Sundance goes up close and personal

13 of 16 pics in dramatic competish are debuts

This article was updated at 9:00 p.m.

“This is the first year when I feel we have films from a real post-9/11 world,” fest director Geoffrey Gilmore noted of the lineup of the 2004 Sundance Film Festival. “Just as we did after the 1950s, we’ve lost a degree of insularity and comfort that we had in the 1990s. The films are not broad or about the big picture, but about the disruption of everyday life, with a search for knowledge and meaning about what’s going on in a specific world, often in an alternate reality.”

As difficult as it is to generalize about a festival culled from 688 submissions to the dramatic competition alone, Gilmore also noted that, after a lull in recent years, the number of entries from black filmmakers and on black-themed subject matter is way up. “We can’t explain it. It’s just there,” he said, pointing to 11 such pictures in the fest that will take place Jan. 15-25 in Park City, Utah.

Otherwise, it will be business pretty much as usual, with 16 films apiece in the dramatic competition (all but three of them first films) and the documentary competition, along with 13 titles in the American Spectrum category, four of them documentaries. (Premieres and entries in the World, Special Screenings, Midnight and other sections will be revealed today.)

As previously announced, the opening-night event will be switched for the first time from Salt Lake City to the Eccles Theater in Park City, with the party to follow at Deer Valley’s Snow Park Lodge. Gilmore explained that the move, the result of talks that have been going on for a couple of years, can partly be explained by the fact that “Park City has grown up a lot. The Olympics marked a big change.”

Gilmore also emphasized that civic leaders have been very much involved in discussions on how to curb what many, including Gilmore himself, last year felt was the unwanted proliferation of non-fest-related partying, promotions, activities and people, factors that at some points made it difficult to even get around in the small mountain community and contributed to a new level of glitzy annoyance.

In the wake of widespread negative reaction to this new surge of Hollywoodization, Gilmore said, “I can’t ban limousines and tell people they can’t come or tell sponsors they can’t rent a space on Main Street.”

What fest administrators can do, however, is to point out that “limousines can barely turn onto Main Street and, without being heavy-handed about it, we can get PR people involved and advise them strongly on how to organize events properly.

“Festivals are such platforms these days for other people’s interests. You go to any major festival in the world — Cannes, Toronto, Sundance — and they’re platforms for so much publicity. Anything is allowable. Park City is a small town, but the Olympics taught the city a lesson: that you have to plan these things and that long-range benefits often outweigh short-term profits.”

Assessing this year’s crop of films, Gilmore noted the ongoing difficulty of defining what exactly constitutes an independent film. “The films are so eclectic, and independence can mean so many different things. The range of films that came out last year was so vast. You’ve got older filmmakers and younger filmmakers, and I think there’s a maturation of our audience that can embrace work that is different, from ‘American Splendor’ and ‘Capturing the Friedmans’ to ‘The Cooler’ and ‘Pieces of April.’ And look at how successful “Lost in Translation’ has been.”

Sundance director of programming John Cooper argued, “The trends may not be apparent on paper. But there are no longer films about loners. It’s dealing with family, the group. There are also films about inner demons and moral quandaries, not so much in black-and-white terms but in shades of gray.”

Gilmore amplified that, stressing, “It’s not as if people are making a harangue or a judgment, but they’re exploring moral and societal issues that deal with the fundamental problems of how people lead their lives. There’s a sense of reflection going on by people not entirely sure of what they know, because they’re not certain of how the world around them functions at this point.”

The number of submissions to the dramatic competition — 688 — was actually down from the 750 assessed for the same category a year ago. All other categories, however, saw increases in submissions: For the docu competition, 541 were sent in, vs. 513 last year; 798 foreign titles were submitted, up from 372 a year ago, while 402 foreign docus applied for slots in the World Documentary category, introduced last year, when 193 films were submitted.

Following are the films entered in the 2004 Sundance Film Festival:


  • “The Best Thief in the World,” the second feature from writer-director Jacob Kornbluth (previously at Sundance with “Haiku Tunnel”), a New York City-set family drama about a weird 11-year-old boy who breaks into people’s apartments in order to mess with their minds. Stars Mary-Louise Parker, Audra McDonald, Michael Silverman, David Warshofsky, Lois Smith and Margo Martindale.

  • “Book of Love,” from writer-director Alan Brown, the story of how an odd teenage boy disrupts the marriage of a high school history teacher and his restless wife in an academic community. With Frances O’Connor, Simon Baker, Gregory Smith and Bryce Dallas Howard.

  • “Brother to Brother,” written and directed by Rodney Evans, a look at the relationship between a black gay art student and the James Baldwin-esque figure of an elder statesman of the Harlem Renaissance who inspires him. Co-produced by Jim McKay, pic stars Aunjanue Ellis, Earle Hyman, Anthony Mackie and Larry Gilliard Jr.

  • “Chrystal,” written and directed by Ray McKinnon, about an Ozarks couple who try to pull themselves together after the man comes home from prison in the wake of a car crash that left his wife badly injured and their child missing. Pic stars Lisa Blount, Billy Bob Thornton, Colin Fickes, Walt Goggins, Kathryn Howell, James Intveld, Max Kasch, Harry J. Lennix, McKinnon, Harry Dean Stanton and Grace Zabriskie. McKinnon and Blount won an Oscar for their live-action short “The Accountant” in 2002.

