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While Hollywood and its enthusiasts gear up for the Oscars, some of next year's contenders are already making their debut at this year's Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Among the films screened at this prestigious independent film festival, several feature Jewish subjects, Jewish filmmakers, or both. Two such films accepted in the festival's documentary competition are Patrick Creadon's Wordplay about NY Times puzzlemaster Will Shortz and Wide Awake, a new film by Alan Berliner (The Sweetest Sound, Nobody's Business) about his own struggles with insomnia.
"Spectrum," Sundance's out-of-competition section, has shown films like March of the Penguins and Gods and Monsters in past years. This year, "Spectrum" includes several movies of Jewish interest like Jewboy, a story of Orthodoxy and identity, by Australian Tony Krawitz, and Lian Lunson's Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man, which pays homage to the life and music of the Jewish folk singer. Then there's Wrestling With Angels: Playwright Tony Kushner, Freida Lee Mock's documentary tribute to writer Tony Kushner whose Munich is generating Oscar buzz and plenty of controversy.
Two submissions to the "World Cinema: Documentary" competition deal with fairly heavy Jewish subjects. KZ, an entry by UK filmmaker Rex Bloomstein tells the story of the German town of Mauthausen, the former site of a Nazi concentration camp. More than just a film about the past, Bloomstein explained to indiewire.com, "KZ is a film that it is set in the landscape of a concentration camp but is a film about today, a film about us."
The recent disengagement from Gaza is at the center of 5 Days, another entry in the World Cinema category by Israeli documentarian Yoav Shamir. Shamir's no stranger to tackling controversy. His 2003 documentary Machsomim ("Checkpoints") earned international acclaim, and his careful exploration of the eviction of 8,000 Gaza settlers over the course of five days in August is likely to garner similar attention.
But not all of Sundance's Jewish-oriented films dealt with serious topics. The irreverently titled Awesome, I F***in' Shot That compiles footage from 40 cameras distributed through a crowd of Beastie Boys concert-goers. The film's midnight screening was as raucous and lively as the concert itself.
Meanwhile, several celebrated Jews contributed to the festive atmosphere at the Sundance after-parties. Hassidic reggae-rap star, Matisyahu, performed at one party hosted by UTA/Amazon at the Shop. It was reportedly one of the hottest parties at the festival.