PARK CITY, Utah Its that time of year again when a tiny ski-resort town becomes the place to be for anyone in show business stars and directors, distribution executives, musicians, unknown filmmakers hoping people might want to hear the stories they tell.
The Sundance Film Festival opened Thursday and takes over Park City for a week and a half every January. Anything resembling a theater is booked with screenings. Directors and their casts trudge snowy streets to introduce films and do interviews. Bars and restaurants are stuffed with people talking deals, or just talking about something crazy or unexpected they just saw on screen.
Its almost like Burning Man. Once a year, this tiny little town that then transforms itself into kind of a crazy film city for 10 days out of the year, said writer-director Lynn Shelton, a Sundance regular (Humpday, Your Sisters Sister) who returns this year with Touchy Feely, starring Rosemarie DeWitt as a massage therapist suddenly struck by an aversion to touching others. Its crammed with people all there for one reason. Whatever relationship they have to the industry, theyre all there for the love of films.
The top U.S. showcase for independent cinema, Sundance has grown along with the do-it-yourself film world and has played a huge role in creating opportunities for low-budget filmmakers to get their work made and seen.
Robert Redford added the festival in 1985 as an offshoot of his Sundance Institute that offers professional support to indie filmmakers.
That first year, the festival showed a couple of dozen films. This year, Sundance is playing 119 feature films from 32 countries, culled from about 4,000 that were submitted.
Its gotten pretty overwhelming, Redford said. I never dreamed when we started we didnt even know that we would last and then when it lasted and grew, it became huge. I never anticipated that it would get to this size.
Now the name Sundance is almost a synonym for the possibilities of independent film.
The festival helped launch the careers of filmmakers such as Steven Soderbergh, Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino and has premiered such Academy Award winners and nominees as Little Miss Sunshine, Precious, Winters Bone and last years top Sundance prize winner, Beasts of the Southern Wild.
This years lineup includes Ashton Kutcher as Apple co-founder Steve Jobs in director Joshua Michael Sterns film biography jOBS; Amanda Seyfried as porn star Linda Lovelace in Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedmans Lovelace; Shia LaBeouf and Evan Rachel Wood in Fredrik Bonds romance The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman; Dakota Fanning and Elizabeth Olsen in Naomi Foners teen tale Very Good Girls; Daniel Radcliffe as Allen Ginsberg in John Krokidas beat-poet story Kill Your Darlings; and Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in Richard Linklaters Before Midnight, a follow-up to Before Sunrise and Before Sunset.
Redford has insisted on giving documentaries equal time with dramatic features, and this years festival has a wild range of nonfiction topics, including Barbara Kopples Running from Crazy, a study of Mariel Hemingway and her familys history of mental illness and suicide, including that of grandfather Ernest Hemingway; Alison Ellwoods History of the Eagles Part 1, a portrait of the pop super-group; Alex Gibneys We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks; Foo Fighters singer Dave Grohls Sound City, a look at a venerable recording studio; Freida Mocks Anita, a portrait of Anita Hill, who accused Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment; and R.J. Cutler and Greg Fintons The World According to Dick Cheney, an examination of the former vice president.
The company is such good company. The programmers at Sundance, their taste is impeccable, said Lucy Walker, who premiered her 2010 documentaries Countdown to Zero and Waste Land and returns this year with The Crash Reel, chronicling the recovery of snowboarder Kevin Pearce from a traumatic brain injury. I feel like right now, the documentary field at Sundance, its just such a remarkable collection of top-quality films.
Actress and filmmaker Lake Bell, who directed a short film that premiered at Sundance in 2011 and co-starred in last years festival feature Black Rock, said coming to Park City in January reminds her of going back to college.
Theres a campus spirit among festival organizers, audiences and especially the filmmakers, said Bell, who returns this time with her feature directing debut, In a World ..., in which she plays a woman struggling to follow in her fathers career as a voice-over star.
Like college, Sundance is a safe haven, a place of camaraderie and mentoring before graduates head into the real world in the case of filmmakers, before they have to cope with the business side of show business.
Sundance is right before the scary stuff starts. The judgment and the reviews and the forums, all that silly stuff, Bell said. Its the purity before the storm.
Festival director John Cooper jokes that he would not mind a real storm something to maintain that purity and keep the real world from intruding on the little bubble of creative expression that is Sundance.
I hope we all do get snowed in, Cooper said.