SUNDANCE SLOPES PACKED

Sexual politics – both gay and straight – and slicker-looking pics mark the bursting-at-the-seams Sundance Film Festival, which runs Jan. 16-26 in Park City, Utah, and boasts more films than ever in its lineup.

Fest director Geoffrey Gilmore and his programming staff fielded a record 800 submissions for the 127 feature slots in the event, the world’s leading showcase for American independent fare. Of these, 600 were dramatic features, repping a 20% increase over the previous year, which itself saw 35% more submissions than the year before.

“Three years ago, there were 250 films entered for the dramatic competition,” Gilmore said. “So the question we all ask is, ‘Where are all these films coming from?’

“The answer is, everywhere. They come from the traditional sources of regional filmmaking, they come financed by TV, cable, former exploitation filmmakers who are raising their sights, and from Hollywood types who are getting into executive producing independents. Maybe 20% of them were self-financed and cost under $100,000, and there are three $25,000 pictures in the festival.

“But perhaps the best illustration of how independent filmmaking has grown is that, in the past, we had one submission from Milwaukee, whereas this year we had four. It’s the same everywhere. What used to be a few regional films is now an outpouring.”

As for this year’s crop, Gilmore said that, stylistically, indie productions, even the lowest-budget ones, are generally slicker-looking than before, a testament to the skill and experience of technicians as well as to new film stocks. “You just don’t have as many dirt-cheap independent films that look crappy unless they are bad, and there are also fewer gritty films.”

On the other hand, Gilmore said, “This year, we have a more cerebral festival across the board. There is not nearly as much melodrama as last year, perhaps not as many that you can call strong audience films. A lot of filmmakers are getting into a range of difficult subjects, which shows that independent films still represent a place for telling different stories than Hollywood will tell.”

Gilmore noted that, along with more of the sort of specifically gay and lesbian fare that has been a staple of recent fests, this year features a number of films probing and questioning sexual and political viewpoints.

“There are several films with triangles and even quadrangles among lesbians, women and men,” he revealed. “There is more and more crossover in these sexual areas, and several of these films might be considered very politically incorrect. But I think we’re seeing not only a new generation of filmmakers, but a new generation of filmmakers who have something to say, and not in a reactive way to what’s come before.”

Gilmore also noted an increase in black films at the festival, as well some representation from Hispanic and Asian filmmakers.

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.

Among changes to look for this year are two new 150-seat theaters in the Yarrow Hotel, in addition to a 125-seat venue in the same facility that will host press screenings. The fest will not be using the Olympia Hotel this year.

A new 800-900-seat theater is under construction at the foot of Main Street, and should be ready for the 1998 fest, and discussions are under way about two potential multiplexes that may be built in Park City.

To increase the fest’s capacity, the number of daily screening slots at each theater has been upped from five to six. Instead of beginning at 10 a.m., the first show of the day will start at 9 a.m., while the final program will hit the screens as late as 11 or even 11:30 p.m.

This policy will add 2,000 seats per day, and 20,000 over the course of the entire event. In addition, a second Salt Lake City venue has been added, as well as a new facility in Ogden.

The opening night attraction in Salt Lake on Jan. 16 will be Mark Herman’s British comedy-drama, “Brassed Off,” starring Pete Postlethwaite, Tara Fitzgerald and Ewan McGregor, which Miramax will release domestically. Four out of the last five opening night features have been British.

Richard Linklater’s “Suburbia,” an adaptation of Eric Bogosian’s play from Castle Rock that played the New York Film Festival and will be distributed by Sony Classics, will formally kick things off in Park City the following night.

The 10 other premieres are the following: * Gilles Mimouni’s “L’Appartement,” a suspense love pentagon from France starring Vincent Cassel and Romane Bohringer that scored in its preem at the San Sebastian fest.

* Steven Vidler’s “Blackrock,” an Australian study of how a group of young men deal with a rape and murder.

