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Sundance stepping to an int’l rhythm

Fest launches World Cinema Competition

See full list of competition films

Promoted as the foremost platform for American independent cinema, the Sundance Film Festival will become an international fest in every sense of the term as it introduces its World Cinema Competition with the 2005 edition Jan. 20-30.

Taking advantage of its position as the first major festival of the calendar year, Sundance gets the jump on both Rotterdam and Berlin, although director Geoffrey Gilmore stressed that what he and his team are looking for — exciting first or second films by relatively new directors — overlaps only to some degree with the prestigious titles by big-name helmers sought by events such as Berlin.

As for the 16 pictures selected out of 761 American narrative features submitted, Gilmore unhesitatingly said, “I’ve never been more excited about a competition lineup than I am this year. The level of accomplishment is where it should be. The evolution of what’s going on is really exciting and shows a certain maturity across the aesthetic spectrum.”

Altering its longstanding rules that permitted some flexibility, Sundance now insists that all films in the American dramatic and documentary competitions be world premieres.

By contrast, entrants in the World Cinema Competition categories may have been shown at other fests or opened in their home countries. As a result, just six of the 16 competing international titles are world preems.

Because of the reduction of what used to be the World Cinema sidebar into a 16-film competition, the total number of features set to unspool at the upcoming Sundance is 120, down from 137 last year.

Overall, 2,613 features were submitted to the festival, 1,385 from the U.S. and 1,228 from other countries. A year ago, fest fielded 2,485 total entries, 1,285 domestically and 1,200 from abroad.

This year will be the 21st for the festival, going back to its origins as the United States Film Festival before its absorption by Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute. Other new developments this edition include a redesign of the Sundance Online Film Festival, which will launch Jan. 20 and continue for five months at www.sundance.org as a way for audiences outside of Park City, Utah, to see all the shorts from the fest. Site also lets people watch daily coverage of the event and filmmaker interviews.

Introduction of a new screening venue, the 700-seat Park City Racquet Club, long the home for the closing-night awards ceremony, is intended to ease some of the crowding pressure at the other locations. Site will serve as home base for the dramatic competition.

Festgoers familiar with the Telluride Film Festival may experience deja vu as Sundance has purchased all the seats from the Max, the now-abandoned high school venue in the Colorado town, to use at the Racquet Club.

Addressing a need often voiced by filmmakers, fest this year is inaugurating the Sundance Industry Office, which is meant to help connect visitors with assorted industry entities and personnel.

Speaking of the formalization of the event’s international component, Gilmore remarked, “I like to think of Sundance as an American film festival with a global reach. In the international competition, we are looking for basically the same things we want in the American competition — directors on their first or second films. There’s not a strict cutoff, but the focus is really on directors at the beginning of their careers.

“We also start off by not making the same assumptions as other festivals that feel they have to represent every part of the world, to achieve a balance,” Gilmore added. “We’re interested in showing films that are different and distinctive.”

In searching for them, Gilmore and fest director of programming John Cooper visited not only the usual summer and early fall festivals but also made special trips to Pusan, London and Paris.

Gilmore suggested a sense of mission in regard to highlighting the international component of the fest. “We feel that the consistent attention we’ve paid to documentaries over the years has now paid off: They’ve achieved a position in the marketplace that didn’t exist before, and the general public discusses them and is aware of them as something different than what it sees on television. We’ve also always had a commitment to foreign films, but now we’re giving them a platform we never have before, and I’m hopeful that part of what the international competition will achieve is to give them an enhanced place in the market.”

So enthused is Gilmore about this year’s U.S. dramatic lineup that he allowed, “I feel like this is the onset of another era in American independent film, of the filmmakers not being quite as marginalized as they used to be.”

One major grouping this year consists of “films about the South by Southerners. It’s not the archetypal freak show. What these films offer is really an embrace of the South and Southerners while highlighting their differences. The festival has a lot of examination of red-state characters without cliches or negative stereotypes. Another theme is how suburbia has become a metaphor for talking about America.”

DRAMATIC COMPETITION

  • “Between,” a south-of-the-border thriller from director David Ocanas and screenwriter Robert Nelms about an American lawyer’s perilous search for her sister in the depths of Tijuana.

