Getting one film into the Sundance Film Festival is an accomplishment. Having 10 films accepted into the elite indie gathering is nearly unprecedented.
But that’s exactly what happened to Geralyn Dreyfous, the producer of “Born into Brothels” and “The Invisible War.” She’ll be on hand in Park City, Utah, backing a range of documentary projects that tackle such subjects as prostitution, war veterans and world cinema.
“You can never predict when a film is going to be done or be ready, and you’re always working on so many different projects at the same time,” said Dreyfous. “I was stunned by the number that got in, but I was also stunned by some of the ones that weren’t accepted.”
Dreyfous either exec produced the films or they were backed by Impact Partners, the documentary production company she co-founded. Impact Partners focuses on films that deal with social issues and if there’s a thread that connects many of the Sundance projects that Dreyfous is involved with, it’s sexual abuse and trauma.
Among the pictures that she was involved with that are scheduled to screen at the mountainside festival are “The Hunting Ground,” Kirby Dick’s look at rape crimes on U.S. college campuses; “Prophet’s Prey,” a portrait of cult leader and convicted child abuser Warren Jeffs; and “Hot Girls Wanted,” an examination of the amateur porn industry.
“There’s huge interest around trauma and sexual violence right now, and that’s a space that I’m dedicated to exploring,” said Dreyfous. “We felt sort of like the canary on the rim. There’s something shifting gears in our culture, and I don’t think we fully understand it yet.”
She thinks that the curtain is being pulled back on rape and sexual violence in part because the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender movements have encouraged more people to be more open and honest.
“People are asking am I telling the truth about my life and my marriage?” said Dreyfous. “The LGBT movement was all about come out, come out, come out and tell your truth. That’s made more people comfortable about talking about violence and rape after years of treating them as a sexual taboo.”
Despite the new openness and willingness to discuss these topics, Dreyfous thinks that the controversy around the reporting by Rolling Stone on an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia has complicated the public response to sexual violence.
“People are talking about this at cocktail parties as proof that rapes on campuses are overblown,” said Dreyfous. “You’re not getting the sensitivity around it. These are victims and we need to take on the idea that they’re to blame. We don’t blame a person for getting cancer, but there’s still a lot of shame and silence and quiet suffering.”
The other films that Dreyfous and Impact are involved with touch on similarly provocative events and trends. They include “How to Change the World,” which centers on friends sailing into a nuclear test zone; “Chuck Norris vs Communism,” a look at a female film translator slyly subverting Communist oppression in 1980s Romania; and “The Mask You Live In,” an examination of how narrow definitions of masculinity impact young boys.
“Documentary filmmakers take such deep dives into subject matters and audiences get 90 minutes to observe five years of intense research,” said Dreyfous. “There’s a richness that comes from that.”
Dreyfous has been going to Sundance since 2004 when “Born into Brothels” premiered. The festival’s commitment to nonfiction filmmakers is one reason she keeps coming back.
“These festivals are about the hope of acquisition and the hope of breaking out in some way,” said Dreyfous. “There’s so many things that are not in your favor, but as a documentary filmmaker you have such a hunger to tell these stories. It’s a thrilling moment to penetrate through all the noise and nonsense and get a reaction.”