Sundance unveils competition lineup

Festival announces drama, documentary slate

Thematically, the lineup for the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, announced Wednesday, marks a noticeable generational shift.

So says fest director Geoff Gilmore, who will preside over the presentation of 118 feature-length films, including 91 world premieres.

The pics in this year’s lineup show “an awareness of the world that wasn’t there a dozen years ago. It comes from the Internet, from a realization that America is not cut off from the rest of the world,” Gilmore said.

Sundance will unspool Jan. 15-25 in Park City, Utah.

Entries in the four competition categories, which were announced Wednesday, were selected from among 3,661 submissions (up slightly from 3,624 a year ago). Of these, 2,038 narrative features were considered for the U.S. and world dramatic competitions, and 1,623 domestic and foreign documentaries were submitted.

“There’s quite a bit of romance and melodrama in this year’s festival, a lot of genre, a lot of emotion. But I think it’s a type of escape that’s not necessarily escapist,” Gilmore said. “Over the last couple of years, audiences got tired of films that directly engaged the Iraq War and other heavy subject matter. This year there’s an eclecticism and a breadth of storytelling that will see audiences perhaps open up to things they haven’t seen before. There’s not a single focus.

“This is a festival about which people in the future will say, ‘Wow, that was a year a lot of new talent came out of it,’ ” Gilmore added.

Format for the fest will remain essentially unchanged, although a cutback in the Premieres from 24 titles this year to just 16 this time around will allow the dramatic competition films to share the Eccles Theater equally with the Premieres titles while still unspooling, as before, at the Racquet Club. By contrast, the Spectrum sidebar has been beefed up from 19 titles to 23 this year, including 16 narrative features and seven documentaries.

Full slates for these sections, as well as the Midnight and Frontier categories, will be unveiled today.

Despite widespread concern among festival directors worldwide as sponsors pull back and funding becoming increasingly difficult, Gilmore stressed that Sundance’s sponsors have remained aboard and that the sale of passes has kept pace with past years up to this point.

Fest director of programming John Cooper observed “a great freedom in the submissions this year created by digital filmmaking,” something that encouraged not only greater flexibility of form but also of geography. “It used to be that independent American films were about the breaking of taboos. Now everything is taken for granted; there’s a matter-of-factness about everything — sexuality, politics. Nothing is made a big deal of,” Gilmore noted.

In the nonfiction realm, while the subject matter is diverse and there are fewer “narrowly focused documentaries,” Cooper pointed out, “we have a lot of environmental films, but on a more global scale, about the sea and the very existence of things.”

The year also sees very heavy participation by British filmmakers and companies.

All U.S. dramatic and documentary entries are world premieres.


  • “Adam,” directed and written by Max Mayer (“Better Living”), about a slightly dysfunctional man’s attempt at a relationship with an alluring new neighbor. Stars Hugh Dancy, Rose Byrne, Peter Gallagher, Amy Irving, Frankie Faison.
  • “Amreeka,” directed and written by Cherien Dabis, a drama examining the challenges faced by a divorced Palestinian woman and her teenage son upon moving to rural Illinois. With Nisreen Faour, Melkar Muallem.
  • “Arlen Faber,” directed and written by John Hindman, about the intrusion of two strangers into the life of a famous reclusive author. With Jeff Daniels, Lauren Graham, Lou Pucci, Olivia Thirlby, Kat Dennings.
  • “Big Fan,” directed and written by Robert Siegel (writer of “The Wrestler”), which hinges on the reaction of a parking garage attendant when his favorite football player beats him up. Features Patton Oswalt, Michael Rapaport, Kevin Corrigan.
  • “Brief Interviews With Hideous Men,” an adaptation of the book by the late David Foster Wallace by director-writer John Krasinski (“The Office”), which has a doctoral candidate in anthropology interview men in an attempt to understand why her boyfriend left her. Stars Julianne Nicholson, Krasinski, Timothy Hutton, Dominic Cooper.
  • “Cold Souls,” directed and written by Sophie Barthes (“Zimove vesilya”), about a Russian mobster keen to extract the soul of an actor. Toplines Paul Giamatti, Dina Korzun, David Strathairn, Emily Watson, Lauren Ambrose, Oksana Lada.
  • “Dare,” which director Adam Salky and writer David Brind expanded from Salky’s 2005 short about the sexual explorations of prep schoolers. With Emmy Rossum, Zach Gilford, Ashley Springer.
  • “Don’t Let Me Drown,” directed by Cruz Angeles and written by Angeles and Maria Topete, a “Romeo and Juliet”-like story about two Caribbean islands teens in the Bronx after 9/11.
  • “The Greatest,” directed and written by Shana Feste, which focuses on the unexpected arrival of a young woman into the home of a man and wife who have lost their teenage son. Stars Pierce Brosnan, Susan Sarandon, Carey Mulligan.
  • “Humpday,” directed and written by Lynn Shelton, an extreme farce about two college friends who, a decade later, push their relationship way beyond where it ever was. Features Mark Duplass, Joshua Leonard.
  • “Paper Heart,” directed by Nicolas Jasenovec, which blurs the line between documentary and fiction as performer Charlyne Yi searches for the nature of love in the unexpected company of actor Michael Cera.
  • “Peter and Vandy,” directed and written by Jay DiPietro, a time-tossing New York romance starring Jess Weixler and Jason Ritter.
  • “Push (Based on the Novel by Sapphire),” written by Damien Paul and directed by Lee Daniels, an adaptation of Sapphire’s bleak 1990s bestseller about life in the lower depths of poverty in the Bronx. With Gabourey “Gabby” Sidibe, Paula Patton, Mo’Nique Imes, Lenny Kravitz.
  • “Sin nombre,” directed and written by Cary Fukunaga (the 2004 short “Victoria para chino), a Spanish-language drama set in the world of migrants trying to make it from Guatemala through Mexico on their way to the U.S. A Focus Features release.
  • “Taking Chance,” directed by Ross Katz (co-producer of “In the Bedroom,” “Lost in Translation”) and written by Katz and Michael Strobl, about a military escort office who accompanies the body of a young Marine back home to Wyoming. Toplines Kevin Bacon.
  • “Toe to Toe,” directed and written by Emily Abt, about the academic competition between two girl friends, black and white, at a Washington, D.C., prep school who are trying to get into Princeton.