  • “Down to the Bone,” directed by Debra Granik and written by Granik and Richard Lieske, a study of an upstate New York grocery store checker who struggles to raise two sons and keep her marriage going while supporting a secret cocaine habit. With Vera Farmiga, Hugh Dillon, Clint Jordan and Caridad De La Luz. Granik’s short “Snake Feed” won at Sundance several years ago.

  • “Easy,” written and directed by Jane Weinstock, about a female “jerk magnet” who tries to make the right choice between two seemingly good men with whom she becomes involved. Pic, starring Marguerite Moreau, Brian F. O’Byrne, Naveen Andrews, Emily Deschanel, John Rothman, Caroline Goodall, DB Woodside and Lanette Ware, was previously shown at the Toronto Film Festival.

  • “Evergreen,” written and directed by Enid Zentelis, a dark coming-of-age story about class in which a girl from an impoverished family becomes involved with a boy from an affluent family in the Pacific Northwest. Pic features Cara Seymour, Mary Kay Place, Bruce Davison, Noah Fleiss, Gary Farmer, Lynn Cohen and Addie Land.

  • “Garden State,” written and directed by “Scrubs” co-star Zach Braff, who stars in the comedy as a young man who returns home for the first time in a decade to attend his mother’s funeral and is immersed in the world he left behind. Pic also stars Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Ian Holm, Jean Smart, Rob Liebman and Method Man.

  • “Harry and Max,” the fourth film from Sundance regular Christopher Munch, about the twisted relationship between two brothers, an over-the-hill 24-year-old boy-band singer and an up-and-coming 16-year-old teen idol. With Bryce Johnson, Cole Williams, Rain Phoenix, Tom Gilroy, Michelle Phillips and Justin Zachary.

  • “Maria Full of Grace,” written and directed by Joshua Marston, about the precarious journey of a 17-year-old rural Colombian girl who transports a half-kilo of heroin from South America to the U.S. The HBO Films presentation features Catalina Sandino Moreno, Yenny Paola Vega, Guilied Lopez, John Alex Toro, Patricia Rae and Orlando Tobon.

  • “Napoleon Dynamite,” directed by Jared Hess and written by Jared and Jerusha Hess, a tongue-in-cheek film about a total nerd from Idaho who, upon hitting bottom, “uses his dance and ninja skills to triumph over adversity.” Pic features Jon Heder, Jon Gries, Efren Ramirez, Aaron Ruell, Tina Majorino, Haylie Duff, Diedrich Bader, Sandy Martin, Shondrella Avery, Ellen Dubin, Emily Kennard and Carmen Brady.

  • “November,” directed by Greg Harrison, whose “Groove” was shown at Sundance, and written by Benjamin Brand. Pic’s a mysterious drama with reality-vs.-fantasy overtones via Antonioni and Lynch about a woman whose life splinters after her boyfriend is shot to death in a convenience store. Pic stars Courteney Cox, James LeGros, Michael Ealy, Nora Dunn, Nick Offerman and Anne Archer.

  • “One Point O,” written and directed by Jeff Renfroe and Marteinn Thorsson, a stylishly futuristic piece about a computer programmer who has been made the test subject in a secret corporate experiment. Pic toplines Jeremy Sisto, Deborah Unger, Udo Kier and Lance Henriksen.

  • “Primer,” written and directed by Shane Carruth, an extreme low-budgeter that combines elements of “Pi” and “La Jetee” with a wild entrepreneurial aspect. With David Sullivan, Carruth, Carrie Crawford, Casey Gooden and Anand Upadhyaya.

  • “We Don’t Live Here Anymore,” directed by John Curran (“Praise”) and written by Larry Gross, a drama in an academic setting about the interrelationship of two married couples that resembles Edward Albee crossed with Neil LaBute. Pic stars Mark Ruffalo, Laura Dern, Peter Krause and Naomi Watts.

  • “The Woodsman,” directed by Nicole Kassell and written by Kassell and Stephen Fechter, about a convicted child molester’s attempt to return to society. Pic toplines Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick, Benjamin Bratt, Mos Def, Eve, Michael Shannon and David Alan Grier.


  • “A Place of Our Own,” directed by Stanley Nelson, a look at black middle-class culture as seen through the longtime black summer resort community of Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard.

  • “Born Into Brothels,” directed by Ross Kauffman and Zana Briski, a dive into Calcutta’s red-light district to study how photographer Briski works with the children of prostitutes to get them to document their own lives.

  • “Chisholm ’72: Unbought & Unbossed,” directed by Shola Lynch, about the maverick presidential bid of Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm.

  • “Deadline,” directed by Katy Chevigny and Kirsten Johnson, an investigation of two events that keyed the suspension of the death penalty and its effects on death row prisoners.

  • “Dig,” directed by Ondi Timoner, which contrasts two rock ‘n’ roll bands, the Dandy Warhols and the Brian Jonestown Massacre, one of which succeeds while the other self-destructs.

