Hard knocks in focus at Sundance

Documentaries tell of troubled Asian, Middle Eastern lives

BANGKOK -- Documentaries chronicling the fight against hardship across Asia and the Middle East will be in abundance at the Sundance Film Festival in January, while only three dramas from either region made the cut.

Organizers of the annual event in Park City, Utah on Wednesday unveiled the names of non-fiction films competing for the World Cinema Documentary award.

They include the North American premiere of "Afghan Star," a documentary made in the U.K. and Afghanistan by director Havana Marking about post-Taliban Afghanis risking their lives to sing competitively on TV.

From neighboring Iran, director Hamid Rahmanian's documentary "The Glass House," also a North American premiere, follows teenage girls trying to overcome drug addiction, abandonment and abuse in a Tehran rehab center.

The world premiere of "The Queen and I" sees Iranian exile-turned-Swedish filmmaker Nahid Persson Sarvestani confront her role in the 1979 overthrow of the Shah of Iran by engaging the deposed leader's widow.

From Kurdistan and the U.S., the world premiere of "Quest for Honor" is director Mary Ann Bruni's documentary about an activist's attempts to stop honor killings in the Middle Eastern tribal plateau of Kurdistan.

Moving to East Asia, the world premiere of the Franco-U.S. documentary "Kimjongilia" by director N.C. Heikin aims to capture the terrifying reality of defectors from North Korea.

In a similar vein, "Tibet in Song" recounts director Ngawang Choephel serving six years of an 18-year prison sentence for trying to film the story of Tibetan music to capture his people's efforts at cultural preservation. The U.S.-made film will have its world premiere at Sundance.

From the factories of India to financial markets in Singapore to housing developments in Spain and offshore banks in New Jersey, director Erwin Wagenhofer's "Let's Make Money" tries to reveal the complex workings of global money flow. The film, which has some backing from China, will have its world premiere in Park City.

One film in the world cinema documentary competition is simply set in Asia: "Thriller in Manila," U.K. director John Dower's chronicling of the 1975 final boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.

Another, "Old Partner," from South Korean director Chung-ryoul Lee, has little apparent thematic similarity to the rest of the bunch. In North American premiere at Sundance, the documentary tells the tale of a farmer living out his final days with his wife and ox in Korea's countryside.

Two Asian dramas in a field of 16 titles were chosen for the Sundance world cinema drama competition. "The Clone Returns" is Japanese writer-director Kanji Nakajima's tale of the resurrection of an astronaut who dies during a mission.The film stars Mitsuhiro Oikawa, Eri Ishida and Hiromi Nagasaku.

From China, "Dada's Dance," by director Zhang Yuan and screenwriter Li Xiaofeng, tells the story of a young woman's search for her birth mother. Starring Li Xinyun, Li Xiaofeng, Gai Ge and Chen Jun, the film's Sundance screening will be its North American Premiere.

The lone Sundance competition drama from the Middle East, the world premiere of "Zion and His Brother," is writer-director Eran Merav's Franco-Israeli film about the disappearance of a young boy and how it divides two teenage brothers in working class Tel Aviv. The film stars Reuven Badalov, Ronit Elkabetz and Tzahi Grad.
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