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Streamers Showcase Documentaries at Sundance 2020

Fern Siegel

Documentaries are the hot ticket at Sundance this year. Audiences are interested in the genre – and streamers have helped popularize and distribute it.

This year, Netflix is bringing Taylor Swift’s “Miss Americana” to the festival, a marquee event on opening day. So is Hulu’s four-part Hillary Clinton series “Hillary,” about the 2016 campaign, followed by a panel with the former Secretary of State.

In fact, four of the eight films Netflix is showcasing are documentaries, such as “Mucho Mucho Amor,” a profile on Puerto Rican astrologer Walter Mercado, and “Dick Johnson Is Dead,” about a daughter trying to keep her 86-year-old father alive.

The popular film festival, which runs January 23–February 2 in Park City, Utah, has a record-breaking 15,000 submissions for 2020, as well as a record-number of women, gay and filmmakers of color directing. Actor-director Robert Redford founded Sundance in 1981.

Another documentary seen as a breakout this year is “Crip Camp,” which profiles a summer camp for disabled teens in the Catskills. It’s the latest film from Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company, Higher Ground.

Docs also command big bucks for celebrity-focused projects. Apple TV+ paid a reported $25 million for the R.J. Cutler-directed film about musician Billie Eilish, while YouTube spent $20 million on a 10-part Justin Bieber series. Lin-Manuel Miranda of “Hamilton” fame is the subject of three docs, including “Siempre, Luis,” about this father, a political consultant.

“Thankfully, due to the explosion of digital outlets, we’re able to get those stories to larger and larger audiences and younger and younger audiences,” Maria Cuomo Cole, producer of Sundance selection “Us Kids,” a 100-minute doc about the youth movement galvanized by the Parkland school shooting survivors, told IndieWire.