As a Sundance Film Festival veteran, director Ry Russo-Young wondered whether "Before I Fall," which is based on a popular young-adult novel, was a good fit.
"I'm glad that they saw it did belong," Russo-Young said in a phone interview. She was at Sundance in 2009 with "You Won't Miss Me" and in 2012 with "Nobody Walks," which won a special jury prize.
"Before I Fall," which already has a distribution deal and is scheduled to open in theaters nationwide in March, tells the story of the beautiful and popular Samantha (Zoey Deutsch), who is killed in a car crash while riding home with her popular friends.
Then she wakes up the next day, and the next, and the next, with the chance to do things over.
"It's about who you want to be before you die, which are really fascinating questions that we should all be asking ourselves at any age," said Russo-Young, 35. "The movie really speaks to dark, angsty teenage questions, but it also speaks to larger themes, like what is it to live your life honestly and truthfully."
It's the kind of movie that will appeal to the young-adult set, a group that Sundance wants to court.
From movies to special programs such as Ignite, Sundance attempts to attract the filmmakers and audiences of tomorrow, said senior programmer Charlie Reff.
"[Festival director John] Cooper has a real kind of passion for doing youth-based programming and getting youth excited about film and filmmaking," Reff said.
Along with "Before I Fall," Reff pointed to a couple of other titles at this year's festival that might appeal to young adults: the documentary "Chasing Coral," which features a young scientist who is "very smart and incredibly passionate" about environmental issues and coral; and "Give Me Future," about the youth culture of Cuba as told through the visit of electronic dance music group Major Lazer in 2016.
Russo-Young said that what makes the story of "Before I Fall" so appealing to teens is that it incorporates lots of dark stuff kids are dealing with: mean girls, cliques, bullies and their own mortality. Author Lauren Oliver was so adept at "balancing plot and emotional storytelling" that the storyline hews very close to the book.
"There are lines taken straight from the book itself. It's a testimony to how strong the book was," she said.
But adults will enjoy the movie, too, she said.
"George Carlin said, 'At 68, I'm every age I ever was.' All adults have been teenagers and we remember that time, and there is part of us that is still this person."
Screening at Sundance
"Before I Fall" (Premieres) screens two more times before the festival ends Sunday: Friday, 6 p.m., at Sundance Mountain Resort; and Saturday, 10 p.m., at Holiday Village Cinema 4 in Park City.