ENTERTAINMENT
01/21/2016 10:16 am ET

19 Documentaries Premiering At The Sundance Film Festival That We'll Be Talking About In 2016

Including Werner Herzog's latest and two searing films about gun control.

Sundance

The movies most commonly associated with the Sundance Film Festival are indie darlings -- daring dramas like "Sex, Lies and Videotape," moody meditations like "Garden State" and surprising comedy gems like "Little Miss Sunshine." But Sundance is always a hub for the year's hottest documentaries. "Hoop Dreams," "Super Size Me" and "Man on Wire" all premiered there, after all. In fact, two of 2016's Oscar-nominated documentaries -- "Cartel Land" and "What Happened, Miss Simone?" -- were highlights at last year's festival, while "Going Clear," "Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck," "Best of Enemies" and "The Hunting Ground" also bowed this time last January.  

As Sundance kicks off on Thursday, pay attention to the buzz surrounding the lineup's docs. They promise juicy insights into subjects like cults, Michael Jackson, gun laws, North Korean dictators, Maya Angelou, tickling and the Internet. Honestly, we're probably more jazzed about the documentaries on this year's lineup than anything else. The Huffington Post premiered a clip from the abortion doc "Trapped" on Wednesday, and now we've handpicked 19 others that will entice the throngs of festivalgoers in Park City, Utah, over the next 11 days.

  • "Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise"
    Sundance
    Directed by Rita Coburn Whack and Bob Hercules

    Maya Angelou's literature and civil-rights activism were so influential that, two years after her death, it still feels like she's alive. It's also hard to believe no one has made a documentary about her until now. This Kickstarter-funded film started rolling when Angelou was still alive, so we'll see fresh footage coupled with archives of her ever-reaching impact.
  • "Nothing Left Unsaid: Gloria Vanderbilt & Anderson Cooper"
    Sundance
    Directed by Liz Garbus

    Festival fixture Liz Garbus opened last year's Sundance with "What Happened, Miss Simone?," which is now fresh off an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature. Let's see if she'll repeat that course with "Nothing Left Unsaid," a portrait of the life of wealthy designer, actress and socialite Gloria Vanderbilt, as interviewed by her son Anderson Cooper.
  • "Under the Gun"
    Sundance
    Directed by Stephanie Soechtig

    Deadly shootings have reached alarming highs in America, making gun rights the most contentious discourse in contemporary American politics. Right as the debate boils over to the presidential election, the director of 2014's "Fed Up" has stitched together a movie that examines both sides of the dispute.
  • "Newtown"
    Sundance
    Directed by Kim A. Snyder

    Three years after a gunman fatally shot 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School, "Newtown" checks in on the families and school officials who were victims of the senseless tragedy. Like "Under the Gun," this documentary is a vital step toward processing American's violence epidemic.
  • "Holy Hell"
    Sundance
    Directed by Will Allen

    Shortly after college, Will Allen joined a spiritual community -- read: a cult -- in Los Angeles. He stuck around for 20 years, documenting the entire experience on camera. Now he's used that footage, along with interviews with former members, to craft what sounds like one of the most intimate portraits of life inside a cult ever committed to film.
  • "Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures"
    Sundance
    Directed by Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey

    Throughout the 1970s and '80s, Robert Mapplethorpe photographed Andy Warhol, Patti Smith, BDSM culture, erections and a lot of flowers. His art still feels progressive 27 years after his death, and this doc chronicles Mapplethorpe's life and work.
  • "Life, Animated"
    Sundance
    Directed by Roger Ross Williams

    At 3 years old, Owen Suskind seemed like he would never speak again, gripped by autism and stimulated only by Disney movies. A few years later, his father imitated Iago, the parrot from "Aladdin," and Owen spoke once more, using dialogue from the film. After that, Disney movies became Owen's way of rebuilding his communication skills -- and years later, he is the subject of a documentary made by the Oscar-winning director of "God Loves Uganda" and "Music by Prudence."
  • "Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World"
    Sundance
    Directed by Werner Herzog

    Wener Herzog -- the multihyphenate who has directed operas, made dozens of feature films and documentaries, and once guest-starred on "Parks and Recreation" -- gives us his take on the 21st century's defining social and technological apparatus: the Internet. In "Lo and Behold," Herzog turns a meditative eye to the online world's history and future, as well as its contributions to society and its ramifications.
  • "Weiner"
    Sundance
    Directed by Elyse Steinberg and Josh Kriegman

