The gatekeepers

Sundance's p'gramming unit

Led by longtime Sundance topper Geoffrey Gilmore, the fest’s programming team is a brainy and talented bunch, with backgrounds ranging from singing and skiing to biomedical engineering and religious studies.

John Cooper
Tenure: 15 years
Backstory: Gilmore’s right- hand man, Cooper is more than a triple threat: He studied acting, singing and dancing, wrote and directed for the New York stage and performed in an award-winning tight-harmony trio. He began as a volunteer at the Sundance Labs, moved into programming shorts, and became programming director in 2002. Also programmed Outfest: The Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival for four years.
Pet projects: Festival trailers. “Why be afraid to take chances in the trailers?” he says. “People go out on a limb and audi-ences respond to the risk.” On this year’s selection: “As independent film is maturing, the films are more complicated and the characters are more complicated like in ‘The Woodsman’ and ‘Crystal,’ or even in the comedies like ‘Garden State.'”

Trevor Groth
Tenure: 10 years
Backstory: From Idaho and Utah, Groth, an avid skier, managed a small, “groovy” videostore in Salt Lake City, and then began interning at the Sundance Film Festival in 1992. He worked as a driver at the Sundance Filmmaker Labs, trafficking participants like Paul Thomas Anderson and Lisa Krueger, and later moved into programming. In 2002, Groth also became the programming director for CineVegas (Las Vegas Film Festival).
Pet projects: “Two of my favorite sections that don’t get as much hype are the Midnights and Shorts programs. In these sections you can find films that explode with originality and often take chances that bigger-budget films cannot.”

Shari Frilot
Tenure: 6 years
Backstory: Frilot studied biomedical engineering at Harvard-Radcliffe, received a degree in government and then went into filmmaking. After a four-year run producing for public TV, she ran the New York Lesbian and Gay Experimental Film Festival, made a short and programmed Outfest.
Pet projects: Frontier. “I’ve worked to introduce a performance element into the section,” she says. “This year, we are featuring an experimental love and abduction story with live band soundtrack entitled ‘Loma Lynda.’ ”

Caroline Libresco
Tenure: 3 years
Backstory: Beginning on an academic track (an M.A. in history of religion from Harvard), Libresco then “had a revela-tion about film — that it was also a way of looking at constantly refashioned ancient stories.” Associate director of the San Fran-cisco Jewish Festival, senior publicist for the San Francisco Intl. Film Festival and a programmer for the Independent Television Service (ITVS), she also wrote and produced “Fanci’s Persuasion,” produced “Barrier Device” and, most recently, the docu “Sunset Story.”
Pet projects: World Cinema. “Our World Cinema section this year is full of extraordinary films from an eclectic and rarely represented array of countries: Burkina Faso, Guatemala, Pakistan, Peru, Congo and India.”

N. Bird Runningwater
Tenure: 3 years
Backstory: Born and raised on the Mescalero Apache Reservation in New Mexico, Runningwater took up journalism and Native American Studies at the U. of Oklahoma, received a Master of Public Affairs from the U. of Texas, and moved to New York City. He’s committed to making Native American voices heard in the broader media by working for such orgs as the Ford Foundation and Native American Public Telecommunications.
Pet projects: Native Forum. “I think it’s an historic occasion when a Native American film (Chris Eyre’s ‘Edge of Amer-ica’) opens the festival. By having this film as our opening night film, I think it fulfills Sundance’s commitment to Native films. It’s taken 20 years and I think that’s a great moment to celebrate.” Another highlight: the first film ever produced from Fiji, “The Land Has Eyes.”

Diane Weyermann
Tenure: 2 years
Backstory: A former director of arts and culture program at the Open Society Institute and director of the Soros Documentary Fund, she’s practiced public interest law for four years, and directed and produced indie docs in Chicago. She also holds an MFA in film and initiated Sundance’s world docu section, which launched last year.
Pet projects: Documentary. “Of particular interest this year are a number of films focusing on the global post-9/11 political climate — including stories involving the restrictions of civil liberties, backlash against immigrants, the war on terrorism, the role of the media and military interventions.”

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