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"The Birth of a Nation"

U.S. Dramatic Competition


Nate Parker's epic drama "The Birth of a Nation" is, to borrow the quote usually attributed to Woodrow Wilson in describing D.W. Griffith's notoriously racist 1915 movie of the same title, is history written with lightning. Parker, who directed and wrote the screenplay, stars as Nat Turner, the slave-turned-preacher who in 1831 led a Virginia slave rebellion that killed 60 whites and scared other Southern whites out of their minds. Parker traces Turner's life from childhood, watching his father (Dwight Henry) have to run away for killing a slave hunter, to his education in the Bible by his owner's wife (Penelope Ann Miller), and to being hired out by his later owner (Armie Hammer) as a preacher to other plantations' slaves. Parker marshals a large cast (including Aunjanue Ellis, Colman Domingo, Roger Guenvuer Smith, Aja Naomi Smith, Gabrielle Union and Jackie Earle Haley) and some powerful behind-the-camera talent — notably cinematographer Elliot Davis, production designer Geoffrey Kirkland and composer Henry Jackman — to create a grand period film that looks bigger than its indie budget. Even corralling a production that's on a par with "Braveheart" or "Spartacus," Parker puts the weight on himself, and his portrayal of Turner is explosive and heartfelt.

— Sean P. Means

"The Birth of a Nation" screens again in the 2016 Sundance Film Festival: Wednesday, 3:30 p.m., Redstone Cinema 1; Thursday, 9 p.m., Tower Theatre, Salt Lake City; Friday, 8:30 p.m., The MARC, Park City; Saturday, 9 a.m., Library Center Theatre, Park City.