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Sundance opens, Redford praises Utah’s special location
(Rick Egan  | The Salt Lake Tribune)   

Robert Redford talks about this year's Sundance Film Festival at the festival's opening press conference at the Egyptian theater in Park City, Thursday, January 17, 2013.
(Rick Egan  | The Salt Lake Tribune)   

Salt Lake Tribune film critic, Sean Means (left) listens as Robert Redford talks about this year's Sundance Film Festival at the festival's opening press conference at the Egyptian theater in Park City, Thursday, January 17, 2013.
(Rick Egan  | The Salt Lake Tribune)   

Robert Redford listens to questions from the audience at the opening press conference of the Sundance Film Festival at the Egyptian theater in Park City, Thursday, January 17, 2013.
(Rick Egan  | The Salt Lake Tribune)   

Robert Redford talks about this year's Sundance Film Festival at the festival's opening press conference at the Egyptian theater in Park City, Thursday, January 17, 2013.
(Rick Egan  | The Salt Lake Tribune)   

Robert Redford talks about this year's Sundance Film Festival at the festival's opening press conference at the Egyptian theater in Park City, Thursday, January 17, 2013.
(Rick Egan  | The Salt Lake Tribune)   

Sundance Institute Director Keri Putnam talks about this year's Sundance Film Festival at its opening press conference at the Egyptian theater in Park City, Thursday, January 17, 2013.
(Rick Egan  | The Salt Lake Tribune)   

Salt Lake Tribune film critic, Sean Means (left) listens as Robert Redford talks about this year's Sundance Film Festival at its opening press conference at the Egyptian theater in Park City, Thursday, January 17, 2013.
(Rick Egan  |  The Salt Lake Tribune)  
Salt Lake Tribune film critic, Sean Means, left, Robert Redford, Sundance Institute Director Keri Putnam and festival Director John Cooper talk about this year's Sundance Film Festival at its opening press conference at the Egyptian theater in Park City in January.
(Rick Egan  | The Salt Lake Tribune)   

Robert Redford talks about this year's Sundance Film Festival at its opening press conference at the Egyptian theater in Park City, 
Thursday, January 17, 2013.
(Rick Egan  | The Salt Lake Tribune)   

Robert Redford greets some of his guests after the opening press conference of the Sundance Film Festival at the Egyptian theater in Park City, Thursday, January 17, 2013.
(Rick Egan  | The Salt Lake Tribune)   

Sundance Institute Director Keri Putnam (left) listens as festival Director John Cooper (right) talks about this year's Sundance Film Festival at its opening press conference at the Egyptian theater in Park City, Thursday, January 17, 2013.
(Rick Egan  | The Salt Lake Tribune)   

Robert Redford greets some of his guests after the opening press conference of the Sundance Film Festival at the Egyptian theater in Park City, Thursday, January 17, 2013.
(Kim Raff  |  The Salt Lake Tribune)  
Director Cherien Dabis stands for photos on the red carpet for the premiere of "May in the Summer" at the Eccles Theatre during the Sundance Film Festival in Park City on January 17, 2013.
(Kim Raff  |  The Salt Lake Tribune)  
Director Cherien Dabis gives interviews on the red carpet for the premiere of "May in the Summer" at the Eccles Theatre during the Sundance Film Festival in Park City on January 17, 2013.
(Kim Raff  |  The Salt Lake Tribune)  
People take their seats before the premiere of "May in the Summer" at the Eccles Theatre during opening night of the Sundance Film Festival in Park City on January 17, 2013.
(Kim Raff  |  The Salt Lake Tribune)  
Director Cherien Dabis introduces her film for the premiere of "May in the Summer" at the Eccles Theatre during the Sundance Film Festival  in Park City on January 17, 2013.
(Kim Raff  |  The Salt Lake Tribune)  
The cast of "May in the Summer" stands for photographs on the red carpet for the premiere at the Eccles Theatre during the Sundance Film Festival in Park City on January 17, 2013.

Park City • America’s most prestigious film festival opened with a global feel Thursday night — with a Nebraska-born director premiering a movie she shot in Jordan, an American star featured in a Chilean movie, and a British-made documentary about a Mexican-American border mystery.

"It just feels like I’m coming home every time I come here," said writer-director Cherien Dabis, as she introduced her comedy-drama "May in the Summer" as the first U.S. film in the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.

Sundance Institute founder Robert Redford told the Eccles Theatre audience that Dabis holds a special place in independent film, as she was a fellow at Sundance’s first filmmakers’ lab in Jordan. She was working on her first feature, "Amreeka," a cross-cultural comedy that debuted at Sundance in 2009.

"I’m one of those filmmakers who can honestly say I would not have a career without the Sundance Institute," Dabis said.

Festival director John Cooper praised Dabis for sheer courage. "She has taken perhaps the most frightening step for a director — she has stepped in front of the camera," Cooper said.

In "May in the Summer," Dabis stars as May, one of three sisters — all products of an American father (Bill Pullman) and a Jordanian mother (Hiam Abbass). The sisters return to Jordan for May’s impending wedding to a fellow academic (Alexander Siddig), but she finds that even in the desert it’s possible to get cold feet.

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Dabis, whose father is Palestinian and mother is Jordanian, filmed part of "May in the Summer" in her mom’s apartment. "I’m sorry I went through your drawers on camera," Dabis said to her mother, who was in the audience.

Dabis recounted that when "Amreeka" was accepted into Sundance, she called her mother with the news. "She said, ‘My God, Cherien, that is so exciting. But what is Sunny-Dance?’ " Dabis said, adding triumphantly, "Mom, this is Sundance!"

Other movies debuting at Sundance on Thursday night were: "Who Is Dayani Cristal?" a British documentary about an unidentified migrant’s body found in the Arizona desert; "Crystal Fairy," a drama by Chilean director Sebastian Silva starring the American actor Michael Cera; and the musical documentary "Twenty Feet From Stardom," about the lives of back-up singers.

The 2013 Sundance Film Festival continues Friday with a full slate of screenings in Park City, as well as shows at venues in Salt Lake City, Ogden and the Sundance resort. The festival runs through Jan. 27.

Earlier, at the festival’s opening press conference, Sundance Institute executive director Keri Putnam proclaimed that the 2013 festival will screen movies from 32 countries. Yet much of the morning discussion revolved around Sundance’s singular place in Utah.

In the beginning years, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, observers questioned the decision to hold the film festival in Utah, founder Robert Redford told the standing-room-only crowd at the Egyptian Theatre. Redford said he’d reply, "Why not?" and then explain that he wanted to insulate the independent film festival from the commercial demands of Los Angeles and New York City.

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Another New Year, another chance to Sundance

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