* Tom DiCillo’s “Box of Moonlight,” a comic fable starring John Turturro that showed in Venice and Toronto.

* Kevin Smith’s “Chasing Amy,” a romantic comedy from Miramax in which a young man (Ben Affleck) falls in love with a lesbian (Joey Lauren Adams).

* Arturo Ripstein’s “Deep Crimson,” a Mexican take on the “Honeymoon Killers” story that was well received in San Sebastian and Toronto.

* Errol Morris’ “Fast, Cheap & Out of Control,” a long-in-the-works pic from the iconoclastic filmmaker, consisting of five episodes that combine to create a consideration of the nature of human and animal life on the planet.

* Vondie Curtis Hall’s “Gridlock’d,” the much-anticipated Tim Roth-Tupac Shakur starrer from Gramercy about two heroin addicts trying to kick the habit.

* Robert Downey Sr.’s “Hugo Pool,” a picaresque satire about a dysfunctional family and Los Angeles’ future with Alyssa Milano, Cathy Moriarty, Sean Penn and Robert Downey Jr.

* David Lynch’s “Lost Highway,” a modern film noir from October Films toplining Bill Pullman and Patricia Arquette.

* Shirley Barrett’s “Love Serenade,” an Aussie comedy hit at Cannes that Miramax will handle stateside.

* Joe Mantello’s “Love! Valour! Compassion!,” an adaptation of Terrence McNally’s hit play, to be distributed by Fine Line, starring the original Broadway cast with the exception of Jason Alexander, who fills the Nathan Lane role.

* Juan J. Campanella’s “Love Walked In,” a drama starring Denis Leary and Terence Stamp.

* Gregg Araki’s “Nowhere,” a stylized ensemble comedy that satirizes the blank generation types who have populated his films to this point, from Fine Line.

* Steve James’ “Prefontaine,” a low-budget Disney feature about the late track star, portrayed by Jared Harris.

* Victor Nunez’s “Ulee’s Gold,” about a Florida beekeeper (Peter Fonda), who learns to warm to family responsibility when he is forced to care for his two grandchildren upon his son’s incarceration. Pic will be the fest’s centerpiece premiere, and will be distribbed by Orion.

Set for the dramatic competition are the following features: * Alex Sichel’s “All Over Me,” a lesbian coming-of-age tale that will be released be Fine Line.

* Hannah Weyer’s “Arresting Gena,” another coming-of-age story; pic was developed through the Sundance Lab.

* DeMane Davis, Harry McCoy and Khari Streeter’s “Black & White & Red All Over,” an examination of the relationships among several black men.

* Jill Sprecher’s “Clockwatchers,” a comedy about two temps played by Toni Collette and Parker Posey.

* Robert Bella’s “Colin Fitz,” a comedy about two security guards assigned to watch the grave of a famous rock star.

* Ira Sachs’ “The Delta,” which showed at Toronto, about a young Asian gay man and his relationship with a middle-class white man.

* Tim Blake Nelson’s “Eye of God,” about the difficult relationship after an ex-con marries a woman he’s corresponded with while in prison. Martha Plimpton and Hal Holbrook star.

* Eric Lea’s “George B.,” a rags-to-riches-to-rags fable toplining David Morse.

* Mark Pellington’s “Going All the Way,” from Lakeshore, a story of sexual awakening in ’50s Indianapolis starring Jeremy Davis, Ben Affleck and Rose McGowan.

* Mark Waters’ “House of Yes,” from Spelling, which stars Parker Posey and Genevieve Bujold in a story of conflict within a New England family.

* Morgan J. Freeman’s “Hurricane,” an edgy entry about a young teen gang.

* Neil LaBute’s “In the Company of Men” limns two men who have been burned by women and conspire to return the favor.

* Theodore Whitcher’s “Love Jones,” a New Line release about the black rap poetry club scene.

