Winter fest slates 103 pix

With dramatic feature submissions once again up drastically, by 25% from a year ago, the Sundance Film Festival has selected 103 features for its 1998 edition, which will take place Jan. 15-25 in Park City, Utah.

The festival, which serves as the most important discovery point and launching pad for American independent films and now ranks as one of the most eagerly anticipated film events of the year internationally, has actually cut the number of pictures it will be presenting this year, just as it has increased its overall spectator capacity and upgraded various aspects of its operations.

But evaluating the 750 submitted American fictional films, up from about 600 last year and 500 the year before that, represented a tall order for director of programming Geoffrey Gilmore and his staff.

“It was just an astounding number,” Gilmore reflected. “We’re picking 32 films, 16 each for the dramatic competition and American Spectrum, out of 700. It’s pretty depressing to think about, but an awfully high number of films are being produced that never see an audience. Fewer than 60 or so per year ever see theatrical release, and, very generously, maybe 150 ever see video. I guess it just shows that people really want to make films.”

Trying to summarize the nature of the entries this year, Gilmore said that, “If anything, this year is more difficult to classify than any other year. But there are two points. First, there are lots of ‘mainstream aesthetic’ independent films being made, lots of comedies and romantic comedies with recognizable casts, more than the dark and dysfunctional comedies we’ve seen recently. Just because it’s independently financed doesn’t mean there is necessarily an independent aesthetic.

“But second, and contrary to that, there is still a potent edgy/arty independent scene, so that there are basically two poles to the independent world now. It’s a very fresh group of filmmakers this year, a lot of new talent. We haven’t brought back many of the old familiar faces, such as the Coens and the Linklaters.”

Specifically, Gilmore was gratified by “an upturn in the number of African-American films, and they really span the spectrum from films of under $100,000 to more than $6 million. There were fewer films submitted by women in the dramatic category, and just three were selected, but 13 of the 16 documentaries have women directors. On the other hand, the trend toward films featuring female protagonists directed by men is continuing and even increasing. The most defining thing now is how eclectic the range of independent filmmaking is.”

Opening night attraction in Salt Lake City will be Peter Howitt’s romantic comedy “Sliding Doors” from Miramax, starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Jonathan Hannah. The usual retrospective series devoted to an indie stalwart has been foregone this year in favor of a focus on independent film archives related to the recently announced Sundance Collection at UCLA, and a special tribute will be staged to the late, pioneering indie director Shirley Clarke, including a screening of her film “The Connection.” The annual Piper-Heidsieck Tribute to Independent Vision will this year go to Aussie actress Judy Davis.

Following are the selections for the 1998 Sundance Film Festival.

Dramatic Competition:

“2 by 4,” directed by Jimmy Smallhome, a first film about an Irish immigrant construction worker in the Bronx who begins to explore the dark side of drugs and sex.

“Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss,” directed by Tommy O’Haver, an old-fashioned romantic comedy about a young gay photographer who becomes infatuated with a straight waiter/musician/model.

“Buffalo 66,” in which Vincent Gallo directed himself and Christina Ricci in a very offbeat tale of a former prison inmate’s attempt to impress his parents and extract revenge for his incarceration by kidnapping a young woman. Ben Gazzara and Anjelica Huston lead the list of well-known cameo performers in this CFP production.

“Hav Plenty,” Christopher Scott Cherot’s screwball comedy set in a black middle-class milieu that premiered at the Toronto fest and will be released by Miramax.

“High Art,” directed by Lisa Cholodenko, a comic lesbian romance set in the world of fashion photography starring Ally Sheedy, Radha Mitchell and Patty Clarkson.

“How to Make the Cruelest Month,” directed by Kip Koenig, a quirky film about a woman trying to realize assorted New Year’s resolutions, featuring Marianne Jean-Baptiste.

“I Married a Strange Person,” directed by Bill Plympton, an animated feature about a newlywed couple in which the man has bizarre powers.

