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SUNDANCE Opening Night: Busy But No Fireworks

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The Sundance Film Festival kicked off Thursday night with four world premieres and an official opening night party but nothing to write home about.

Sundance2012Laura Greenfield’s documentary “The Queen of Versailles,” which documents real estate mogul David Siegal and his wife, Jacqueline, screened at the Eccles Theater, Park City’s largest venue, while Kieran Darcy-Smith’s Australian thriller “Wish You Were Here” debuted at the Egyptian to a mostly buyers-only crowd. Both pics featured Q&A’s afterward and while “Queen of Versailles” had audiences and doc viewers buzzing about the film and pic’s recent legal woes, “Wish You Were Here” bowed to more mixed reactions. 

Starring Joel Edgerton (“Warrior,” “Animal Kingdom”) and Felicity Price, “Wish You Were Here” tells the story of four thirty-something Australians who vacation off the coast of Cambodia, where one of the travelers mysteriously vanishes. Price, who plays Edgerton’s pregnant wife, was terrific as were the rest of the cast. But given the film’s wearisome narrative, pic should see modest, arthouse distribution. 

The night’s two final films, “Hello, I Must Be Going” and World Cinema Documentary competitor “Searching for Sugar Man,” played after 9 p.m. Thursday to faint praise.

Malik Bendjelloul’s doc “Searching for Sugar Man” uncovers American singer-songwriter Rodriguez, who rose to fame in South Africa in the 1970s but dwelled in obscurity in North America.

Todd Louiso’s “Hello, I Must Be Going,” which screened at an 80% full Eccles Theater, stars Melanie Lynskie and Blythe Danner and tells the story of a thirty-five year old who returns home to live her parents, only to spark a relationship with a local teenager.

Meanwhile, Robert Redford and fest programmer John Cooper were busy introducing the films and welcoming patrons back to Park City. 

“We’re basically responders to the needs of those independent artists,” Redford told the Eccles Theater crowe. “So all the programming and all that we do is in keeping with that.”

The fest’s opening night programming is generally a glimpse of things to come, with the heavy hitting films typically unraveling over the weekend, at both P&I and public screenings.

As Variety’s Jeff Sneider pointed out the other day, none of this year’s films have domestic distribution so expect a flurry of sales in the days to come.

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Over at the Legacy Lodge, the festival held its annual opening night soiree, which featured what seemed like more of a public crowd ($150 tickets were available) than a festival gathering. 

 

Follow Stuart Oldham on Twitter 

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