Sundance: What's hot, what's next
Sundance Film Festival director John Cooper knows what everyone else in the movie industry knows: The business is in turmoil.
Distributors have risen and fallen. Studios are trying to figure out how to make money in a world where people can watch movies on their iPods, computers or on-demand cable systems - often more conveniently than in a theater or visiting a DVD-rental kiosk.
But Cooper thinks it's not up to the Sundance Film Festival, where he has toiled for 20 years, to fix Hollywood's money problems.
"We can't really solve the industry," Cooper said. "Maybe let's step ourselves out of the industry and look at the filmmaking community. How do we serve them?"
That question guided Cooper in his first year as festival director (he took the reins after Geoffrey Gilmore ended his 19-year tenure in February). The question is evident in the films chosen in the noncompetition programs, the 51 feature-length titles of which were announced Thursday.
"We decided we were going to keep our focus," Cooper said, "[and] not be driven by any kind of marketability and commerciality. Let's just do what we're supposed to do."
One symbol of that new focus is the reduced number of Premiere films. Instead of trying to fill a set 20 slots, as in past years, Cooper and his staff tried to be more selective. The result: 13 films in the Premiere slate (though a 14th may surface later).
Those premieres promise the festival's biggest stars, including:
"The Runaways" » "Twilight: New Moon" stars Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning will reteam in a profile of the influential '70s all-female band. Stewart plays Joan Jett.
"The Company Men" » The directorial debut of veteran TV producer John Wells ("ER," "The West Wing") is a downsizing drama starring Ben Affleck, Kevin Costner, Maria Bello, Tommy Lee Jones and Chris Cooper.
"Get Low" » A period fable, starring Robert Duvall and Bill Murray, will be the Salt Lake City Gala on Jan. 22.
"Twelve" » A drama set in the drug-fueled world of Manhattan teens, directed by Joel Schumacher ("St. Elmo's Fire," "Batman Forever"), will be the closing-night film.
Other stars in Premiere films » Katie Holmes, John C. Reilly, Kevin Kline, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Jessica Alba, Kate Hudson, Casey Affleck, Amanda Peet and Marisa Tomei.
Another symbol of change at Sundance is the new "Next" program, which features eight "low- or no-budget" movies.
The growing movement of microbudgeted filmmaking, helped along by cheap digital cameras and editing software, is one trend Cooper's Sundance programmers have noticed over the past few years. But placing them in competition with bigger films with name actors often seemed unfair.
"More [low-budget] films were falling off the board than we felt comfortable with," Cooper said.
Just as the festival's New Frontier program signals viewers to avant-garde films, "audiences have to be contextualized for this no- and low-budget filmmaking," Cooper said. The "Next" label, Cooper said, is a sign that says "Come in, be engaged in the whole idea of low- and no-budget filmmaking, because it's happening."
Having the "Next" program doesn't mean that a microbudgeted movie can't break into the competition. Cooper cites the example of "Humpday," Lynn Shelton's low-budget bromance comedy that played in competition at Sundance 2009. " 'Humpday' would still play in competition, because it was more complete," Cooper said. "I thought it had great acting and great storytelling."
Filmmakers have embraced the "Next" program. The eight filmmakers in the "Next" slate all asked to be in it, Cooper said.
Cooper hopes to foster a community among the "Next" filmmakers. To that end, the festival will give an award to one "Next" film, voted on by the filmmakers of the eight movies in the program.
"That dream, that 'I'm going to Sundance, I'm going to sell my film to Miramax, I'm going to become a star' " isn't how these new filmmakers think, Cooper said. "They've changed, [they] know they're going to have to self-distribute. ... Most of them are asking, 'Can we sell DVDs at the screening?' "
Abel (Mexico, U.S.) » A coming-of-age drama about a peculiar boy, who blurs reality and fantasy, and must deal with his father's absence. The directorial debut of actor Diego Luna ("Y Tu Mama Tambien"), written by Luna and Agusto Mendoza.
Cane Toads: The Conquest » Writer-director Mark Lewis follows up on his cult-classic 1988 documentary, about the environmental disaster of Hawaiian cane toads released into Australia. This time, it's in 3-D (really).
The Company Men » The feature directing debut of famed TV producer John Wells ("ER," "The West Wing"), this drama follows three employees (Ben Affleck, Kevin Costner, Chris Cooper) trying to survive a round of corporate downsizing. Wells also wrote the screenplay. The cast includes Maria Bello, Tommy Lee Jones and Rosemarie DeWitt ("Rachel Getting Married").
The Extra Man » A playwright (Kevin Kline) who makes his money escorting wealthy Manhattan widows takes a young writer (Paul Dano) under his wing. Directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (the team who made "American Splendor"), written by Pulcini, Jonathan Ames and Berman. Also stars Katie Holmes, John C. Reilly, and Alicia Goranson.