“Jerry & Tom,” directed by Saul Rubinek, a comical hit man story starring Joe Mantegna, Sam Rockwell and Charles Durning about a newcomer being brought into a mob family. CFP produced.

“Miss Monday,” directed by Benson Lee, a London-set drama about a screenwriter who attempts to overcome his writer’s block by breaking into the flat of a female executive.

“Next Stop Wonderland,” the second film by “The Darien Gap” director Brad Anderson, a Boston-based romantic comedy about a young man and woman whose parallel lives have trouble intersecting. Stars Hope Davis.

“Once We Were Strangers,” directed by Italian emigre Emanuele Crialese, a very low-budget drama about two New York City couples, an Italian immigrant and an American femme radio host, and an Indian man and his pre-arranged bride.

“Pi,” directed by Darren Aronofsky, a bizarre B&W yarn about a math genius afflicted by paranoid demons.

“Slam,” directed by Marc Levin, a humorous look at how the prison relationship between a black poet/rapper and a mentor/teacher inspires the former to improve life on the mean streets of Washington, D.C.

“Smoke Signals,” directed by Chris Eyre, for which Sherman Alexie adapted his own novel about a Native American boy who searches the West for an understanding of his late father. Miramax will release.

“Under Heaven,” directed by Meg Richman, in which an opportunistic young couple, played by Aiden Young and Molly Parker, take a job caring for a wealthy cancer victim, played by Joely Richardson, in hopes of inheriting her fortune. Banner Releasing will distribute.

“Wrestling With Alligators,” directed by Laurie Weltz, a ’50s-“set comedy about a household of women, also featuring Joely Richardson.

Documentary Competition:

“Baby, It’s You,” directed by Anne Makepeace, about a couple in their 40s using new fertility methods to conceive.

“Beautopia,” directed by Katharina Otto, a look at four models on their way up in the fashion world.

“Decline of Western Civilization, Part III,” directed by Penelope Spheeris, a glimpse at the latest wave of punks in Hollywood.

“Divine Trash,” directed by Steve Yeager, a portrait of filmmaker John Waters.

“The Farm,” directed by Liz Garbus and Jonathan Stack, about six inmates in a maximum security prison.

“Frank Lloyd Wright,” directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, an account of the life and career of the great architect.

“Frat House,” directed by Todd Phillips and Andrew Gurland, an expose of fraternity house rituals, including hazing.

“A Letter Without Words,” directed by Lisa Lewenz, in which films taken by the filmmaker’s grandmother in pre-war Germany reveal many surprising secrets.

“Lou Reed: Rock and Roll Heart,” directed by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, a look at the iconoclastic musician.

“Modulations,” directed by Iara Lee, a hard-to-classify techno outing.

“Moment of Impact,” directed by Julia Loktev, which reveals the filmmaker’s relationship with her parents as her mother attempts to cope with her father’s near-comatose condition.

“Out of the Past,” directed by Jeff Dupre, an account of a Salt Lake City high school student’s creation of a gay/straight alliance.

“Paulina,” directed by Vicky Funari, in which a Mexican housecleaner confronts the abuses of her past.

“Slavegirls,” directed by Ellen Bruno, a look at young Burmese girls taken to work as prostitutes in Bangkok.

“Some Nudity Required,” directed by Odette Springer, a look of the exploitation film industry from the p.o.v. of a female music supervisor.

“Wild Man Blues,” directed by Barbara Kopple and which debuted at the Venice fest, a portrait of Woody Allen while on European tour with his New Orleans jazz band.

Premieres

Paul Schrader’s “The Affliction,” an adaptation of Russell Banks’ novel which showed at the Telluride and Venice fests, starring Nick Nolte, Sissy Spacek and James Coburn.

Michael Moore’s latest provocation, “The Big One,” a Miramax release which unspooled at Toronto.

