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From Ferguson to Hulk Hogan, Sundance Documentaries Dig into Headlines

FILE - The marque on the Egyptian Theatre is pictured before the opening day of the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, Jan. 21, 2015.
FILE - The marque on the Egyptian Theatre is pictured before the opening day of the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, Jan. 21, 2015.

From the uprising of Ferguson, Missouri, citizens after the police killing of an unarmed black man to Hulk Hogan's legal war on media outlet Gawker, documentaries at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival are diving deep into this year's headlines.

The 16 films unveiled in the independent film festival's documentary competition on Wednesday will debut during the annual 10-day gathering in Park City, Utah, in January.

Four of the documentaries delve into the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement that rose out of high-profile killings of black men by police in various U.S. cities in the past two years, renewing a national debate about racial discrimination in the American criminal justice system.

"Whose Streets," premiering on the first day of the festival, goes directly to the heart of the issue in the aftermath of the August 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown, 18, in Ferguson.

The documentary focuses on the people in Ferguson who are "frustrated by lack of attention on the real story of what's happening there," and includes their own video footage, Sundance festival director John Cooper told Reuters.

"The Force" goes inside the Oakland, California, police department as it deals with the black community's uprising following the events in Ferguson.

Two other documentaries, "Quest" and "STEP," show the indirect impact of civil unrest and class and race struggles for African-American families.

"You really see a lot of different African-American lives on screen that you don't often see in cinema," said Trevor Groth, Sundance's director of programming.

Documentaries have had a resurgence in mainstream popularity in recent years as on-demand streaming services have brought documentary films and series to a wider audience.

"It's the golden age for documentaries in terms of access to reach their audiences. Netflix, HBO, Amazon are huge players in that role," Cooper said. "We're the only major festival that puts documentaries in equal standing with fiction films."

"NOBODY SPEAK: Hulk Hogan, Gawker and Trials of a Free Press," directed by Brian Knappenberger, will be the first film on the landmark $140 million lawsuit this year that shuttered online news website Gawker Media LLC earlier this year.

"It's a very comprehensive look at the case. It's the players behind it and ... interference of outside forces," Cooper said.

The Sundance Film Festival will be announcing its full line-up of premieres and events during the coming week.

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