  • “Brick,” writer-director Rian Johnson’s noirish look at a teenager who investigates his ex-girlfriend’s disappearance by infiltrating a high school crime ring.

  • “The Dying Gaul,” the feature directorial debut by playwright-screenwriter Craig Lucas (“Prelude to a Kiss,” “The Secret Life of Dentists”), with Peter Sarsgaard as a tormented screenwriter in a treacherous relationship with a woman and her film exec husband. Also with Patricia Clarkson and Campbell Scott.

  • “Ellie Parker,” a feature-length expansion of a short made by writer-director Scott Coffey, with Naomi Watts in a comic look at an actress’s pursuit of a Hollywood career. Also with Rebecca Rigg, Coffey, Mark Pellegrino, Blair Mastbaum and Chevy Chase.

  • “Forty Shades of Blue,” a drama directed by Ira Sachs (“The Delta”) and written by Michael Rohatyn and Sachs about the disruption in the lives of a Russian woman (Dina Korzun of “Last Resort”) and an older rock ‘n’ roll legend (Rip Torn) living in Memphis upon the visit of an estranged son.

  • “How the Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer,” writer-director Georgina Garcia Riedel’s look at the sexual awakenings of three generations of women in a Mexican-American family. With Elizabeth Pena, Lucy Gallardo, America Ferrera and Steven Bauer.

  • “Hustle & Flow,” writer-director Craig Brewer’s account of a Memphis pimp who deals with his midlife crisis by trying to become a rapper. Godfathered by John Singleton, pic stars Terrence Howard, Anthony Anderson, Taryn Manning, Taraji Henson, DJ Qualls and Ludacris.

  • “Junebug,” a drama from director Phil Morrison and writer Angus MacLachlan about a dealer in outsider art who threatens the equilibrium of her middle-class in-laws in North Carolina. Amy Adams, Embeth Davidtz, Ben McKenzie, Alessandro Nivola, Celia Weston and Scott Wilson star.

  • “Loggerheads,” another North Carolina tale, in which writer-director Tim Kirkman relates three overlapping stories of estranged families in three regions. Bonnie Hunt, Kip Pardue, Tess Harper, Chris Sarandon, Michael Learned, Michael Kelly and Robin Weigert are in the cast.

  • “Lonesome Jim,” directed by Steve Buscemi (“Trees Lounge”) and written by James C. Strouse, about what happens when 27-year-old Jim (Casey Affleck), having failed to make it on his own, moves back in with his parents. Also with Liv Tyler, Mary Kaye Place, Kevin Corrigan and Seymour Cassel.

  • “Me and You and Everyone We Know,” the first feature from writer-director Miranda July, who also stars as an eccentric performance artist who attempts to connect with a lonely shoe salesman. An IFC release with John Hawkes, Ellen Geer and Brad Henke.

  • “Police Beat,” directed by Robinson Devor (“The Woman Chaser”), who co-wrote with Charles Mudede, about the odd situations encountered by an African-born bicycle cop on his beat in Seattle. Pape Sidy Niang, Anna Oxygen, Eric Breedlove and Sara Hartlett star.

  • “Pretty Persuasion,” from director Marcos Siega (“Stung,” forthcoming pic “The Underclassmen”) and writer Skander Halim, a comedy about the turmoil in a high school after a 15-year-old accuses her drama teacher of sexual harassment. Evan Rachel Wood, Ron Livingston, James Woods, Jane Krakowski and Selma Blair star.

  • “The Squid and the Whale,” the third feature from writer-director Noah Baumbach (“Kicking and Screaming,” “Mr. Jealousy”), about two kids in 1980s Park Slope, Brooklyn, caught in the crossfire of their academic parents’ divorce. Laura Linney, Jeff Daniels, Jesse Eisenberg, Owen Kline, Anna Paquin, Billy Baldwin and Halley Feifer appear, with Wes Anderson producing.

  • “Thumbsucker,” writer-director Mike Mills’ tale of the chaos that results when a man tries to wean himself from his addiction to his thumb. Lou Pucci, Tilda Swinton, Vincent D’Onofrio, Keanu Reeves, Benjamin Bratt, Kelli Garner and Vince Vaughn star.