* Bart Freundlich’s “The Myth of Fingerprints,” a Sony Classics pickup from Good Machine, about a dysfunctional family coming together. Blythe Danner, Roy Scheider, Noah Wyle, Gary Cole and Tina Majorino star.

* Andrew Shea’s “Santa Fe,” a parody of New Age teaching and belief systems starring Lolita Davidovich.

* Kristine Peterson’s “Slaves to the Underground,” from First Look, about a young woman in the underground Seattle music scene.

* Vin Diesel’s “Strays,” a low-budget study of a bodybuilder and drug dealer who hooks up with a young middle-class woman and tries to change his life.

* Jonathan Nossiter’s “Sunday,” an offbeat story of a mental outpatient and a woman who thinks he is a director with whom she has once worked.

The following films were selected for the documentary competition: * Robbie Leppzer’s “Act of Conscience,” about war tax resisters who lose their house to the IRS and fight to get it back.

* Macky Alston’s “Family Name,” in which a white filmmaker traces his genealogy back to pre-Civil War days, with interesting results.

* Laura Angelica Simon’s “Fear and Learning at Hoover Elementary,” a look at the effects of Proposition 187 on Latino kids at an L.A. school.

* Rick Tejada-Flores and Ray Telles’ “The Fight in the Fields, Cesar Chavez and the Farmworkers’ Struggle,” a biographical study of the late labor leader.

* Judith Helfand’s “A Healthy Baby Girl,” about the effects on the filmmaker from the drug DES that her mother took 25 years before.

* Su Friedrich’s “Hide and Seek,” an experimental semi-docu about the childhoods of lesbians.

* St. Clair Bourne’s “John Henrik Clarke: A Great and Mighty Walk,” a biographical consideration of the Afrocentric historian that played at Toronto.

* Arthur Dong’s “Licensed to Kill,” a no-holds-barred look at gay-bashing.

* Mark J. Harris’ “The Long Way Home,” an epic account of what happened to the Jews after the Nazi concentration camps were liberated that continues through the formation of Israel.

* Jane Wagner and Tina DiFeliciantonio’s “Madonna Mia,” which looks at several girls throughout their Catholic high school careers.

* Renee Tajima’s “My America (or Honk If You Love Buddha),” about the experiences of the filmmaker as she travels across the United States.

* Gina Reticker’s “New School Order,” which depicts the attempted takeover of school boards by the Christian Right and the fight to stop it by a Pennsylvania community.

* Monte Bramer’s “Paul Monette: The Brink of Summer’s End,” a study of the gay writer.

* Pamela Yates and Peter Kinoy’s “Poverty Outlaw,” an indictment of the welfare system from a progressive p.o.v. that looks at the formation of a women’s welfare rights org in Philadelphia.

* Lexy Lovell and Michael Uys’ “Riding the Rails,” about men who traveled the country on freight trains during the Depression.

* Kirby Dick’s “Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist,” an extremely graphic survey of the life and work of a performance artist who specialized in gruesome self-mutilation.

In its second year, the Spectrum section has been increased by two titles, to 22 entries. They are: Mark Schwahn’s “35 Miles From Normal”; Jeremy Horton’s “100 Proof”; Matthew Carnahan’s “Black Circle Boys”; Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman’s documentary “Blacks and Jews”; Finn Taylor’s “Dream With the Fishes”; Constance Marks’ “Green Chimneys”; Hal Salwyn’s “His & Hers”; Julie Davis’ “I Love You … Don’t Touch Me!”; Tony Vitale’s “Kiss Me, Guido”; Stephen Kay’s “The Last Time I Committed Suicide”; Rod McCall’s “Louis & Clarke & George”; Sarah Jacobson’s “Mary Jane’s Not a Virgin Anymore”; Robert Celestino’s “Mr. Vincent”; Tami Gold and Kelly Anderson’s “Out of Work;”; Jay Chandrasekhar’s “Puddle Cruiser”; Sam Green’s “The Rainbow Man”; Ross McElwee’s “Six O’Clock News”; Miguel Arteta’s “Star Maps”; Michael Oblowitz’s “This World, Then the Fireworks”; Ross Marks’ “The Twilight of the Golds”; William Gazecki’s “Waco: The Rules of Engagement”; and John O’Hagan’s “Wonderland.”

