Fest vets return to action

Helmers who have 'danced before reflect on latest pix

Gregg Araki

“This is my eighth film, and my sixth at Sundance,” says writer-director Gregg Araki of “Mysterious Skin,” an adaptation of Scott Heim’s novel. “I’m really excited to go back, partly because this movie is so quintessentially American.”

Araki first garnered national attention in 1992 with his low-budget road movie “The Living End,” featuring two HIV-positive lovers on a rampage. His subsequent films cemented his place as one of L.A.’s next generation of film talents, a leader in an emerging queer cinema movement and a voice for gay youth.

“Mysterious Skin,” which follows the intersecting lives of two sexually abused young men, has screened at several international fests and has been lauded as Araki’s most mature film.

Araki’s take: “The film is still uncompromising — it’s a true old-school indie film, very brave and courageous, but on the other hand, it’s my most accessible and commercial movie, because of its emotional impact.”

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Miguel Arteta

Miguel Arteta’s “Star Maps,” a low-budget take on the American dream gone awry, graced Sundance in 1997, while “Chuck & Buck,” appearing in 2000, showcased the possibilities of low-end digital tools in character-driven dramas. Two years later, Arteta’s Jennifer Aniston starrer “The Good Girl” again demonstrated the helmer’s directing chops.

This year, however, Arteta shifts course, appearing at Sundance with short “Are You the Favorite Person of Anybody?” and as producer of Michael Kang’s “The Motel.” (Arteta also served as a mentor to Kang at the Sundance Filmmakers Lab in 2002.)

“It helped me,” says Arteta of the spur-of-the-moment making of the short film. “I have spent a lot of time figuring out how to make a bigger movie, and this definitely made me realize that making a smaller movie may be a more authentic way to go.”

Kirby Dick

Documentary filmmaker Kirby Dick returns to Sundance with “Twist of Faith,” his portrait of Toledo-based firefighter Tony Comes as he reckons with the sexual abuse he suffered as a child at the hands of a Catholic priest.

Dick’s previous Sundance films include “Derrida” (co-directed with Amy Ziering Kofman), “Chain Camera” and “Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan.”

“When we initially heard about the abuse scandals and the Catholic Church, it was all about huge statistics, and the number of people accused,” explains Dick of his new film. “I was interested in approaching this from a much more personal perspective.”

Dick, who spent 18 months following Comes, says Sundance is a vital platform for his new film. “Tony is such a charismatic figure — he’s very courageous and yet also very vulnerable. And it’s very meaningful when these stories become public, not just for audiences but for the subjects as well.”

Rebecca Miller

Writer-director Rebecca Miller’s work has resonated well at Sundance over the years. Her debut feature “Angela” earned a cinematography prize for DP Ellen Kuras and the Filmmaker’s Trophy in 1995, while “Personal Velocity,” her sophomore effort in 2002, snagged the Grand Jury Prize and another cinematography trophy. (She was also on Variety’s 10 Directors to Watch list that year.)

This year, Miller brings “The Ballad of Jack and Rose,” a film that she began writing before “Angela” was even in production. “I imagined what would happen to the characters in that film 10 years later,” explains Miller. “Gradually the story moved in a new direction.”

Of her return to Sundance, Miller notes that she already has a distributor (IFC) and is therefore not facing the fear of rejection. ” ‘Angela’ was the worst; I was in a fetal position through the whole festival,” she laughs. “So this is a lovely way of going. And I love Sundance — there’s room for filmmakers like me there.”

Michael Winterbottom

With “9 Songs,” his latest Sundance entry, British filmmaker Michael Winterbottom moves into erotic territory with a film that Variety reviewer Derek Elley called “the most sexually explicit movie yet by an established, English-lingo director.”

The filmmaker’s earlier Sundance-screened efforts include his 2002 digital features “24 Hour Party People” and “In This World,” as well as 1999’s “Wonderland.” (He’s also a Variety Director to Watch alumnus, class of ’97.)

At its core, “9 Songs” is an exploration of sexual desire with the heated somatic interludes intercut with footage of bands performing the nine songs of the film’s title (the bands include Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Super Furry Animals, Franz Ferdinand and the Dandy Warhols).

Explaining the pic’s graphic sex, Winterbottom says, “In ‘9 Songs’ I wanted to explore the relationship between physical and emotional intimacy. How is it possible to do that without trying to honestly show the two characters at their most intimate?”