Sights & sounds

Sundance Film Fest director Geoffrey Gilmore and his programming staff fielded a record 800 submissions for the 127 feature slots in this year’s event, the world’s leading showcase for American independent fare. Of these, 600 were dramatic features, representing a 20% increase over the previous year.

All but two of the 18 films in the dramatic competition are first features, and all but one are world premieres. Overall, 127 features, including eight in the Rainer Werner Fassbinder retrospective, will be presented, in addition to two Native American programs, five bills of shorts and seven seminars.

The opening night attraction in Salt Lake City on Jan. 16 will be Brit helmer Mark Herman’s “Brassed Off,” mak-ing its North American premiere. The comedy-drama stars Pete Postlethwaite, Tara Fitzgerald and Ewan McGre-gor. Richard Linklater’s “Suburbia,” an adaptation of Eric Bogosian’s play that screened at the New York Film Festival, will formally kick things off in Park City the following night, while the world premiere of “Prefontaine,” which marks “Hoop Dreams” director Steve James’ return to Sundance, will be the centerpiece of a simultaneous opening festival celebration in Provo.

Other highlights include such sidebars as American Spectrum, which will showcase 22 American dramatic and documentary films playing out of the main competition; World Cinema, which includes 35 indie features from Europe, Latin America and Asia; and Frontiere, designed to promote a “cutting-edge, risk-taking attitude toward the art of filmmaking.”

Also featured will be the Piper-Heidsieck Tribute to Independent Vision, which this year will recognize the work of actor-writer-director Tim Robbins.

The following includes the fest’s world premieres and the films competing for dramatic and documentary prizes:

WORLD PREMIERES

* Steve Vidler’s debut feature “Blackrock” probes the impact of a violent crime in a small Australian beach town. Based on a play by Nick Enright (“Lorenzo’s Oil”).

* Kevin Smith’s “Chasing Amy,” the third part of his “New Jersey trilogy,” is about a comic book artist (Ben Af-fleck) who is infatuated with a lesbian colleague (Joey Lauren Adams).

* Arturo Ripstein’s “Deep Crimson” is an unsettling film about a lonely woman who falls for a rake. With Regina Orozco, Daniel Gimenez Cacho.

* Errol Morris (“The Thin Blue Line”) offers four modern versions of the myth of Sisyphus in “Fast, Cheap & Out of Control.”

* Vondie Curtis Hall’s urban comedy “GRIDLOCK’d,” follows the exploits of two performance artists/addicts and stars the late Tupac Shakur Tim Roth and Thandie Newton.

* Robert Downey’s picaresque “Hugo Pool” details the offbeat adventures of a pool cleaner (Alyssa Milano). With Patrick Dempsey, Robert Downey, Jr., Richard Lewis, Cathy Moriarty, Sean Penn and Malcolm McDowell.

* David Lynch’s “Lost Highway” draws its plot and characters from film noir staples and stars Bill Pullman, Balthazar Getty and Patricia Arquette in a double role.

* Joe Mantello’s adaptation of Terrence McNally’s Tony-winning play “Love! Valour! Compassion!” stars Jason Alexander and John Glover.

* Directed by Juan Jose Campanella, “Love Walked In” stars Dennis Leary as a down-and-out entertainer at a Hamptons nightclub.

* Gregg Araki’s “Nowhere” is described as “a surreal, supersaturated ‘Beverly Hills 90210’ episode on acid” and stars John Ritter, Beverly D’Angelo, Shannen Doherty and Traci Lords.

* “Hoop Dreams” director Steve James returns with “Prefontaine,” biopic about Steve Prefontaine, known as “the James Dean of track and field,” with Jared Leto, Ed O’Neill and Lindsay Crouse.

* Victor Nunez’s “Ulee’s Gold” centers on a Florida beekeeper who is forced to care for his rebellious granddaughters. With Peter Fonda, Patricia Richardson.

DRAMATIC COMPETITION

* Alex Sichel’s “All Over Me” is an uncompromising coming-of-age film that follows the adventures of a morose teenager and her affairs of the heart.

* Hannah Weyer’s “Arresting Gena” chronicles one remarkable summer in the life of its 16-year-old protagonist.

* DeMane Davis, Harry McCoy and Khari Streeter’s “Black and White and Red All Over” provides an insightful look at a group of six friends and how they are forced too examine their roles in black society.

* Jill Sprecher’s “The Clockwatchers” follows a group of temps and how they survive the day-to-day slings and arrows of office politics. With Toni Collette, Lisa Kudrow, Parker Posey.