The World film section has been expanded by five pictures, bringing the total to 35 features: * Daniel Gruener’s “All of Them Witches” from Mexico.

* Jean-Pierre Bekolo’s “Aristotle’s Plot” from France and Zimbabwe.

* Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s “La Bouche De Jean Pierre” (Jean Pierre’s Mouth); and Jan Kounen’s “Le Dernier Chaperon Rouge” (The Last Red Riding Hood), both from France.

* Wu Nien-jen’s “Buddha Bless America” from Taiwan.

* Peter Duncan’s “Children of the Revolution” from Australia.

* Dana Ranga’s “East Side Story” from the U.K..

* Chul Soo Park’s “Farewell My Darling” from South Korea.

* Monica Pellizzari’s “Fistful of Flies” from Australia.

* Isaka Satoshi’s “Focus” from Japan.

* Isaac Julien’s “Franz Fanon: Black Skin White Mask.”

* Peter Cattaneo’s “The Full Monty” from the U.K.

* Marc Evans’ “House of America” from Wales.

* Sergio Cabrera’s “Ilona Arrives With the Rain” from Colombia.

* Peter Wellington’s “Joe’s So Mean to Josephine” from Canada.

* Lynne Stopkewich’s “Kissed” from Canada.

* Jan Sverak’s “Kolya” from the Czech Republic.

* Jose Araujo’s “Landscapes of Memory” from Brazil.

* John Greyson’s “Lillies” from Canada.

* Helke Misselwitz’s “Little Angel” from Germany.

* Emma Kate Croghan’s “Love and Other Catastrophes” from Australia.

* Miguel Bardem, Alfonso Albacete and David Menkes’ “Not Love, Just Frenzy” from Spain.

* Jorge Ali Triana’s “Oedipus Mayor” from Colombia.

* Magnus Isacsson’s “Power” from Canada.

* Sergei Bodrov’s “Prisoner of the Mountains” from Russia.

* Michael Hausman’s “Rhinoceros Hunting in Budapest” from Hungary.

* Antonio Tibaldi’s “Running Against” (Correre Contro) from Italy.

* Alberto Lecchi’s “Salt in the Wound” from Argentina.

* Masayuki Suo’s “Shall We Dance” from Japan.

* Coky Giedroyc’s “Stella Does Tricks” from the U.K.

* Lucia Murat’s “Sweet Powers” from Brazil.

* Chen Kaige’s “Temptress Moon” from China.

* Abolfazle Jalili’s “A True Story” from Iran.

* Kevin Allen’s “Twin Town” from Wales.

* Cedric Klapisch’s “When the Cat’s Away” from France.

The Frontier section for experimental work includes the following films: * Elia Suleiman’s “Chronicles of a Disappearance” from Palestine.

* Betzy Bromberg’s “Divinity Gratis.”

* William E. Jones’ “Finished.”

* Andrew Kotting’s “Gallivant” from the U.K.

* “Moebius,” by the Cinema Collective of the U. of Buenos Aires.

Five Midnight attractions will be screened:

* Kelly Sane’s “Franchesca Page,” about a drag queen.

* Mike Mendez’s “Killers,” a parodistic genre piece about two escaped cons who take a family hostage.

* Frank Grow’s “Love God,” an oddball “blob” picture from Good Machine that was shot on digital video.

* John Waters’ “Pink Flamingos,” a relaunch from Fine Line of the seminal underground classic.

* Stuart Gordon’s “Space Truckers,” a British sci-fier starring Dennis Hopper, Stephen Dorff and Debi Mazar that may be the most expensive film ever shown at Sundance.

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