  • “Art and Copy,” directed by Doug Pray and written by Timothy J. Sexton, about the effect of advertising and creativity on contemporary culture.
  • “Boy Interrupted,” directed by Dana Perry, a mother’s look at the life of a mentally ill son.
  • “The Cove,” directed by Louie Psihoyos and written by Mark Monroe, in which activist Ric O’Barry exposes the disappearance of sea creatures off a small Japanese village.
  • “Crude,” directed by Joe Berlinger, which focuses on the “Amazon Chernobyl” in the Ecuadorean rainforest.
  • “Dirt the Movie,” directed by Bill Benenson and Gene Rosow, an examination of how human are despoiling the resource of the title.
  • “The General,” directed by Natalia Almada, in which the filmmaker looks at Mexico through the life of her great-grandfather, Mexican President Plutarco Elias Calles.
  • “Good Hair,” directed by Jeff Stilson, follows comedian Chris Rock as he explores the culture of African-American hair.
  • “Over the Hills and Far Away,”
    B> directed by Michel Scott, in which a family searches across Mongolia for a mysterious shaman they hope can heal their autistic son.

  • “The Reckoning: The Battle for the International Criminal Court,” directed by Pamela Yates, in which court prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo tries to bring powerful criminals to justice.
  • “Reporter,” directed by Eric Daniel Metzgar, which illustrates how journalist Nicholas Kristof brought the horrors of Darfur to the public eye.
  • “The September Issue,” directed by R.J. Cutler, which follows Vogue editor Anna Wintour and her staff for nine months leading up to the publication of the September 2007 issue.
  • “Sergio,” directedby Greg Barker, an examination of the life of the late United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Sergio Vieira de Mello.
  • “Shouting Fire: Stories From the Edge of Free Speech,” directed by Liz Garbus, in which the filmmaker’s father, First Amendment attorney Martin Garbus, considers the history and current status of free speech in America.
  • “We Live in Public,” directed by Ondi Timoner (“Dig”), a look at the dotcom boom, art and the impact of the Internet through the eyes of Web provocateur Josh Harris.
  • “When You’re Strange,” directed by Tom DiCillo, which explores the rock band the Doors by exclusive means of footage shot from 1966-71.
  • “William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe,” directed by Sarah Kunstler and Emily Kunstler, in which the daughters of the famous civil rights attorney examine their father’s controversial career.


