Independent film is thriving, says Sundance Film Festival director John Cooper, and the movies that will screen at the 2013 event prove it.
"They have an immediacy," Cooper said of the 113 feature-film titles playing in Park City next January — the first 66 of which were announced Wednesday. "I think that comes out of a fearlessness in the filmmakers, to go head-on with difficult subjects."
In the Dramatic competition films, those subjects include sexual relationships, teen rebellion, murder and self-discovery. Among the Documentary competition entries, the topics range from politics to education, and from murder to music.
"There are a lot of documentaries that question the nature of contemporary politics, and are even critical of the current Obama administration," said Trevor Groth, the festival’s programming director.
Those films include an examination of America’s covert wars, a profile of the conservative financiers the Koch brothers, and a collaborative movie made by 99 contributing filmmakers about the Occupy Wall Street movement.
The Next program, which highlights micro-budgeted films, has expanded this year from eight entries to 10. The bigger roster was dictated by the quality of the films, Groth said. "It’s 10-deep with films that have a chance to stir up a lot of conversation."
"Austenland," a movie with strong Utah ties, made the U.S. Dramatic competition. This romantic comedy is based on Utah author Shannon Hale’s book and directed by Salt Lake City-based filmmaker Jerusha Hess (the co-writer of "Napoleon Dynamite").
For those interested in seeing movie stars, the 66 titles in the competition categories won’t disappoint. One can see Daniel Radcliffe, Keri Russell, Kristen Bell, Jessica Biel, Jane Lynch, Josh Radnor, Bill Pullman, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Casey Affleck — as well as recent breakout stars Rooney Mara ("The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"), Octavia Spencer ("The Help") and Shailene Woodley ("The Descendants").
The festival will continue its recent tradition of playing four competition films on opening night, which is Thursday, Jan. 17. The four films are: The cross-cultural wedding drama "May in the Summer," directed by and starring Cherien Dabis (whose "Amreeka" debuted at Sundance in 2009); the documentary "Twenty Feet From Stardom," Morgan Neville’s look at the lives of back-up singers; the Chilean drama "Crystal Fairy," starring Michael Cera ("Scott Pilgrim vs. The World"); and the British-made documentary "Who Is Dayani Cristal?", which tracks a mystery of a dead body in the Arizona desert.
Sundance programmers picked from more than 12,000 submissions, both feature films and shorts — a record.
The titles in Sundance’s Spotlight, Park City at Midnight and Frontier programs will be announced Thursday afternoon, while the Premieres slate will be released on Monday. The short-film selection will be announced Tuesday.
The 2013 Sundance Film Festival runs Jan. 17-27 in Park City, and at venues in Salt Lake City, Ogden and the Sundance resort.
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