Get Low » The Salt Lake City Gala film is part folk-tale, part fable and part real-life legend, about a hermit (Robert Duvall) in 1930s Tennessee who plans his own free-wheeling funeral party. Bill Murray and Sissy Spacek also star. Directed by Aaron Schneider, written by Chris Provenzano and C. Gaby Mitchell.
Jack Goes Boating » Philip Seymour Hoffman ("Pirate Radio," "Capote") directs and stars as a stoned limo driver trying to attract a girlfriend. Bob Glaudini wrote the screenplay, adapting his own play. Also stars Amy Ryan, John Ortiz, Daphne Rubin-Vega and Tom McCarthy.
The Killer Inside Me » Casey Affleck plays a respected deputy sheriff in a small Texas town - who also is a serial killer. The cast includes Kate Hudson, Jessica Alba, Simon Baker and Elias Koteas. Directed by Michael Winterbottom ("A Mighty Heart"), screenplay (adapted by the Jim Thompson novel) by John Curran.
Nowhere Boy » (United Kingdom) The teen life of John Lennon (Aaron Johnson) is depicted, as he learns family secrets and finds his musical voice. Directed by Sam Taylor Wood, written by Julia Baird (Lennon's sister) and Matt Greenhalgh (who chronicles Joy Division in "Control"). Also stars Thomas Sangster, Anne-Marie Duff and David Morrissey.
Please Give » Writer-director Nicole Holofcener ("Friends With Money") returns with a story of a New York couple in a conflict with the granddaughters of the elderly woman who lives next door. Starring Amanda Peet, Oliver Platt, Rebecca Hall, Catherine Keener and Sarah Steele.
The Runaways » A teen Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) teams with an odd record producer (Michael Shannon) in '70s Los Angeles, creating a band that would make rock history. Written and directed by Floria Sigismondi, the film also stars Dakota Fanning, Scout Taylor-Compton ("Halloween"), Alia Shawkat ("Whip It") and Tatum O'Neal.
The Shock Doctrine » A documentary based on Naomi Klein's book, which tells how governments and corporations take advantage of disasters and war to implement economic policies. Directed by Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross (who collaborated on "The Road to Guantanamo"). Presented with a panel discussion featuring Klein, Winterbottom, Whitecross and Sundance founder Robert Redford - part of the cross-country Sundance Film Festival USA program on Jan. 28.
Twelve » The festival's closing-night film, involving sex, drugs and murder among the privileged kids on Manhattan's Upper East Side. Directed by Joel Schumacher ("The Phantom of the Opera"), written by Jordan Melamed (based on a novel by Nick O'Donnell). Starring Chace Crawford ("Gossip Girl"), Emma Roberts, Kiefer Sutherland, 50 Cent and Zoë Kravitz.
Untitled Duplass Brothers Project » Brothers Jay and Mark Duplass (the guys behind "The Puffy Chair" and "Baghead") wrote and directed this comedy, about a divorced guy (John C. Reilly) who meets a new woman (Marisa Tomei) and her "interesting" son (Jonah Hill). Catherine Keener also stars.
Armless » In this comedy, a woman (Janel Moloney, "The West Wing") deals with her husband's strange secret. Directed by Habib Azar, written by Kyle Jarrow. The cast includes Daniel London, Keith Powell, Laurie Kennedy and Matt Walton.
Bass Ackwards » Writer-director Linas Phillips stars as a man who, after a disastrous affair with a married woman, hops on his modified VW bus for an unusual cross-country road trip. Also starring Davie-Blue, Jim Fletcher and Paul Lazar.
Bilal's Stand » Bilal (Julian Gant) is a Muslim high-school senior in Detroit who must choose: To work in the family's taxi stand, or compete in an ice-carving contest to win a college scholarship. Written and directed by Sultan Sharrief.
The Freebie » Dax Shepard and Kathryn Aselton (who also wrote and directed) play a married couple who decide to give each other one night with someone else.
Homewrecker » A story about "the last romantic in New York City": An ex-con locksmith on work release. Directed by Todd Barnes and Brad Barnes, who co-wrote with Sophie Goodhart. Stars Ana Reeder, Anslem Richardson and Stephen Rannazzisi.
New Low » A neurotic guy in his 20s (Adam Bowers, who wrote and directed) can't decide which girl is for him: The best one he's ever known (Valerie Jones), or the worst (Jayme Ratzer).
One Too Many Mornings » A comedy about two high-school buddies (Anthony Deptula, Stephen Hale) who, years later, reunite to learn how messed up each other's lives are. Directed by Michael Mohan, written by Deptula, Mohan and Hale.
