Festival slots 81 world premieres

See more: More Sundance titles revealed

Films that explore individual ways of coping with a distressed world mark the lineup of the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, which unspools Jan. 17-27 in Park City, Utah.

Eighty-one world premieres are among the 121 feature films set for the nation’s premier indie fest, which saw an all-time-high 2,051 narrative features and 1,573 documentaries submitted from around the world this year.

Fest director Geoffrey Gilmore noted that the films on view this year are surprisingly “not as political or social issue-oriented as last year. There’s more personal expression about the daily aspects of lives, about people’s state of mind. The fact is that the world around us is a very troubled place, but the response of the filmmakers isn’t always dark but is about people finding a way through it and about persevering, not succumbing. You sense the need for an escape from the exhausting pressures of reality.”

That said, Gilmore allowed that “this festival is as hard to typify as any we’ve ever done. There’s such a range and disparity to the work, as well as a quality of surprise and distinctiveness. The differences are not so much aesthetic as in the points of view, in a way of understanding the reality around us. They deal with the pain of existence and an awareness of the existential dilemma, but the solutions are not ideological but personal, and often told through dark comedy.”

Director of programming John Cooper agreed. “Since the world seems a little dark to people,” he said, “they’ve turned to comedy, although comedy with a dark turn to it.” While fest programmers try to keep a very close watch on what filmmakers are up to, Cooper admitted that “this year, a lot of people came out of the woodwork. A lot of the directors are ones we didn’t even know about” — a statement bolstered by the presence of pics from 51 first-time filmmakers in the lineup.

In the realm of documentaries as well, Gilmore noted a move toward the personal voice he believes marks a development of the form. “There used to be a ‘professional class’ of documentary filmmakers that sort of dominated the field, but now you feel they’re coming from lots of places. Maybe because of Michael Moore, more documentary filmmakers are putting themselves at the center of their work and are making personal investigation films, like, this year, ‘Trouble the Water,’ ‘Traces of the Trade’ and ‘A Complete History of My Sexual Failures.'”

Gilmore also suspects that the blogging phenomenon that has unleashed a torrent of personal opinion online may, in a way more metaphorical than literal, have influenced the filmmakers. Quite a few films depict, or reflect upon, the artistic process, including documentaries about Hunter S. Thompson, Patti Smith and Roman Polanski. Gilmore revealed that so many docs about filmmakers, musicians and other artists were submitted, the entire section could have been filled up with them alone.

Structurally, only minor alterations have been made for Sundance ’08. The Premieres section, which will be announced today along with lineups for the Spectrum, Midnight and New Frontier sidebars, has been beefed back up to 24 titles. To keep the overall total the same, however, Spectrum has been reduced to 19 entries, including seven in the new Documentary Spotlight.

The 16 entries apiece in the Dramatic and Documentary Competition sections are all world premieres. Dramatic category had 1,068 submissions, while 953 docs were received.

DRAMATIC COMPETITION

“American Son,” directed by Neil Abramson (“Without Air”) and written by Eric Schmid, concerns a Marine’s four-day leave and his attempt at a romance before being sent into active duty. With Nick Cannon, Tom Sizemore and Chi McBride.

“Anywhere, U.S.A.,” directed by and starring Anthony (Chusy) Haney-Jardine and written by Haney-Jardine and Jennifer Macdonald, is an experimental, three-part feature about manners, prejudice and family dynamics.

“Ballast,” directed and written by Lance Hammer, offers a lyrical look at the effect of a tragedy on an impoverished family in the Mississippi Delta.

“Choke,” directed and written by Clark Gregg, is a raw mother-son comedy starring Sam Rockwell and Anjelica Huston, based on a novel by Chuck Palahniuk (“Fight Club”).

“Downloading Nancy,” directed by Johan Renck and written by Pamela Cuming and Lee Ross, is a very dark study of a terminally unhappy woman’s tortured love affair. Maria Bello, Jason Patric, Rufus Sewell and Amy Brenneman star.

“Frozen River,” directed and written by Courtney Hunt, stars Melissa Leo as a woman on New York’s Mohawk Reservation who takes up illegal-immigrant smuggling to survive.“Good Dick,” directed and written by Marianna Palka, stars Palka as a vulnerable young woman drawn into a relationship with a videostore clerk. “The Last Word,” directed and written by Geoff Haley, is an irreverent romantic comedy centering on a reclusive writer-for-hire of suicide notes. Winona Ryder, Wes Bentley and Ray Romano star in the ThinkFilm release.

“The Mysteries of Pittsburgh,” directed and written by Rawson Marshall Thurber (“Dodgeball”), is an adaptation of Michael Chabon’s first novel concerning sexual exploration and a tense father-son relationship. Jon Foster, Peter Sarsgaard, Sienna Miller, Mena Suvari and Nick Nolte star.

“North Starr,” directed and written by Matthew Stanton, concerns a Houston man who, after witnessing his best friend’s murder, moves to a backward rural town.

