The Sundance Film Festival will be back in January — and, this time, it’s coming for your children.
Organizers of the annual movie event announced Thursday a program of independent films aimed at young audiences — a first for the Sundance Institute’s 30th year running what has become America’s pre-eminent film festival.
To foster the new Sundance Kids program, festival organizers reached out to the Utah Film Center and its Tumbleweeds Film Festival.
The idea behind Sundance Kids, said festival director John Cooper, is “really tied into a goal to start building appreciation at a younger age for independent film.”
Sundance already conducts outreach programs for high-school and college students. This new program will bring in movies aimed, generally, at moviegoers 8 and older.
Details are forthcoming, but screenings for Sundance Kids films tentatively are planned for matinees on the festival’s two weekends, Jan. 18-19 and 25-26 — at venues in Park City and Salt Lake City, as well as the Sundance resort in Provo Canyon.
Sundance approached the Utah Film Center this summer about collaborating on a children’s-film program for Sundance, according to Patrick Hubley, the film center’s artistic director and the founder of Tumbleweeds.
“They came to us and said, ‘We’ve seen what you’ve been doing,’ ” Hubley said.
“They’re in the trenches more than us,” Cooper said of Tumbleweeds. “They travel to the film festivals that specialize in these films.”
“We started prospecting and looking for new films to show,” Hubley said, “and there were some films that were submitted [to Sundance].”
The Sundance Kids program is starting small, with two films on the slate:
• “Ernest & Celestine,” an animated France/Belgium/Luxembourg co-production about a mouse and a bear that form an unlikely friendship. The English-language version — with a voice cast that includes Forest Whitaker, Mackenzie Foy (“Breaking Dawn, Part 2”), Lauren Bacall, Paul Giamatti, William H. Macy and Megan Mullally — will make its world premiere at Sundance.
• “Zip & Zap and the Marble Gang,” an adventure from Spain about two kids who are sent to a re-education center, where they discover a secret hidden deep within the school. Hubley called the movie “super-charming and lovely.”
The connection to Sundance is likely to bring international attention to Tumbleweeds, which will return to Salt Lake City for its fourth year in March.
“I hope we gain some recognition for the festival and expanding the film landscape for children,” said Hubley, who left a job in Sundance’s press office in 2007 to pursue his dream of starting Tumbleweeds.
Hubley also has a family connection to Sundance: He met his future wife, Sarah Pearce, at the festival. She is now co-managing director of the Sundance Institute.
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