  • “Who Killed Cock Robin?,” writer-director Travis Wilkerson’s look at the struggle of some young men in depressed Butte, Mont., to sort out their lives. Barrett Miller, Charlie Parr and Dylan Wilkerson star.

DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION

  • “After Innocence,” director Jessica Sanders’ account of how several men freed from prison after being cleared by DNA evidence struggle to reintegrate into society.

  • “The Aristocrats,” directed by Paul Provenza, in which 100 superstar comedians, including George Carlin, Whoopi Goldberg, Eddie Izzard, Don Rickles, Chris Rock and the Smothers Brothers, tell the same very dirty joke, one shared privately by comics since vaudeville days.

  • “The Devil and Daniel Johnston,” director Jeff Feuerzeig’s portrait of a manic-depressive genius singer, songwriter and artist.

  • “The Education of Shelby Knox,” in which co-directors Marion Lipschutz and Rose Rosenblatt use a 15-year-old girl’s transformation from conservative Southern Baptist to liberal Christian and feminist to portray the fight for sex education and gay rights in Lubbock, Texas.

  • “Enron: The Smartest Guys In the Room,” director Alex Gibney’s multidimensional study of one of the great business scandals in American history.

  • “The Fall of Fujimori,” directed by Ellen Perry, about how Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori’s tenacious fight against domestic terrorists was followed by disgrace as an international fugitive wanted for corruption, kidnapping and murder.

  • “Frozen Angels,” in which co-directors Eric Black and Frauke Sandig explore the future of human reproductive technology.

  • “Mardi Gras: Made in China,” directed by David Redmon, a study of cultural and economic globalization as seen through the life cycle of Mardi Gras beads from a small factory in Fuzhou, China, to Mardis Gras in New Orleans and New York art galleries.

  • “Murderball,” an account by directors Henry-Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro of quadriplegics who play violent full-contact rugby in Mad Max-style wheelchairs, ending up in the Paralympic Games in Athens. A ThinkFilms release.

  • “New York Doll,” directed by Greg Whiteley, about recovering alcoholic and converted Mormon Arthur “Killer” Kane’s shot at a 30-years-later reunion with his old band, the New York Dolls.

  • “Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story,” in which co-directors Dan Klores and Ron Berger explore the tumultuous life of the six-time welterweight boxing champion.

  • “Romantico,” director Mark Becker’s look at the life of a Mexican singer when he returns home after years of trying to make the grade in San Francisco.

  • “Shakespeare Behind Bars,” director Hank Rogerson’s study of 20 male inmates who form a Shakespearean acting company in a Kentucky prison.

  • “Trudell,” director Heather Rae’s portrait of Native American poet and activist John Trudell.

  • “Twist of Faith,” Kirby Dick’s account of how a man’s confrontation of his boyhood sexual abuse by a Catholic priest disrupts his relationship with his family, community and faith.

  • “Why We Fight,” in which director Eugene Jarecki examines, through the Iraqi war, the forces that drive American militarism. With Sen. John McCain, Gore Vidal, Richard Perle, William Kristol and many others.

WORLD CINEMA COMPETITION

  • “Brothers” (Denmark), from director Suzanne Bier (“Open Heart”), about how family dynamics change when one brother goes to war in Afghanistan. Toplines Connie Nielsen.

  • “Cronicas” (Ecuador/Mexico) a Cannes hit for director Sebastian Cordero, a thriller about a Miami reporter (John Leguizamo) who pursues a serial killer to Ecuador. Also features Leonor Watling and Alfred Molina.

  • “The Forest for the Trees” (Germany), helmer Maren Ade’s take on the tough challenges awaiting an idealistic high-school teacher.

  • “Green Chair” (South Korea), a world premiere from director Park Chui-su (“301/302”), about the affair between an older woman and a minor.

  • “The Hero” (Angola/Portugal), directed by Zeze Gamboa, about the return to Luanda of a 20-year vet of the Angolan civil war.

  • “Kekexili: Mountain Patrol” (China), directed by Lu Chuan (“Missing Gun”), a recent Tokyo Fest hit about volunteers fighting antelope poachers in the mountains of Tibet.

