Sundance Film Fest 2013: 113 Features from 32 Countries

The Sundance Film Festival announced Wednesday a competition lineup heavy on big names from the film and television worlds.

Among the actors appearing in U.S. dramatic competition films are Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck (both appearing in Ain’t Them Bodies Saints), Daniel Radcliffe (Kill Your Darlings), Kristen Bell (The Lifeguard) and Jessica Biel (Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes).
“It’s a reflection of the landscape,” John Cooper, director of the Sundance Film Festival, said: “We notice that there’s a very, very vital community of actors taking roles in independent films — well-known actors in particular.”

Boldfaced names have, of course, been seen on screens across Park City in previous editions of the fest. Last year, some of the biggest critical hits were headlined by Hollywood veterans such as Richard Gere, starring in the financial thriller Arbitrage, and Helen Hunt, co-starring in The Surrogate (which has since been retitled The Sessions). Both films now are considered awards contenders. Those kinds of success stories only encourage more stars to test the indie waters.

“With some of the more interesting television that’s happening now, you’ve got stars coming up in those ranks that aren’t like studio-system blockbuster actors, but they’re well-known actors who do really interesting work,” said Trevor Groth, director of programming for the festival.

This year, 113 feature-length films representing 32 countries were selected for Sundance; the haul includes projects from 51 first-time filmmakers — including 27 films that are in competition. These projects were selected from 12,146 submissions, 429 more than last year. There are 16 films in both the U.S. dramatic and documentary competition sections, and 12 films in both the world cinema dramatic and documentary sections. Also announced Wednesday were the 10 films in the festival’s noncompetition NEXT section, which showcases new voices in American cinema.

“Every great film starts with an idea, and it is a testament to artists that they continually find new ideas, new stories, new points of view and new ways of sharing them, year after year,” said Robert Redford, president and founder of the Sundance Institute, in a statement.
The selections for the 11-day festival’s five remaining noncompetition categories will be announced in the coming days. In addition to Park City, films will be screened in Salt Lake City, Ogden and Sundance, Utah.
Several filmmakers are returning to the festival, including director James Ponsoldt, whose U.S. dramatic competition film The Spectacular Now centers on a high school senior who becomes involved with an introverted girl he tries to save; the film stars Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley. Last year, Ponsoldt’s drama Smashed unfurled at Sundance to strong reviews. Another Sundance veteran, director-screenwriter Lynn Shelton, is back with the U.S. dramatic competition film Touchy Feely, which stars Rosemarie DeWitt, Allison Janney and Ron Livingston and centers on a massage therapist who is unable to do her job when stricken with a mysterious and sudden aversion to bodily contact. Last year, Shelton premiered the dramedy Your Sister’s Sister at the festival.
Also returning is actress Lake Bell, THR’s automotive correspondent, whose feature directorial and screenwriting debut, In a World …, is playing in the U.S. dramatic competition section and centers on an underachieving vocal coach attempting to become a voice-over star. The film features Bell, Demetri Martin and Rob Corddry. Last year, Bell appeared in the Park City at midnight thriller Black Rock, and her short film Worst Enemy debuted at the festival in 2011.
“What is most gratifying for me is when [filmmakers] keep working in independent film and keep growing in a more interesting way in the films that they’re making,” Cooper said. “What tends to make me excited and actually proud is not so much that they keep coming back, but actually that they’re growing as artists in the type of stories they’re telling.”
Among the U.S. documentary competition films are Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s Blackfish, which centers on a notorious killer whale responsible for three human deaths; Carl Deal and Tia Lessin’s Citizen Koch, which looks at a Republican Party in flux and the impact of new campaign-finance rules; and Martha Shane and Lana Wilson’s After Tiller, which examines the issue of late-term abortions.
After Tiller is the sort of Sundance film that could court controversy, and perhaps even a protest in Park City. (It wouldn’t be the first: In 2011, the Westboro Baptist Church picketed outside the theater where Kevin Smith’s politically tinged horror film Red State premiered.) After Tiller, named for Dr. George Tiller, who performed late-term abortions and was murdered in 2009, looks at the four remaining U.S. physicians who perform the controversial procedure. “That is a very hot topic,” Groth said. “We were not sure how people were going to react to even the notion of that film.”
The world cinema dramatic competition section features Alicia Scherson’s The Future, which co-stars Dutch film icon Rutger Hauer (Escape From Sobibor, the 2011 Sundance film Hobo With a Shotgun) and revolves around two orphans who meet a retired Mr. Universe. Among the world cinema documentary competition films is Ben Lewis’ Google and the World Brain, which looks at the search engine behemoth’s intention to build a digital library by scanning the world’s books over a 10-year period. The film looks at copyright issues and “the reality of ownership versus freedom of information,” Groth said. “It’s complicated and it’s a big issue, and the film gets into that in a really interesting way.”
Last year, the festival’s top jury awards went to Beasts of the Southern Wild (drama) and The House I Live In (documentary). Beasts, a breakout feature from director Benh Zeitlin about a 6-year-old girl living with her impoverished father near the Mississippi Delta, is considered an awards contender. House, from director Eugene Jarecki, explores the injustices of America’s 40-year war on drugs.
Audience awards went to The Sessions, the drama starring Hunt and John Hawkes, who plays a man in an iron lung attempting to lose his virginity, and Searching for Sugar Man, a documentary about a quest to figure out what happened to an elusive rock star.