The 2021 Sundance Film Festival ends tonight after an abbreviated six-day run (down from the typical 11 days). The number of movies was reduced accordingly, with 71 full-length features on this year’s program as opposed to the usual 120 or so. And, in another break with recent tradition, the 2021 slate didn’t include any premieres in which limb difference plays a central role.
The opposite was true in two of the the last three years. The Grand Jury Prize winner for Best Documentary in 2020 prominently featured a bilateral amputee with a big appetite for political combat. Two years before that, the Grand Jury Prize for Best Drama—Sundance’s equivalent of a “Best Picture” award—went to a film whose main supporting character concealed her marijuana stash inside her prosthesis. And one of the most talked-about films of the 2015 festival told an insanely improbable story about limb loss that no Hollywood studio would ever greenlight . . . . except the story happened to be true.
We’d recommend all three of these films. Here’s a brief summary of each, and info about where you can watch.
Boys State (2020)
One of last year’s buzziest Sundance entries, this documentary follows a group of Texas high schoolers vying for political glory as they establish a mock government during a week-long summer leadership program. One of the key figures is Ben Feinstein, a bilateral amputee since age three who espouses the doctrine of personal responsibility. Unabashedly ambitious, he does not deflect when his mother refers to him on camera as “Ben Feinstein, future president.”
At Boys State, the future prez leads a hard-nosed fight to enshrine the conservative bloc at the head of the government. “I think he’s a fantastic politician,” says one of his rivals. “But I don’t think ‘fantastic politician’ is a compliment.” However, Variety‘s reviewer praises Feinstein as “especially bright amid a sea of young people [with] half-formed political views.”
Boys State won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary and fetched $12 million in distribution rights. It’s rated 94 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. Watch it on Apple TV+.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2018)
When the title character gets sent to a conversion therapy center for gay teens, she falls in with an angry, rebellious leg amputee whose hippie-dippie parents have named her Jane Fonda. (We’d be angry, too.) They hang out with a third misfit, a Navajo “two spirit” named Red Eagle, and collaborate on acts of covert and overt subversion.
As we alluded in the intro, Jane’s prosthesis doubles as a recreational medicine cabinet. But limb loss is far more than a comedic prop in this movie. It’s also a core element of Jane’s identity, a driver of her resourcefulness and mental toughness. Having lost a piece of herself and come to terms with it, she’s wiser than the other kids (and most of the adults), more certain of herself and quicker to notice the parts that other people are missing—and the devices they use to cover their scars.
Despite the prestigious Sundance award, The Miseducation of Cameron Post flopped at the box office. But it’s got a solid 86 percent fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes. You can watch it on Vudu, Hulu, and YouTube.
Finders Keepers (2015)
It didn’t win any Sundance awards, but we think Finders Keepers is the best movie on this list. Here’s the first sentence from the festival program guide in 2015: “When his amputated leg is discovered in a grill sold at a North Carolina auction, John Wood finds himself at the center of a worldwide media frenzy.” Trust us when we say this true story gets weirder and darker from there.
Also funnier. But despite its sideshow-like premise, the film never feels exploitative. With sensitivity and restraint, it reveals Wood’s grief over the loss of his limb, the circumstances that caused it, the pain (physical and psychic) that he’s lived with as a result, and the imperfect coping mechanisms with which he survives. As Salon‘s reviewer put it: “The important question is not whether we can retrieve what is lost or fulfill impossible dreams, but how we respond to those failures.”
It’s rated 98 percent fresh at Rotten Tomatoes. Watch it at Vudu, iTunes, or YouTube.
More coverage of movies about amputees:
The Sexiest Amputee Movie You’ve Never Seen
5 New Movies About Amputees
What “The Witches” Gets Wrong About Limb Difference
Amputee Caregivers Shine in “Sky Blossom”
Amputee Filmmaker Debuts Down Under
Locke & Key’s Eric Graise Steps Up and Speaks Out