  • “Lila Says” (France/Italy/U.K.), director Ziad Doueiri’s look at the sexually charged flirtation of two urban teens.

  • “Live-in Maid” (Argentina/Spain), in which Jorge Gaggero directs Norma Aleandro and Norma Argentina in the story of a wealthy woman and her housekeeper against the backdrop of economic crisis.

  • “Monsterthursday” (Norway), directed by Arild Ostin Ommundsen, a romantic drama about surfers on the remote Norwegian coast.

  • “On a Clear Day” (U.K.), directed by Gaby Dellal, with Peter Mullan as a working-class man who decides to redeem himself by swimming the English Channel. Also with Brenda Blethyn. World premiere.

  • “Palermo Hollywood” (Argentina), director Eduardo Pinto’s take on two drug-dealing party boys in over their heads after a botched kidnapping. World premiere.

  • “Stranger” (Poland), a portrait by director Malgosia Szumowska of the choices made by a pregnant 22-year-old with a dull job and absent boyfriend. Screenplay by Szumowska and Przemek Nowakowski. World premiere.

  • “This Charming Girl” (South Korea), a crowd-pleaser at the recent Pusan Fest from director Lee Yoon-ki, about the inner life of a female postal worker.

  • “Tony Takitani” (Japan), directed by Jun Ichikawa, about the tragic consequences of a man’s request that his wife resist her obsession for designer clothes.

  • “Unconscious” (Spain/Portugal/Italy/Germany), director Joaquin Oristrell’s Freudian comedy set in Barcelona, 1913. With Leonor Watling.

  • “Wolf Creek” (Australia), director Greg Mclean’s thriller about three travelers threatened by an initially friendly local in a remote part of Australia. World premiere.

WORLD CINEMA DOCU COMPETITION

  • “The 3 Rooms of Melancholia” (Finland), director Pirjo Honkasalo’s analysis of the Chechen conflicts as expressed through a Russian military boys academy, a war-torn town and a children’s refugee camp.

  • “Dhakiyarr Vs. the King” (Australia), in which directors Tom Murray and Allan Collins examine the efforts of descendents to restore honor to an Aboriginal man 70 years after his murder trial and subsequent disappearance.

  • “Grizzly Man” (U.S.), German helmer Werner Herzog’s look at grizzly bear activists Timothy Treadwell and Amie Huguenard, who were killed by bears while living among them in October, 2003. World premiere.

  • “I Am Cuba, The Siberian Mammoth” (Brazil), directed by Vicente Ferraz, which delves into the creation of the Soviet/Cuban film “I Am Cuba” more than 40 years ago.

  • “El Inmortal” (Nicaragua/Spain/Mexico), directed by Mercedes Moncada Rodriguez, about the conflict in Nicaragua as seen through one disrupted family. World premiere.

  • “The Liberace of Baghdad” (U.K.), director Sean McAllister’s portrait of Iraqi pianist Samir Peter as he waits in a heavily fortified Baghdad hotel for his chance to leave for the U.S.

  • “Odessa Odessa” (Israel/France), a three-part docu by Michale Boganim about the vanishing Odessa Jewish community as seen on a journey from the Ukraine to New York to Israel. World premiere.

  • “Shake Hands With the Devil: The Journey of Romeo Dallaire” (Canada), directed by Peter Raymonht, about Canadian Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire and his controversial command of the U.N. mission to Rwanda during the 1994 genocide.

  • “Shape of the Moon” (The Netherlands), director Leonard Retel Helmrich’s portrait of three generations of a family in contemporary Islamic Indonesia.

  • “Unknown White Male” (U.K.), director Rupert Murray’s account of the true story of a man who woke up in Coney Island with no memory of any day of his life. World premiere.

  • “Wall” (France/Israel), directed by Simone Bitton, a “meditation” on the Israel-Palestine fence.

  • “Yang Ban Xi-The 8 Modelworks” (The Netherlands), in which director Yan Ting Yuen examines lives intimately connected to the Yang Ban Xi, the propaganda spectacles that replaced traditional opera during China’s Cultural Revolution. World premiere.

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