Sundance, which is backed by Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute for filmmaking, serves as a launching ground for unknown filmmakers and actors as well as stars in low-budget movies, and films screening here often become hits in art house theaters in the weeks and months that follow.
“Winter’s Bone,” about a girl’s search for her father in the backwoods of Arkansas, won the Sundance jury prize for best drama in 2010, and is now a key film in Hollywood’s Oscar race.
Organizers pick 16 US dramas and 16 documentaries to compete for awards and among the dramatic films for the 2011 event, which begins on Jan. 20, are titles such as “Pariah,” from writer-director Dee Rees that tells of the struggles of a Bronx teenager to discover her own identity.
Actress Vera Farmiga (“Up in the Air”) makes her directing debut at Sundance with “Higher Ground,” about a frustrated mom who joins a fundamentalist community only to question her choice, and writer-director Sean Durkin brings in “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” about a woman who has fled an abusive cult.
Festival director John Cooper told Reuters that many of this year’s movies examine religion and faith, although he was at a loss to explain exactly why. “As the country has gone deeper into crisis, people may be starting to examine that,” he said.
Among the US documentaries competing for awards are “Sing Your Song,” which examines Harry Belafonte’s contributions to civil rights and social justice around the world. “Troubadours” looks at the lives of singers James Taylor and Carole King, and “Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey” introduces the man behind the lovable muppet Elmo, who appears on children’s TV show, “Sesame Street.”
Sundance traditionally is an event for US movies made outside Hollywood’s major studios, but increasingly it has lured more international films by waging a competition among global filmmakers.
Fourteen dramas will compete for prizes in the World Cinema section, including titles such as UK film “Tyrannosaur,” about an angry man and his shot at redemption, and Mexico’s “The Cinema Hold Up,” about four friends hoping for riches by robbing a movie theater.
Among the World Cinema documentaries, 12 films were picked to compete. Germany’s “The Green Wave” uses blog entries and tweets to look at the street protests in Iran following the disputed 2009 elections, and “Project Nim” tells of a chimpanzee who was taught to communicate like a human child.
Recent years have seen tough times among independent filmmakers as companies have folded amid the gloomy economy, but the desire to make indie movies continues to be strong, as evidenced by 3,812 feature film submissions from 30 countries.
Cooper noted that while digital technology has lowered the cost of making well-produced indie movies, it is still hard to raise funds and much of what is needed is simply perseverance. “You get to the point where people throw up their arms and say ‘I’m going to do it, anyway.’ That is the indie spirit.” www.sundance.org/festival/