  • “Before Tomorrow” (Canada), directed by Madeline Piujuq and Marie-Helene Cousineau, a drama about the struggle for survival by a woman and her young grandson in the Canadian arctic.
  • “Bronson” (U.K.), directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, written by Brock Norman Brock, a violent drama about one of Britain’s most notorious criminals. Stars Tom Hardy.
  • “Carmo, Hit the Road” (Spain), directed and written by Murilo Pasta, a tale of smuggling in South America’s interior. World premiere.
  • “The Clone Returns” (Kuron Wa Kokyo-Wo Mezasu) (Japan), directed and written by Kanji Nakajima, a minimalist sci-fier about an astronaut who dies but is then resurrected as a clone.
  • “Dada’s Dance” (China), directed by Zhang Yuan and written by Li Xiaofeng, about a small-town woman’s search for her birth mother.
  • “An Education” (U.K.), directed by Lone Scherfig and written by Nick Hornby, a ‘60s-set tale in which a bright 16-year-old and her parents become involved with a sophisticated older man. Stars Peter Sarsgaard, Carey Mulligan, Alfred Molina and Emma Thompson. World premiere.
  • “Five Minutes of Heaven” (U.K.), directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel and written by Guy Hibbert, about two men from the same Irish town at political odds. Toplines Liam Neeson, James Nesbitt and Anamaria Marinca. World premiere.
  • “A French Gigolo” (France), directed and written by Josiane Balasko, starring Nathalie Baye as a sophisticated 50ish woman who becomes involved with one of the men she hires for sex.
  • “Heart of Time” (Mexico), directed and written by Alberto Cortes, about a woman who falls in love with a Zapatista revolutionary.
  • “Louise-Michel” (France), directed by Benoit Delepine and Gustave Kervern, a black comedy about the extreme revenge sought by some laid-off female factory workers on their corrupt former boss.
  • “Lulu and Jim” (Germany), directed by Oskar Roehler, a ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll road movie. World premiere.
  • “The Maid” (Chile), directed and written by Sebastian Silva, about a bitter maid who retaliates when an extra servant is added to the household.
  • “One Day in a Life” (Italy), directed and written by Stefano Tummolini, about a man who becomes involved with an odd group of beachcombers. World premiere.
  • “Unmade Beds” (U.K.), directed and written by Alexis Dos Santos, the story of two foreigners who find each other in London’s East End underground arts scene. World premiere.
  • “Victoria Day” (Canada), directed and written by David Bezmozgis, a coming-of-age story set during a week in 1988. World premiere.
  • “Zion and His Brother” (France-Israel), directed and written by Eran Merav, a look at a split between two teenage brothers in working-class Tel Aviv. World premiere.


  • Afghan Star (Afghanistan-U.K.), directed by Havana Marking, about contestants who risk their lives to sing on the Afghan TV show “Pop Idol.”
  • “Big River Man” (U.S.), directed by John Maringouin, which focuses on a Slovenian swimmer determined to take on the Amazon River. World premiere.
  • “Burma VJ” (Denmark), directed by Anders Oestergaard, about Burmese journalists who surreptitiously documented the 2007 political uprising with pocket cameras.
  • “The End of the Line” (U.K.), directed by Rupert Murray, based on Charles Clover’s book about the impact of overfishing. World premiere.
  • “The Glass House” (U.S.), directed by Hamid Rahmanian, which centers on four teenage girls in rehab in Tehran.
  • “Kimjongilia” (France-U.S.), directed by N.C. Heikin, in which North Korean defectors speak about their lives and escapes. World premiere.
  • “Let’s Make Money” (Austria-China-South Africa-Spain-Switzerland-U.S.), directed by Erwin Wagenhofer, an examination of the global financial network. World premiere.
  • “Nollywood Babylon” (Canada), directed by Ben Addelman and Samir Mallal, a look at Nigeria’s domestic film industry.
  • “Old Partner” (South Korea), directed by Chung-ryoul Lee, about the final days of an old farmer.
  • “Prom Night in Mississippi” (Canada), directed by Paul Saltzman, about the fallout stemming from a decision by a Charleston, Miss., high school to hold its first integrated senior prom. World premiere.
  • “The Queen and I” (Sweden), directed by Nahid Persson Sarvestani, in which the Iranian expat filmmaker and former revolutionary takes a fresh look at her country’s history upon entering the orbit of the Shah’s widow.
  • “Quest for Honor” (Kurdistan-U.S.), directed by Mary Ann Bruni, a look at an activist trying to eliminate honor killings in rural Kurdistan. World premiere.
  • “Rough Aunties” (U.K.), directed by Kim Longinotto, about the eponymous group that looks after neglected children in Durban, South Africa.
  • “Thriller in Manila” (U.K.), directed by John Dower, an inside look at the monumental third and final boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.
  • “Tibet in Song” (U.S.), directed by Ngawang Choephel, an exploration of Tibetan culture through its music. World premiere.
  • “211: Anna” (Italy), directed by Paolo Serbandini and Giovanna Massimetti, a look at the murdered Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya. World premiere.