“Phoebe in Wonderland,” directed and written by Daniel Barnz, is an unusual coming-of-age tale about a girl (Elle Fanning) who takes her dysfunctional family on an unexpected journey. Felicity Huffman, Patricia Clarkson, Bill Pullman and Campbell Scott star.

“Pretty Bird,” directed and written by Paul Schneider, is an archetypal American story about three entrepreneurs whose partnership goes awry in nasty ways. Billy Crudup, Paul Giamatti, Kristen Wiig and David Hornsby star.

“Sleep Dealer,” directed by Alex Rivera and written by Rivera and David Riker, is a social commentary-infused sci-fier about three strangers who attempt to break through future technological barriers to connect in a world of closed borders and virtual labor.

“Sugar,” directed and written by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, features Algenis Perez Soto as a Dominican baseball star recruited to play in the U.S. minor leagues.

“Sunshine Cleaning,” directed by Christine Jeffs and written by Megan Holley, stars Amy Adams and Emily Blunt as sisters who try to climb out of poverty by working in biohazard removal and crime scene clean-up. Steve Zahn, Alan Arkin and Clifton Collins Jr. star.

“The Wackness,” directed and written by Jonathan Levine, is a comedy about a teen drug dealer (Josh Peck) who falls for the daughter of his drug-taking shrink (Ben Kingsley).Famke Janssen, Olivia Thirlby, Mary Kate Olsen and Method Man also star.

DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION

“An American Soldier,” directed and written by Edet Belzberg, looks at one of the U.S. Army’s top recruiters.

“American Teen,” directed and written by Nanette Burstein, is an irreverent, frank account of four Indiana high school seniors.

“Bigger, Stronger, Faster,” directed by Christopher Bell and written by Bell, Alexander Buono and Tamsin Rawady, follows three brothers (including the filmmaker) who use steroids.

“Fields of Fuel,” directed by Josh Tickell, follows Tickell as he takes on “big oil, big government and big soy” while proselytizing for energy alternatives.

“Flow: For Love of Water,” directed by Irena Salina, confronts the possibility that Earth’s supply of this essential liquid is dwindling.

“Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson,” directed by Alex Gibney, looks at the late author’s prime period of 1965-75 via previously unavailable home movies, audio recordings and unpublished manuscripts.

“The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo” is directed and written by Lisa F. Jackson, who traveled to the Congo war zones to record the testimony of rape survivors.

“I.O.U.S.A.,” directed by Patrick Creadon, is an examination of the United States’ precarious financial condition that also advances ideas to avoid national economic disaster.

“Nerakhoon” (The Betrayal), directed by Ellen Kuras and written by Kuas and co-director Thavisouk Phrasavath, is the culmination of a 20-year project to portray the struggle of the latter’s family to survive the impact of U.S. foreign policy in Laos and to understand his father’s involvement in the war.

“The Order of Myths,” directed and written by Margaret Brown, concerns the 2007 Mardi Gras in Mobile, Ala., where the event remains segregated.

“Patti Smith: Dream of Life,” directed and written by Steven Sebring, is a 12-year project that offers an intimate portrait of the poet-musician.

“Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired,” directed by Marina Zenovich and written by Zenovich, Joe Bini and P.G. Morgan, focuses on the director’s decision to flee his legal problems in the U.S.

“Secrecy,” directed by Peter Galison and Robb Moss, investigates the world of government secrecy.

“Slingshot Hip Hop,” directed by Jackie Reem Salloum, looks at Palestinian rappers.

“Traces of the Trade: A Story of the Deep North,” directed by Katrina Browne, co-directed by Alla Kovgan and Jude Ray, written by Browne and Kovgan, is a fresh look at personal history by descendants of the largest slave-trading family in America.

“Trouble the Water,” directed by Tia Lessin and Carl Deal, incorporates the video diary of a young couple and family who struggled to survive post-Katrina despair and difficulty.

WORLD CINEMA DRAMATIC COMPETITION

There were 983 submissions from 15 countries in this category.

“Absurdistan” (Germany), directed by Veit Helmer, written by Helmer, Zaza Buadze, Gordan Mihic and Ahmet Golbol, concerns a sex strike by village women that threatens a young couple’s first night together.

“Blue Eyelids” (Mexico), directed by Ernesto Contreras, concerns the ramifications of a single woman’s winning of a beach trip for two.

“Captain Abu Raed” (Jordan), directed and written by Amin Matalqa, follows an aging airport janitor who relates tall tales to local kids who think he’s a pilot.

“The Drummer” (Hong Kong), directed and written by Kenneth Bi, is the story of a man who matures from reckless gangster to serious grownup due to the influence of Zen drumming.

“I Always Wanted to Be a Gangster” (France), directed and written by Samuel Benchetrit, consists of four episodes in which aspiring hoods discover whether they’re up to a life of crime. Sergi Lopez and Jean Rochefort star.