    Anthony Weiner granted a film crew unrestricted license to document what he hoped would be a triumphant New York mayoral bid and political comeback. As we now know, a second sexting scandal exploded and his candidacy erupted -- all while cameras continued to roll. As far as "Weiner" goes, it was for the best: The New York Times promises the movie "overflows with juicy moments."
  • "Michael Jackson's Journey from Motown to Off the Wall"
    Sundance
    Directed by Spike Lee

    Spike Lee's previous documentary celebrated the 25th anniversary of Michael Jackson's "Bad." But Lee wasn't done investigating the King of Pop's meteoric fame, so here he is tracing Jackson's transition from Jackson 5 standout to solo superstar.
  • "Kiki"
    Sundance
    Directed by Sara Jordenö

    Two and a half decades ago, "Paris is Burning" won Sundance's Grand Jury Prize and, along with Madonna's hit song, put voguing and the queer community's ball culture on the mainstream map. "Kiki" revisits that world, this time zeroing in on youth whose resilience is fostered through this eclectic art scene.
  • "Uncle Howard"
    Sundance
    Directed by Aaron Brookner

    Howard Brookner, who made a well-received William S. Burroughs doc in 1983, was the cusp of his Hollywood breakthrough when he succumbed to AIDS at the end of the decade. His nephew has now examined Brookner's extensive archive and culled together this documentary that doubles as an exploration of New York's bohemian creative scene of the '70s and '80s, including appearances from Burroughs, Jim Jarmusch (who produced this film), Madonna, Allen Ginsberg, Andy Warhol and others.
  • "Unlocking the Cage"
    Sundance
    Directed by Chris Hegedus and Donn Alan Pennebaker

    D.A. Pennebaker is undoubtably one of the most influential American documentarians alive thanks to such films as "Don't Look Back," "Monterey Pop" and "The War Room." His latest is a reteaming with "War Room" co-director Chris Hegedus. Together they chronicle the work of animal-rights activist Steven Wise, who has been fighting to secure legal personhood for certain intelligent mammals.
  • "How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things That Climate Can't Change"
    Sundance
    Directed by Josh Fox

    Armed with a Kubrickian title and urgent subject matter, "How to Let Go of the World" finds Oscar-nominated documentarian Josh Fox ("Gasland") visiting regions of the world where communities are contending with the devastating effects of climate change.
  • "Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You"
    Sundance
    Directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady

    Television history would be nothing without Norman Lear, who produced some of America's most influential, boundary-shattering sitcoms: "All in the Family," "The Jeffersons," "Maude," "Sanford and Son," the list goes on. Now 93, Lear is the subject of Sundance's opening-night documentary, from the directors who made "Jesus Camp" and "12th & Delaware."
  • "Tickled"
    Sundance
    Directed by David Farrier and Dylan Reeve

    This New Zealand doc pulls back the curtian on an odd community: an endurance competition where men are paid to be tied up and tickled. Enticed already? Add this to the movie's credentials: When the directors first expressed interest, the organization threatened legal action. So, of course, he dug deeper, and the results are now the subject of what sounds like one of the year's strangest stories.
  • "The Lovers and the Despot"
    Sundance
    Directed by Robert Cannan and Ross Adam

    Director Shin Sang-ok and actress Choi Eun-hee were South Korea's most glamorous couple in the 1970s. Then future North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il kidnapped them for eight years and forced them to make propaganda films, until the pair escaped. Their stranger-than-fiction history was the subject of a 2015 biography and an episode of "This American Life," and now it gets the film treatment it deserves.
  • "NUTS!"
    Sundance
    Directed by Penny Lane

    John Romulus Brinkley is one innovator you probably never studied in school. He was a radio pioneer and small-town doctor who discovered that implanting goat testicles can cure impotence in men. This documentary, from the director of "Our Nixon," pairs animation with Brinkley's writings for a look at an important early 20th-century oddball.
  • "Jim: The James Foley Story"
    Sundance
    Directed by Brian Oakes

    Global awareness of ISIS' threats can be linked to a single video that circulated in 2014, depicting kidnapped American journalist James Foley as the terrorist group threatened his life. In his directorial debut, Brian Oakes -- a childhood friend of Foley -- traces Foley's story using testimony from his family, who couldn't pay his ransom for fear of prosecution from the U.S. government, as well as fellow journalists and hostages. The movie also airs on HBO in February.

The Sundance Film Festival is Jan. 21-31. See the full lineup here.

Also on HuffPost:

Sundance 2016 Preview

CONVERSATIONS