This was the second year in a row that I didn't make it to Park City for Sundance. I had been toying with the idea of going pretty much even as the festival was starting up, but what with Sundance coming directly on the heels of this year's Cinema Eye Honors (and the multiple snow storms that struck New York while I was on the east coast), the notion of getting myself to Utah and more snow in the midst of recuperating from a months-long project was too daunting.
So, like last year, I eagerly awaited my first opportunity to see this year's new batch of films, no matter if word on the street was that this year wasn't shaping up to be on par with last (when 4 Sundance premieres would eventually make it to the Oscars and a handful of others were considered high profile snubs).
Luckily I'd been invited to participate in two different film festival juries in the first quarter of 2011. Between the two, I'd end up seeing 13 of the docs that had premiered at Sundance.
I saw the majority of these while at the Miami Film Festival, which I attended last week. Toronto International Film Festival doc programmer Thom Powers (also responsible for DOC NYC, Stranger Than Fiction and my co-hort in getting the Cinema Eye Honors off the ground) joined the team in Miami this year and invited me to be part of a jury that included Sheffield Doc/Fest Director Heather Croall and Jeremy Kay, the US Editor for Screen International.
The audiences were pretty good for the docs, too, particularly given the new focus on Powers' Doc-You-Up program. I'd say that the large theaters at the festival hub Regal Cinemas were always at least 2/3 full, with an occasional sell out for films like Andrew Rossi's PAGE ONE. The other Sundance docs screening at the fest included James Marsh's PROJECT NIM, Göran Hugo Olsson's BLACK POWER MIXTAPE and Liz Garbus' BOBBY FISCHER AGAINST THE WORLD.
Croall, Kay and I were unanimous in our jury choices: we gave the top prize to Steve James' extraordinary new film THE INTERRUPTERS and a special jury mention to Marshall Curry's IF A TREE FALLS: A STORY OF THE EARTH LIBERATION FRONT. I'll have more to say about both films and a few of the others that we saw in Miami in the coming days.