The Taqwacores » A first-generation Pakistani Muslim engineering student in Buffalo moves into a house populated by punk Muslims, challenging his ideology. Directed by Eyad Zahra, written by Michael Muhammad Knight. The cast is led by Noureen DeWulf, Dominic Rains, Rasika Mathur, Tony Yalda and Anne Marie Leighton.
Bran Nue Dae » (Australia) A young man in an Australian fishing town, circa 1965, goes on a spiritual journey after escaping the missionary school where his mother has enrolled him. Rachel Perkins directs a script by Reg Cribb, Perkins and Jimmy Chi. Cast includes Rocky McKenzie, Jessica Mauboy, Geoffrey Rush (Oscar winner for "Shine") and Ernie Dingo.
Daddy Longlegs » A father (Ronald Bronstein) tries to cram six months of experiences for his boys (Sage Ranaldo, Frey Ranaldo ) into a two-week visit, in a story of a man on the cusp of being truly an adult. Written and directed by Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie.
Enter the Void » (France) The latest from writer-director Gaspar No (who made the disturbing "Irreversible" and "I Stand Alone"), in which a teen drug-dealer (Nathaniel Brown) is killed in Japan, but reappears as a ghost to watch over his sister. The cast includes Paz de la Huerta, Cyril Roy, Emily Alyn Lind and Jesse Kuhn.
I Am Love (Io Sono L'amore) » (Italy) Luca Guadagnino wrote and directs this tragic love story, set at the turn of the millennium in Milan. Tilda Swinton leads a cast that includes Edoardo Gabbriellini, Pippo Delbono, Alba Rohrwacher and Marisa Berenson.
Louis C.K.: Hilarious Acid-tongued comic Louis C.K. (who co-starred in "The Invention of Lying") directs this concert film of his stand-up show.
Lourdes » (Austria, France, Germany). In writer-director Jessica Hausner's drama, a woman (Sylvie Testud) in a wheelchair tries to escape her isolation by traveling to the famous shrine at Lourdes. The cast includes La Seydoux, Bruno Todeschini, Gilette Barbier, Gerhard Liebmann and Irma Wagner.
Mother & Child » Writer-director Rodrigo Garcia ("Nine Lives") tells three intersecting stories, of a physical therapist (Annette Bening), the daughter (Naomi Watts) she gave up for adoption three decades before, and a woman (Kerry Washington) trying to adopt a child of her own. The cast includes Jimmy Smits and Samuel L. Jackson.
New African Cinema » A program of three short films: "Pumzi" (South Africa), a sci-fi parable by writer-director Wanuri Kahiu envisions life in a future Africa, 35 years after World War III, called "The Water War"; "Saint Louis Blues (Un Transport En Commun)" (France, Senegal), written and directed by Dyana Gaye, about seven passengers in a taxi on the road from Dakar to Saint Louis, telling their lives through their songs; and "The Tunnel" (South Africa), by writer-director Jenna Bass, in which a young girl in 1980s Zimbabwe believes her missing father has dug a tunnel to the city - and must face reality to discover the truth.
A Prophet (Un Prophète) » (France) The Grand Prize of the Jury winner at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, this drama examines the gangster-driven underworld of a French prison. Directed by Jacques Audiard, who co-wrote with Thomas Bidegain. Starring Tahar Rahim, Niels Arestrup, Adel Bencherif, Hichem Yacoubi and Reda Kateb.
Women Without Men (Zanan-e bedun-e mardan) » (Germany, Austria, France) A look at lives in Iran in 1953, when a CIA-backed coup overturned Mohammed Mossadegh's nationalist government and installed the Shah to power. Directed and written by Shirin Neshat and Shoja Azari. Starring Pegah Ferydoni, Arita Shahrzad, Shabnam Tolouei (Munis) and Orsi Tóth.
8: The Mormon Proposition » Former KTVX reporter Reed Cowan directs this look at the role of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (you know, the Mormons) in campaigning for California's gay-marriage ban, Prop. 8.
Catfish » A New York photographer becomes enmeshed in the life of an 8-year-old painting prodigy he meets through Facebook - until a crack appears in her story. Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman.
Climate Refugees » Director Michael Nash looks at a dangerous aspect of the world's changing climate: 25 million people migrating, leading to border conflicts.
Countdown to Zero » Director Lucy Walker (whose "Waste Land" is appearing in the World Cinema Documentary competition) interviews experts and world leaders about the growing dangers of nuclear weapons and the need for total disarmament.
Life 2.0 » Jason Spingarn-Koff's documentary is billed as "an intimate, character-based drama" about the people in the virtual world Second Life.
Teenage Paparazzo » Actor Adrian Grenier ("Entourage") directs this documentary, in which he follows a 13-year-old paparazzo who took his picture, and explores the effects of celebrity on culture.
