Sundance Politics: Guns, ISIS and North Korea in Controversial Lineup

Matt Dinerstein
'Southside With You'

Nate Parker's 'Birth of a Nation' and the Katie Couric-produced doc 'Under the Gun' are among the films included in the festival's (running Jan. 21-31) politically charged schedule.

This story first appeared in the Dec. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.


Sundance festival director John Cooper and programmer Trevor Groth never shy from hot-button topics, but the 2016 lineup seems especially news-driven. Into America's race debate comes Nate Parker's The Birth of a Nation, which chronicles the deadly 1831 slave rebellion led by Nat Turner. Comic W. Kamau Bell is bringing United Shades of America, an 8-episode CNN docuseries that includes an exchange with a Klansman. And the fest will premiere Ezra Edelman's 7½-hour racially charged documentary O.J.: Made in America.

'The Birth of a Nation'


Barack Obama woos Michelle Robinson on a 1989 date in Richard Tanne's sure-to-be-dissected Southside With You. Documentarians Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg got full access to Anthony Weiner's New York mayoral campaign and the sex scandal, and wife Huma Mahmood Abedin, Hillary Clinton's adviser, plays a big role. "What's riveting is it's less about him and more about watching Huma's reaction," says Cooper.


Kim A. Snyder's Newtown traces the aftermath of the school shooting; Stephanie Soechtig's Under the Gun looks at the broader issue and the root of political inaction (Katie Couric produced); Tim Sutton's narrative Dark Night takes place over a single day that ends with an Aurora-like cineplex massacre.


Brian Oakes' Jim details his friend and journalist James Foley's public execution and the global platform it gave the terrorist group, while Bahman Ghobadi's A Flag Without a Country follows two Kurds, singer Helly Luv and pilot Nariman Anwar, as their lives are altered from war and ISIS attacks.


Undeterred by Kim Jong Un's response to The Interview, Robert Cannan and Ross Adam helmed The Lovers and the Despot, following the true story of a director and his actress ex-wife who were kidnapped by Kim Jong Il and forced to make films for him.