Ernest Dickerson’s “Blind Faith,” a Showtime feature about a racial courtroom case in 1950s Bronx featuring Courtney Vance, Charles S. Dutton and Kadeem Hardison.

Walter Salles’ third feature “Central Station,” a highly touted drama.

Timothy Hutton’s directorial debut, “Digging to China,” starring Kevin Bacon as a mentally retarded man who develops a relationship with a young girl.

David Leland’s “Land Girls,” a British drama starring Anna Friel, Catherine McCormick and Rachel Weisz as women farm workers during World War II.

Brian Skeet’s “The Misadventures of Margaret,” this year’s only Parker Posey starrer, a U.K. comedy about a neurotic author’s increasingly involving historical research. Also features Brooke Shields.

Jennifer Leitzes’ “Montana,” another hit man saga, this one starring Kyra Sedgewick, Stanley Tucci and Robin Tunney, in which women usurp some of the roles conventionally taken by men.

Don Roos’ “The Opposite Sex,” a purported romantic comedy about homophobia starring Christina Ricci, Martin Donovan, Lisa Kudrow and Lyle Lovett which Sony Classics will release.

Teresa Connelly’s “Polish Wedding,” with Lena Olin, Gabriel Byrne and Claire Danes in a drama about a Polish family in Detroit, from Fox Searchlight.

Boaz Yakin’s “A Price Above Rubies,” starring Renee Zellweger as a woman from a Brooklyn Hasidic community tempted to stray from the constraints of tradition. Miramax will release.

Tom DiCillo’s “The Real Blonde,” a comedy about fashion and the media from Paramount starring Matthew Modine, Catherine Keener and Daryl Hannah, which premiered at the Deauville fest.

Michael Bray’s “The Sea Change,” about a successful New York stockbroker whose drunken night in Madrid provokes a change of personality.

Ted Demme’s “Snitch,” co-written by and starring Denis Leary as the head of clan of Irish gangsters in South Boston, also featuring Billy Crudup, Martin Sheen and Jeanne Tripplehorn.

David Mamet’s “The Spanish Prisoner,” a Toronto hit and Sony Classics pickup starring Campbell Scott, Rebecca Pidgeon, Steve Martin, Ricky Jay and Ben Gazzara.

American Spectrum

“ABC Manhattan,” directed by Amir Naderi, a day in the life of three women in New York City that showed in Cannes.

“Animals,” directed by Michael Di Jiacomo, a fantastical drama starring Tim Roth and featuring Mickey Rooney.

“Brother Tied,” directed by Derek Cianfrance, a bi-racial family drama in black-and-white.

“Conceiving Ada,” directed by Lynn Hershman Leeson, an intellectual, quasi-sci-fi time travel drama starring Tilda Swinton.

“Dead Man’s Curve,” directed by Dan Rosen, a thriller about two college kids who try to make a murder look like a suicide.

“First Love, Last Rites,” directed by Jesse Peretz, a regional drama about a young couple’s relationship in the bayou that showed at Toronto.

“Gods and Monsters,” directed by Bill Condon, a comic look at the relationship between gay film director James Whale (Ian McKellan) and a handsome gardener (Brendan Fraser).

“Life During Wartime,” directed by Evan Dunsky, a dark comedy about a young burglar alarm salesman starring Stanley Tucci and David Arquette.

“Melvin Van Peebles’ Classified X,” directed by Mark Daniels and produced and written by Van Peebles, who conducts an analysis of black historical representation in the cinema.

“Niagara, Niagara,” directed by Bob Gosse, a road movie starring Henry Thomas and Robin Tunney that premiered at Venice.

“One,” directed by Tony Barbieri, a gritty drama about two childhood friends with an ever-shifting relationship.

“Party Monster,” directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, a documentary with reenactments about a New York club kid, Michael Alig, who murdered a drug dealer friend.

“Relax, It’s Just Sex,” directed by P.J. Castellaneta, a romantic dramatic comedy about a group of straights and gays in L.A. starring Jennifer Tilly and Lori Petty.

