Sundance Composer Spotlight: James Lavino for ‘Unlocking the Cage’ and ‘Wiener-Dog’

James Lavino, composer of UNLOCKING THE CAGE (Documentary Premieres) and Wiener-Dog (Premieres) is available at Sundance for interviews/appearances (1/22-28)


Premiere: Monday 1/25 2:45PM (The Marc)

Other screenings:

  • 1/27 10PM (Redstone Cinema 2)
  • 1/28 12PM (Sundance Mountain Resort Screening Room)
  • 1/29 9PM (Salt Lake City Library Theatre)
  • 1/30 6PM (Yarrow Hotel Theatre)


Premiere: Friday 1/22 6:30PM (Eccles Theatre).

Other screenings:

  • 1/23 8:30 AM (The Marc)
  • 1/23 3:15 PM (The Grand Theatre)
  • 1/24 6:30 PM (Peery’s Egyptian Theater)
  • 1/27 9PM (Sundance Mountain Resort Screening Room)
  • 1/30 11:30 PM (Prospector Square Theatre)
  • BIOGRAPHY: Stephen James Taylor

James Lavino scored two films premiering at Sundance this year: Todd Solondz’s Wiener-Dog (Greta Gerwig, Danny DeVito, Ellen Burstyn), and the HBO/BBC documentary Unlocking the Cage, directed by D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus. James’s other film/tv music includes scores for Oscar-nominated and Emmy-Winning HBO documentaries, songs for Disney, and two collaborations with Radiohead’s Colin Greenwood. James’s music for the opening ceremony of the National 9/11 Museum in New York City was a featured part of President Obama’s museum-dedication speech.

James’s choral and concert music has been performed throughout Europe and the USA, and has been broadcast on NPR, the BBC, and Classic FM. Commissions include pieces for the choirs of Westminster Abbey; St Paul’s Cathedral (London); and Merton College, Oxford.

James was born in Philadelphia. He lived in London from 2002-2010 and holds dual USA/UK citizenship.


Renowned filmmakers D A Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus follow determined animal rights activist Steven Wise into the courtroom for an unprecedented battle that seeks to utilize the writ of habeas corpus to expand legal “personhood” to include certain animals. Wise’s unusual plaintiffs—chimpanzees Tommy and Kiko, once famed showbiz stars—are now living in filth, struggling to survive. Wise and his impassioned legal team take us into the field, revealing gripping evidence of such abuse and plunging us into the intricacies of their case as they probe preconceived notions of what it means to be a non-human animal.

Propelled by one man’s life mission of 30 years, the filmmakers mine this obsession and dedication to a cause that many experts feel is ripe for skepticism. Heartwarming and challenging, this powerfully crafted story does a remarkable job breaking down the science, legalities, and psychology behind a battle that, against all odds, has the potential to transform our legal system and effectively break down barriers between humans and animals.


Wiener-Dog tells several stories featuring people who find their life inspired or changed by one particular dachshund, who seems to be spreading a certain kind of comfort and joy. Man’s best friend starts out teaching a young boy some contorted life lessons before being taken in by a compassionate vet tech named Dawn Wiener. Dawn reunites with someone from her past and sets off on a road trip picking up some depressed mariachis along the way. Wiener-Dog then encounters a floundering film professor, as well as an embittered elderly woman and her needy granddaughter—all longing for something more.

Twenty years ago, Todd Solondz took the Sundance Film Festival by storm when Welcome to the Dollhouse won the Grand Jury Prize at the 1996 Festival. Since then he has gone on to establish himself as one of the most uncompromising voices working in film. Wiener-Dog is vintage Solondz, brimming with brilliantly caustic and truthful observations about the human condition. He has a unique ability to find humor in the darkest of subject matter, allowing an empathetic light to shine on it.