* Robert Bella’s witty “Colin Fitz” focuses on two security guards who are hired to watch over the grave of a dead rock star. With William H. Macy, Martha Plimpton and Julianne Phillips.

* Ira Sach’s “The Delta” chronicles the brief liaison between a rich white boy and a working-class émigré in Mem-phis.

* Hal Holbrook, Kevin Anderson and Martha Plimpton star in Tim Blake Nelson’s “Eye of God,” a study of small-town lives in the desolate Oklahoma oil fields.

* David Morse stars as the honest, enigmatic lead in Eric Lea’s “George B,” a Chandleresque tale peopled with eccentric characters. With Grace Zabriskie, Nina Siemaszko.

* Mark Pellington’s “Going All the Way” is a solid adaptation of Dan Wakefield’s novel of coming of age in the 1950s and stars Jeremy Davies, Jill Clayburgh and Lesley Ann Warren.

* A woman meets her dysfunctional future in-laws in Mark Water’s outrageous dark comedy, “The House of Yes.” With Genevieve Bujold, Parker Posey, Josh Hamilton, Tori Spelling.

* Morgan J. Freeman’s “Hurricane” offers a compelling portrait of underprivileged teens growing up in lower Manhattan.

* Two unhappy junior execs dream up a shady plan to feel better about themselves in Neil LaBute’s “In the Com-pany of Men.”

* Theodore Witcher’s “love jones” tells the story of an “amour fou” between a struggling poet and a photographer who meet in a smoke-filled club.

* Bart Freundlich’s hilarious “The Myth of Fingerprints” visits a “typically American family” as they brace themselves for Thanksgiving dinner. With Blythe Danner, Roy Scheider, Noah Wyle, Julianne Moore.

* Religious cults, New Age lifestyles and state politics figure in Andrew Shew’s sharply observed “Santa Fe.” With Gary Cole, Lolita Davidovich.

* Kristine Petersen’s “Slaves to the Underground” visits the alternative subcultures that have popped up in the clubs and coffeehouses of Seattle. With Bebe Neuwirth, Molly Gross.

* Vin Diesel’s “Strays” is described as a “multicultural ‘Saturday Night Fever,’ ” and stars Diesel himself in the lead role of a studly New York City drug dealer.

* Jonathan Nossiter’s “Sunday” chronicles a radiant day in the life of two tormented middle-aged people (David Suchet and Lisa Harrow).

DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION

* Robbie Leppzer’s “An Act of Conscience” tells the story of a couple who have refused to pay their federal income taxes for years. Martin Sheen narrates.

* Macky Alson’s “Family Name” follows the filmmaker’s quest for his African-American ancestors.

* Laura Angelica Simon’s “Fear and Learning at Hoover Elementary” probes the disastrous effects of California’s recently passed Prop. 187.

* Ray Telles and Rick Tejada-Flores’ “The Fight in the Fields: Cesar Chavez and the Farmworkers Struggle” documents the beginnings of the Chicano movement.

* Jane Wagner and Tina DiFeliciantonio’s “Girls Like Us” looks at what it means to be a teenage girl in a South Philadelphia working-class neighborhood.

* Judith Helf’s “A Healthy Baby Girl” offers a personal look at the effects of the DES drug on pregnant women and their families.

* St. Claire Bourne’s “John Henrik Clarke: A Great and Mighty Walk” is a stroll through 5,000 years of African history as seen though the eyes of the self-taught historian. Narrated by Wesley Snipes.

* Mark Jonathan Harris’ “The Long Way Home” follows the lives and struggles of concentration camps survivors.

* Renee Tajima-Pena’s “My America … or Honk If You Love Buddha” travels coast to coast to shatter stereotypes about America’s so-called “model minority.”

* Gini Reticker’s “New School Order” focuses on the trend of school boards falling under the control of right-wing religious groups.

* Narrated by Linda Hunt, Monte Bramer’s “Paul Monette: The Brink of Summer’s End” offers a portrait of the acclaimed author, who died of AIDS in 1995.

* Pamela Yates and Peter Kinoy’s “Poverty Outlaw” is a first-person account of one woman’s struggle to live on and off welfare.

* Michael Uys and Lexy Lovel’s “Riding the Rails” takes a tender look at the lives of teenage freight-train riders.

* Kirby Dick’s “Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist” offers a window on the twisted world of the late performance artist.

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