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Shining at Sundance
by Piya Sinha-Roy January 24, 2013
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The 2012 top Sundance prize winner, Beasts of the Southern Wild, picked up four Oscar nominations, including best picture, director for first-time filmmaker Benh Zeitlin and actress for 9-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis, who had never acted before. “That’s why we’re here,” Redford said. “When somebody comes out of nowhere and with our support goes somewhere, that’s a real pleasure to me.”

Movie executives and first-time directors trudging through the snow this year at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah will find tales of pornography and addiction awaiting them, in a trend to show more skin at Robert Redford’s annual film showcase.

Showing in theatres alongside the Steve Jobs biopic jOBS, festival goers can catch a movie about adult film star Linda Lovelace, played by Amanda Seyfried in Lovelace, and British publishing magnate Paul Raymond, played by Steve Coogan in Michael Winterbottom’s The Look of Love.

“Love and relationships are an area that people are naturally interested in but it has been so taboo that there haven’t been a lot of films that get into the complexities of it,” Trevor Groth, the festival’s director of programming, told Reuters.

“Now those audiences are hungry for them,” he added, “and filmmakers are feeling confident that there’s an audience for those stories.”

One of the hotly anticipated premieres was comedy Don Jon’s Addiction, actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut about a love addict who tries to change his ways. Gordon-Levitt, who plays the title role leads a star-studded cast including Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore, who play two women who help the addict become less selfish.

In its 35th year, the annual Sundance Film Festival, held in the snowy streets of Park City, Utah, has become a launch pad for low-budget films and unknown stars in films that need investors.

Co-founded in 1978 by actor-director Redford, this year’s 119 films were culled from 12,000 submissions. The ten-day festival, from Jan. 17 to 26, showcases the films in competitions and low-key premieres that serve as an antidote to Hollywood’s glittering awards season.

Sundance has also become a more star-studded affair. This year’s roster is expected to bring A-listers such as Nicole Kidman and Jacki Weaver, who star in the mysterious thriller Stoker, and Naomi Watts in the passionate drama Two Mothers.

Even in death, Apple CEO Steve Jobs is the festival’s biggest star. The biography jOBS, starring Ashton Kutcher as the entrepreneur, claimed the coveted spot closing the festival.

It was selected in part because festival organisers wanted to take advantage of the late computer executive’s enduring popularity, said Sundance director John Cooper. It didn’t hurt that the film is already selling well with buyers, he added.

Gordon-Levitt, 31, is no stranger to Sundance, having featured in festival entries such as Brick in 2005 and more recently the indie comedy (500) Days of Summer, which went on to become a box office hit in 2009.

“Sundance is more than a festival, or even an institution. It’s a community,” the actor said in an email. “Whether making films or watching them, Sundance folks have a deep love of cinema.”

The festival helped catapult the former child star into mainstream movie roles such as The Dark Knight Rises and Inception. His next film is the noir thriller Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, alongside Clive Owen and Jessica Alba.

The diverse roster of films appeals to buyers, said Lia Burman, executive vice president of acquisitions at independent film company FilmDistrict. She said In A World, actress Lake Bell’s directorial debut about a vocal coach’s attempt to become a star, was getting “unbelievable buzz.”

“Each Sundance seems to have themes and this one seems to have a more sexual coming-of-age trend ... a theme is either uplifting or challenging, and this one, it seems like they’ve chosen a more uplifting list,” Burman said.

Documentary directors will also use the Sundance platform to shine a spotlight on bigger social issues, such as economic inequality, a topic that organisers believe would resonate closely with Americans after last year’s presidential debates.

The widening income gap in America is explored by economic policy expert Robert Reich in Inequality for All, while “99% -The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film,” delves into the Occupy Wall Street movement.

The documentary roster also featured RJ Cutler’s film The World According to Dick Cheney, which profiles the former US vice president, and Alex Gibney’s We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks, about the new era of information transparency.

“All the films have a certain fearlessness to all the subjects they take on,” Cooper said. “That’s what we’re drawn to, the originality of a story.”


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