To Catch a Dollar: Muhammad Yunus Banks on America » (Bangladesh, USA) Yunus, who won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for his micro-loan bank in Bangladesh, tries to extend the program to poor people in Queens, N.Y. Directed by Gayle Ferraro.
Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks » Dan Klores ("Crazy Love") directs this look at the Indiana Pacers' star and how his performance in the 1995 Eastern Conference semifinals made him hated across New York City.
Park City at Midnight
Buried » (Spain, USA) Ryan Reynolds ("The Proposal") stars as a U.S. contractor in Iraq, who wakes up buried alive inside a coffin. Directed by Rodrigo Cortes, written by Chris Sparling.
Frozen » Three skiers (Emma Bell, Shawn Ashmore, Kevin Zegers) are stranded on a chairlift, forced to make bigger choices than just whether to fall or freeze. Kane Hodder, the classic Jason Voorhees, also stars. Written and directed by Adam Green ("Hatchet").
HIGH school » A high-school valedictorian (Sean Marquette) takes his first hit of pot at the same time he must take a random drug test - so he devises a plan to get the entire student body high. Directed by John Stalberg Jr., written by Erik Linthorst, Stalberg and Stephen Susco. The cast includes Matt Bush, Adrien Brody, Michael Chiklis, Colin Hanks, Mykelti Wiliamson, Andrew Wilson, Yeardley Smith, Michael Vartan, Curtis Armstrong, Erica Phillips and Adhir Kaylan.
7 Days » (Canada) When his young daughter is murdered, a doctor seeks revenge by kidnapping, torturing and killing her killer. Directed by Daniel Grou, written by Patrick Senecal. The cast includes Rmy Girard, Claude Legault, Fanny Mallette, Martin Dubreuil and Rose-Marie Coallier.
The Perfect Host » A criminal (Clayne Crawford) on the lam cons his way into a dinner party, but learns the host (David Hyde Pierce) is out of the ordinary. Directed by Nick Tomnay, who wrote the script with Krishna Jones. Also starring Helen Reddy and Nathaniel Parker.
Splice » (France, Canada) Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley play genetic researchers who develop a new animal species - but the inclusion of human DNA means the experiment goes horribly wrong. Directed by Vincenzo Natali ("Cube"), who co-wrote with Antoinette Terry Bryant and Doug Taylor. Guillermo Del Toro is executive producer.
Tucker & Dale vs. Evil » (Canada) Two vacationing hillbillies set up shop in a dilapidated mountain cabin, but some nearby college students accuse them of being serial killers. Directed by Eli Craig, who co-wrote with Morgan Jurgenson. The cast includes Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk ("Firefly"), Katrina Bowden and Jesse Moss.
The Violent Kind » The Butcher Brothers (also known as Michael Altieri and Phil Flores) wrote and directed this horror yarn, about bikers who party in a farmhouse when they are tormented by something mysterious. The cast includes Taylor Cole, Christina Prousalis, Tiffany Shepis, David Fine and Joseph McKelheer.
All My Friends Are Funeral Singers » A fortune teller (Angela Bettis) traps ghosts in an old house - but when a light appears in the woods, the ghosts begin to rebel. Written and directed by Tim Rutili.
Double Take » (Germany, Netherlands) A history professor who's a double for Alfred Hitchcock uses montages of news clips to discuss the Cold War, sexual politics, blackmail and the hijacking of movies by TV, in director Johan Grimonprez's film. Mark Perry provides Hitchcock's voice, Ron Burrage his physical presence.
Memories of Overdevelopment » In writer-director Miguel Coyula's film, a Cuban intellectual contrasts his underdeveloped home to the wildness of the developed West. Salt Lake maverick filmmaker Trent Harris has a small role.
Oddsac » Director Daniel Perez mixes the music of Animal Collective with "an earthy, psychedelic experimental narrative."
Pepperminta » (Austria, Switzerland) A young woman (Ewelina Guzik) with an anarchist's imagination is at the center of this movie, directed by Pipilotti Rist (who co-wrote with Chris Niemeyer) and tied to Rist's exhibit in the New Frontier on Main collection at Park City's Main Street Mall.
Utopia in Four Movements » Co-director Sam Green narrates a "live documentary" about "the battered state of the utopian impulse" in the new millennium. Experimental musician Dave Cerf, the other co-director, provides the soundtrack.
The 2010 Sundance Film Festival runs Jan. 21-31 in Park City -- and in venues in Salt Lake City, Ogden and the Sundance resort in Provo Canyon. Registration for individual ticket sales runs through Dec. 11; registration for locals-only ticket sales (for Utah residents) closes Friday, Dec. 4. Go to http://festival.sundance.org" Target="_BLANK">festival.sundance.org for details.