare crisis to the war on drugs and rape in the military are wowing crowds and spurring calls to action.
Sundance is the premiere U.S. film festival for movies made outside of Hollywood's mainstream studios, and it is among the world's elite gatherings for documentary makers. Sundance backer and activist Robert Redford, is an avid supporter of the form.
Oscar-winner "An Inconvenient Truth" debuted here, and as it did in boosting environmental causes, many other documentaries also use Sundance to launch social cause campaigns. Succinctly put: when documentaries talking at Sundance, people listen.
"If there's a well-made film about an issue, it's not just a great film the festival is showing, but an issue (Sundance) is putting on the front burner," said writer and director Kirby Dick, whose documentary on rape within the US military, "The Invisible War," had its world premiere at the festival.
Many of the documentaries here at Sundance 2012, which runs through January 29, tell of struggles facing ordinary and poor Americans. Some, like "Invisible War" shed light on a problem that was little-known before, while others take on broad topics.
Director Eugene Jarecki's "The House I Live In" tackles America's long, failed war on drugs. Jarecki, director of other nonfiction films such as "Why We Fight," critiques drug policies, courts, prisons and their impact on minorities.
Macky Alston highlights the struggles of homosexuality in organized religion in "Love Free or Die" in which he follows the Episcopal Church's first openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson, and his contentious battle for acceptance in the faith.
And "Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare" points out that despite rising healthcare costs, the outcomes faced by patients often are worse than they have been in years.
"There's so much misunderstanding about what's wrong with healthcare, how we can fix it and how we can move forward," the film's co-director and producer Matthew Heineman told Reuters. "The goal of our film has been to clarify these issues -- why it's broken, why it doesn't fundamentally want to change and people out there who are trying to change it."
The film's co-director and producer Susan Froemke hoped the festival might be "a launching point for starting a movement and to understand how to change health in our country."
"TELL YOUR FRIENDS"
The filmmakers behind "Finding North," have similar hopes for their documentary, which focuses on the hunger problem in America. Directors Lori Silverbush and Kristi Jacobson implored their audience to take action at the film's premiere.
"The very first step is you came to see this movie," Silverbush told the crowd. "Now go and tell your friends because the zeitgeist will fix this. When we get the political will as a nation to end hunger, we will. We did it before."
With soup kitchens on the rise and one in six Americans not getting enough food, according to the film, "there's not a lot of action in (Washington) D.C. on the issue and we do hope that this film will change that," added Jacobson.
In Dick's "Invisible War," the filmmaker follows the shattered lives of servicewomen (and a few servicemen) who were assaulted by their fellow soldiers while enlisted. He felt compelled to tell their story for numerous reasons.
"The primary objective is to raise awareness. That's why we made this film," Dick told Reuters. "Over 500,000 women have been assaulted in the military and it is shocking to me that so few people know about it. I've never made a film where the subject matter was so secretive, so covered up."
Kirby said he wanted to let "let our county know that the people who are protecting us are not being protected" and to let survivors know that they are not alone. He hopes that the U.S. military, Congress and the White House will "step up and do the things that need to be done to change this."
With all the pressing issues affecting the U.S., Kirby believes that the voice of the documentarian is an important one and Sundance is crucial for allowing them that platform.
"There's a sense in this country that things need to change," he said. "Documentary filmmakers, along with others, are trying to reflect that, to sound the alarm, to put the word out."