Film festival kicks off with 'In Bruges' premiere

Sundance 2008 is about the cult of the new.

As Robert Redford took the stage at Park City’s Eccles Theatre to officially open the 24th Sundance Film Festival with the Focus Features/Film4 anarchic gangster comedy “In Bruges,” he told the assembled “guests, attendees, journalists, agents and especially filmmakers” that “one of the exciting things is to see the percentage of new filmmakers this year,” he said, many of them crossover artists from theater, music, poetry and art.

Among the 50 rookie filmmakers at Sundance this year is “In Bruges” helmer Martin McDonagh, a London-born playwright-turned-filmmaker who introduced shaggy stars Brendan Gleeson (who starred in his Oscar-winning 2006 short “Six-Shooter”) and Colin Farrell. Both attended the Sundance world premiere and earned rousing applause at screening’s end. The pic opens Feb. 8.

Earlier in the day at the fest’s opening day press conference, Redford said that some of this year’s crop of new filmmakers reject baby-boomer nostalgia: “They don’t want to inherit anything. They want to do new things. And that’s exciting.” Asked about his daughter, Amy, the actress-turned-director of “The Guitar,” Redford answered: “I’m here as her dad. Her work is here on its own.”

At the Eccles Thursday night, fest director Geoff Gilmore added that while Sundance views itself as “the premiere showcase of the full spectrum of American independent film shown every year, we also view ourselves as a festival of international work. The festival has evolved and grown and yet we’re still the same festival of discovery and we will remain that way.”

With 100 titles actively seeking acquisition this year, a full complement of hungry buyers are looking to fill holes in their slates, and sellers are braced for fevered action as screenings get under way Friday morning. Acquisitions execs face a packed schedule Friday, including “Sunshine Cleaning,” starring Amy Adams and Emily Blunt, Marianna Palka’s “The Good Dick,” Amy Redford’s “The Guitar,” and “The Wackness,” a comedy starring Ben Kingsley as a drug-addled psychiatrist. As Picturehouse prexy Bob Berney said on snowy Main Street outside The Lift, where a jammed “In Bruges” party was under way, “everybody will be at the same screenings.”

Saturday brings the fest’s potentially most commercial pic for sale, “What Just Happened?,” directed by Barry Levinson and starring Robert DeNiro.

Several modest deals were announced on Thursday. HBO picked up writer Elvis Mitchell and photographer-filmmaker Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’ doc “The Black List: Volume One.” The film makes its world premiere on Tuesday at Sundance, and features dramatic portraits of such African American icons as Sean Combs, Kareen Abdul-Jabbar and Suzan-Lori Parks.

Celluloid Dreams acquired international rights to competition entry “Ballast,” directed by rookie helmer Lance Hammer. The movie was sold by William Morris Independent, which is still seeking a U.S. buyer.

In the fest’s first deal, Zeitgeist Films grabbed Yung Chang’s doc “Up the Yangtze,” which premieres Friday in the doc competition.

Michael Jones, Winter Miller and Dade Hayes contributed to this article.

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