“Just Another Love Story” (Denmark), directed and written by Ole Bornedal (“Nightwatch”), concerns the unanticipated effects on a family man of an auto accident that causes a woman’s amnesia.

“King of Ping Pong” (Sweden), directed by Jens Jonsson and written by Jonsson and Hans Gunnarson, pivots on an acrimonious relationship between two young brothers.

“Mancora” (Spain/Peru), directed by Ricardo de Montreuil and written by Oscar Torres, is about a grieving young man who journeys to the titular beach town in Peru.

“Megane” (Glasses) (Japan), directed and written by Naoko Ogigami, is a Zen comedy depicting a life change occasioned by a vacation at an odd beach community.

“Mermaid” (Russia), directed and written by Anna Melikyan, concerns a girl whose ability to make wishes come true hits reality when she goes to Moscow as a young woman.

“Perro come Perro” (Dog Eat Dog) (Colombia), directed by Carlos Moreno and written by Alonso Torres and Moreno, is a crime drama about two hoods who sign their own death warrants when they bungle a job.

“Riprendimi” (Good Morning Heartache) (Italy), directed by Anna Negri and written by Negri and Giovanna Mori, centers on a married couple with a baby who are breaking up while a documentary is being made about them.

“Strangers” (Israel), directed and written by Erez Tadmor and Guy Nattiv, depicts a love affair between an Israeli man and a Palestinian woman during the World Cup finals in Germany.

“Under the Bombs” (Lebanon), directed by Philippe Aractingi and written by Aractingi and Michel Leviant, concerns a woman who engages a taxi driver to drive her through areas just bombed by Israel in 2006 in search of her sister and son.

“The Wave” (Germany), directed by Dennis Gansel and written by Gansel and Peter Thorwarth, looks at the unintended consequences of a teacher’s experiment to demonstrate what life is like under a dictatorship.

“The Wind and the Water” (Panama), directed and written by a collective, concerns two very different encounters between an indigenous teenage boy new to Panama City and an alluring girl from a wealthy family.

WORLD CINEMA DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION

There were 620 submissions from 10 countries in this category.

“Alone in Four Walls” (Germany), directed and written by Alexandra Westmeier, focuses on Russian teens whose life confined to a rural home for delinquents may be preferable to freedom.

“The Art Star and the Sudanese Twins” (New Zealand), directed and written by Pietra Brettkelly, concerns a woman’s obsessive desire to adopt Sudanese twin orphans, raising questions about Western attitudes concerning Africa.

“Be Like Others” (U.K.), directed by Tanaz Eshaghian, looks at young Iranian men choosing to undergo sex-change surgery.

“A Complete History of My Sexual Failures” (U.K.), directed by Chris Waitt, follows the filmmaker as he consults the women in his life, past and present, to learn exactly how the opposite sex views him.

“Derek” (U.K.), directed by Isaac Julien, is an artistic illumination of the life and work of the late British filmmaker Derek Jarman.

“Dinner With the President” (Pakistan), directed and written by Sabiha Sumar and Sachithanandam Sathananthan, is an interview-driven report on the state of mind of Pakistanis.

“Durakovo: The Village of Fools” (France), directed and written by Nino Kirtadze, is a look at Russian nationalism through the activities of a right-wing leader training initiates at a castle near Moscow.

“In Prison My Whole Life” (U.K.), directed by Marc Evans and written by Evans and William Francome, probes U.S. history and the justice system through the case of death row inmate Mumia Abu Jamal.

“Man on Wire” (U.K.), directed by James Marsh, looks back at the 1974 stunt in which a Frenchman danced on a wire suspended between New York’s Twin Towers.

“Puujee” (Japan), directed and written by Kazuya Yamada, concerns a Japanese photographer whose subject is a girl who tames wild horses on the Mongolian plains.

“Recycle” (Jordan), directed and written by Al Massad, follows a man’s struggle to support his family in the tense hometown of Iraqi Al Qaeda leader Al-Zarqawi.

“Stranded: I’ve Come From a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains” (France), directed and written by Gonzalo Arijon, depicts survivors of the famous 1974 Andes plane crash telling their stories first-hand for the first time.

“Triage: Dr. James Orbinski’s Humanitarian Dilemma” (Canada), directed by Patrick Reed, follows former Doctors Without Borders head James Orbinski as he returns to Africa to assess the harsh conditions and explore the meaning of humanitarian work.

“Up the Yangtze” (Canada), directed and written by Yung Chang, is a portrait of a changing China through the experiences of young people from the Three Gorges Dam area who take jobs on a cruise ship.

“The Women of Brukman” (Canada), directed and written by Isaac Isitan, is an account of how poor workers who take over a Buenos Aires clothing factory adjust to becoming self-managers.

“Yasukuni” (Japan), directed and written by Li Ying, probes the controversy surrounding Japanese officials paying homage at the Yasukuni shrine, where swords used to kill Chinese were forged.

See more: More Sundance titles revealed

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