Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
At Sundance, documentaries can start a movement
Issues and advocacy » Filmmakers look to spark debate and prompt policy changes.

< Previous Page

"I didn’t do that. Those were independent petitioners. … I didn’t sign one petition," Cowperthwaite said. "This film has ceased to be mine a long time ago. It’s now yours. It’s everybody’s now."

Cowperthwaite imagines a longterm impact for "Blackfish," beyond the petitions and protests.

At a glance

Documentaries with impact

Six movies that debuted at the Sundance Film Festival and went on to make an impact in the world.


Played Sundance » 2013.

What the film’s about » A look at the lives of orcas in captivity, performing in marine attractions — focusing on a 2010 incident where a SeaWorld trainer was killed in an encounter with an orca named Tilikum.

Impact » Online petitions urging SeaWorld to change its practices have attracted thousands of signatures, while several musical acts have canceled upcoming gigs at SeaWorld parks.


Played Sundance » 2007.

What the film’s about » A New Jersey policewoman, diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, fights to ensure her survivor’s benefits go to her girlfriend.

Impact » The case, publicized by the Oscar-winning film, became a template in the fight for extending spousal benefits to same-sex couples in several states.

‘The Invisible War’

Played Sundance » 2012.

What the film’s about » An expose of sexual abuse in the U.S. military, examining how prosecuting such cases is hampered by the fact that victims must report accusations to their superior officer — who is often a friend of the rapist, or sometimes is the rapist.

Impact » Then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta changed the policy that victims must report to their superior officer — though they still must go through the chain of command. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., is working on legislation to create an independent body to prosecute such cases.

‘Paradise Lost’

Played Sundance » 1996.

What the film’s about » An examination of a murder case in West Memphis, Ark., in which three 8-year-old boys were murdered and sexually mutilated. With questionable evidence and a panicked media environment, three teens were arrested and convicted.

Impact » The film (and two sequels) prompted a years-long campaign, supported by such celebrities as Eddie Vedder and Johnny Depp, to reopen the “West Memphis 3” case. In 2011, after the Arkansas Supreme Court ordered a hearing to examine DNA evidence, prosecutors struck a deal to release the three from prison.

‘Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer’

Played Sundance » 2013.

What the film’s about » Following the court cases of three members of the Russian punk band/protest group Pussy Riot, accused and convicted of hooliganism at a religious site — a conviction many saw as politically motivated, because of the band’s opposition to Vladimir Putin.

Impact » Helped galvanize international protests to the imprisonment of band members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina. (A third member received probation, which was shown in the film.) Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina were released just before Christmas, after the State Duma (the lower house of Russia’s legislature) approved an amnesty bill.

‘Super Size Me’

Played Sundance » 2004.

What the film’s about » Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock eats nothing but McDonald’s food for a month, to demonstrate the unhealthy effects of our fast-food culture.

Impact » Six weeks after the film played at Sundance, McDonald’s announced it was phasing out its “super size” option — though the company vociferously denied the change had anything to do with the film, but was designed to streamline the menu. In later years, under criticism from health advocates, McDonald’s has also introduced more healthful items to its menus.

TribTalk: Sundance

The Tribune’s Jennifer Napier-Pierce talks to Sundance organizers, and to Tribune movie critic Sean P. Means, in a TribTalk on Monday at 12:15 p.m. — at sltrib.com.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

"If we can be done with animals as entertainment in our lifetime, that will be amazing," she said. "If this younger generation can be the ‘I can’t believe we used to do that’ generation, and just start envisioning a world where we view our relationship with our animal counterparts on this earth differently…, that would be tremendous."

Sundance’s programmers point to some of the documentaries premiering in Park City this month that have the potential to stir up similar action. Among them are: "Alive Inside," which touts a program to help Alzheimer’s patients by playing them music from their youth; the anti-obesity film "Fed Up," which points a finger at problems with the federal government’s regulation of food; and "Private Violence," an examination of the causes and misconceptions of domestic abuse.

"Films do have the ability to change things," Cowperthwaite said. "People, if you arm them with the truth, are capable of changing how they go about life. They are willing to shift and change and recalibrate how to do things ethically, based on truthful information. That’s just one of the coolest things imaginable."


Twitter: @moviecricket

Sundancing with The Tribune

Find maps, theater venues, shuttle stops and much more on The Tribune’s new Sundance Film Festival Travel Guide on Pinterest at www.pinterest.com/sltrib.

For live coverage during the festival from movie critic Sean P. Means and other Tribune staffers, check out The Tribune’s Sundance Film Festival blog at www.sltrib.com/Blogs/sundanceblog. The blog has been active for weeks leading up to the festival, which begins Jan. 16.

On Twitter, you may follow our Sundance-specific account at @sundancelive and @moviecricket, for coverage of the festival and films in general by Means, The Tribune’s critic and a Sundance attendee for 20 years.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment

About Reader Comments

Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.