  • “Farmingville,” directed by Catherine Tambini and Carlos Sandoval, about the explosive case of the attempted murder of two Mexican day laborers on Long Island.

  • “The Fight,” directed by Barak Goodman, an account of the legendary second heavyweight bout between American Joe Louis and German Max Schmeling shortly before WWII.

  • “Heir to an Execution,” directed by Ivy Meeropol, a personal assessment of the legacy of executed traitors Ethel and Julius Rosenberg by their granddaughter.

  • “Home of the Brave,” directed by Paola di Florio, which looks at the family’s struggle with the unresolved death of their mother, Viola Liuzzo, the only white woman murdered in the Civil Rights Movement.

  • “I Like Killing Flies,” directed by Matt Mahurin, a look at the idiosyncratic family-run restaurant Shopsin’s in Greenwich Village.

  • “Imelda,” directed by Ramona S. Diaz, about the former first lady of the Philippines, Imelda Marcos.

  • “In the Realms of the Unreal,” directed by Jessica Yu, an Oscar winner for “Breathing Lessons,” an examination of the janitor and visionary artist Henry Darger and his 15,000-page novel.

  • “Neverland: The Rise and Fall of the Symbionese Liberation Army,” directed by Robert Stone, an in-depth look at the ’70s terrorist organization and its kidnapping of Patty Hearst.

  • “Persons of Interest,” directed by Alison Maclean (“Jesus’ Son,” “Crush”) and Tobias Perse, a formally styled docu about the detention of Muslim-Americans by the government as part of the war on terrorism.

  • “Super Size Me,” directed by Morgan Spurlock,” a tongue-in-cheek look at the causes, costs and legacy of fast food and obesity in the U.S.

  • “Word Wars,” directed by Julian Petrillo, about the obsession with Scrabble among its top players.


  • “CSA: Confederate States of America,” directed by Kevin Willmott, a faux-History Channel documentary, right down to the commercials, about American history told as if the South had won the Civil War. Featuring Evamarii Johnson, Rupert Pate and Larry Peterson.

  • “Dandelion,” directed by Mark Milgard, a dark drama about a 15-year-old boy and a troubled girl who, tragically, find what they are looking for in each other. With Vincent Kartheiser, Taryn Manning, Arliss Howard, Mare Winningham, Blake Heron, Michelle Forbes, Marshall Bell and Shawn Reaves.

  • “Dirty Work,” directed by David Sampliner, a docu about three men with disagreeable jobs: a septic tank pumper, a bull semen collector and an embalmer. Exec produced by Edward Norton.

  • “Everyday People,” directed by Jim McKay, a docu about the gentrification of a neighborhood as seen through the threat of a local restaurant’s closure. Produced by Michael Stipe for HBO.

  • “Lbs.,” directed by Matthew Bonifacio and written by Bonifacio and Carmine Famiglietti, about a 325-pound man who loses more than 100 pounds after moving to the country. Pic features Miriam Shor, Michael Aronov, Sharon Angela, Famiglietti, Susan Varon, Lou Martini and Fil Formicola.

  • “Let the Church Say Amen,” directed by David Petersen, docu about the influence of a small Washington, D.C., church in an exceptionally poor neighborhood.

  • “Mean Creek,” written and directed by Jacob Aaron Estes, a “River’s Edge”-like tale of kids who play a prank on the school bully, with heavy consequences resulting. Pic stars Rory Culkin, Ryan Kelley, Scott Mechiowicz, Trevor Morgan, Josh Peck and Carly Schroeder.

  • “Metallica: Some Kind of Monster,” directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, a cinema-verite docu about the trials and tribulations of the heavy metal group as it cuts its first studio album in six years.

  • “MVP,” directed by Harry Davis and written by Greg Pak, concerning a public defender who defends his sister’s boyfriend, the reputed leader of Detroit’s MVP gang, in a trial. With Wood Harris, Roger Guenveur Smith and N’Bushe Wright.

  • “Open Water,” written and directed by Chris Kentis, a suspenser based on a true story about an American couple who disappear while diving on an expedition. This Hamptons Film Festival hit stars Blanchard Ryan, Daniel Travis, Saul Stein and Estelle Lau.

  • “Second Best,” written and directed by Eric Weber, about the gathering of five fiftyish guys from a New Jersey neighborhood. Pic toplines Joe Pantoliano, Jennifer Tilly, Boyd Gaines, Bronson Pinchot, Peter Gerety, Matthew Arkin, Barbara Barrie, Polly Draper, Paulina Porizkova and Patricia Hearst.

  • “September Tapes,” directed by Christian Johnston and written by Johnston and Christian Van Gregg, a reality-clashing-with-fiction “Blair Witch”-like project in which Johnston, a Web site prankster-provocateur, went to Afghanistan after 9/11 “searching for the truth about the hunt for Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden.” With George Calil and Wali Razaqi.

  • “Speak,” directed by Jessica Sharzer and written by Sharzer and Annie Young, a look at a young girl’s recovery from a traumatic event adapted from the book by Laura Halse Anderson. Pic features Kristen Stewart, Hallee Hirsch and Steve Zahn.