“River Red,” directed by Eric Drilling, about the aftermath of the killing of a father by his two sons.

“Spark,” directed by Garrett Williams, a drama starring Brendan Sexton III about a black couple whose car breaks down in the desert en route to L.A.

“Too Tired to Die,” directed by Wonsuk Chin, about an Asian man’s weird last day on Earth, starring Mira Sorvino, Ben Gazzara and Takeshi Kaneshiro.

“Whatever,” directed by Susan Skoog, a dramatic ’80s coming-of-age piece about two teenage girls that Sony Classics has acquired.

“Wicked,” directed by Michael Steinberg, a psychological suburban horror film.

Midnight

“Blood, Guts, Bullets, & Octane,” directed by Joe Carnahan, an extremely low-budget genre piece about two men running a used car dealership.

“Cube,” directed by Vincenzo Natali, a Canadian sci-fier that showed at Toronto and Vancouver and has been acquired by Trimark.

“Orgazmo,” directed by Trey Parker, a perversely comic look at the L.A. porno industry that was a Toronto midnight hit and will be released by October Films.

“Safe Men,” directed by John Hamburg, a bizarre comedy starring Murray Lerner as a Jewish mob boss organizing his son’s elaborate Bar Mitzvah.

“Tomorrow Night,” directed by MTV latenight comedian Louis C.K., a darkly comic low-budgeter about a photo-finishing shop clerk’s weird relationships.

Frontier

“Chrysanthemum Burst Into Cinquoesquinas,” directed by Daniel Burman.

“Goshogoaka,” directed by still photographer Sharon Lockhart.

“Inside/Out,” a Cannes entry directed by Rob Tregenza.

“The Pigeon Egg Strategy,” a Hong Kong/U.S. film directed by Max Makowski.

“Scars,” directed by James Herbert, which showed in Toronto.

World Cinema

Djalma Limongi Batista’s “Bocage: The Triumph of Love.”

Rob Sitch’s Aussie smash, “The Castle.”

Patricio Guzman’s political docu, “Chile, the Obstinate Memory.”

Bruce Sweeney’s new Canadian pic, “Dirty.”

Takeshi Kitano’s Venice winner, “Hana-bi” (“Fireworks”).

Thom Fitzgerald’s Toronto sleeper, “The Hanging Garden.”

Paddy Breathnach’s Irish entry from Edinburgh, “I Went Down.”

Pal Sletaune’s Cannes hit from Norway, “Junk Mail.”

Nick Broomfield’s new effort, “Kurt and Courtney.”

John Duigan’s U.S.-lensed drama “Lawn Dogs,” with Sam Rockwell, which preemed in Montreal.

Eduardo Milewicz’s “Life According to Muriel” from France.

Manuel Pradal’s French pic “Marie Baie des Anges.”

Adolfo Aristarain’s Argentine drama “Martin (Hache),” which showed at the San Sebastian and New York fests.

Park Ki Yong’s “Motel Cactus” from South Korea, which showed at Vancouver.

Peter Sehr’s German drama “Obsession,” which preemed at Toronto.

Alejandro Amenabar’s “Open Your Eyes.”

Sabu’s “Postman Blues,” a Japanese crime world drama that debuted in Montreal.

Ulrike Koch’s Austrian “The Saltmen of Tibet.”

Alanis Obomsawin’s “Spudwrench Kahnawake Man.”

Shane Meadows’ U.K. sleeper “TwentyFourSeven,” which showed at Edinburgh and Toronto.

Sylvie Verheyde’s French entry “A Brother,” which premed at Cannes.

Carine Adler’s U.K. production “Under the Skin,” which showed at Edinburgh.

Davide Ferrario’s Italian comedy “We All Fall Down.”

Samantha Lang’s controversial Aussie Cannes entry “The Well.”

Carlos Marcovich’s Telluride and Toronto hit “Who the Hell Is Juliette?” from Mexico.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more