Lineup crosses cultures, boundaries

Global outreach for stories is evident as Sundance unveils noncompetitive entries

It's no secret that changes in the real world affect movements in the reel world. As such, the Sundance Film Festival is a real-time diorama that displays just how flat the filmmaking world is becoming.

Although the movies themselves might remain independent in spirit, the moviemaking universe has only grown more interdependent — that may be the lesson of the 25th annual Sundance fest. "What's really impactful right now is the degree to which globalization has affected how people conceive of subjects and how people make films," festival director Geoffrey Gilmore said.

Gilmore pointed to the cross-cultural elements that have informed and financed many of the 118 official documentary and dramatic selections of this year's festival, which announced its noncompetitive lineup Thursday. Gone is the navel-gazing prevalent in the sunshiney '90s, replaced by the borderless 21st century globalization that has become more organically built in to the production schema and talent pools of the filmmaking world.

"The insularity has changed dramatically in terms of how people think about what's going on in the world," said Gilmore, pointing to such features as "Cold Souls," "Sin Nombre" and the previously announced opening-night salvo, "Mary and Max," a clay-animated feature about the pen-pal relationship between an 8-year-old Melbourne girl and a 40-year-old New York man.

"You get this sense of this global outreach going on in terms of how filmmakers tell stories and think about stories," Gilmore said. "Storytelling is really different — it's crossing geographic boundaries, it's crossing socio-economic boundaries, it's crossing cultural boundaries in some cases and it's generational."

The 2009 festival runs Jan. 15-25 in Park City, Salt Lake City, Ogden and Sundance. In addition to the 64 films in competition, another 54 features will screen in the four out-of-competition sections: Premieres, Spectrum (drama and documentary), Park City at Midnight and Frontier.

The Premieres section has yo-yoed in size the past few years, jumping from 17 to 24 entries in 2008 and back down to 16 this year. Since the festival is moving competition films into the noon and 3 p.m. slots at the Eccles, the Premieres have had to shrink. "It feels right," programming director John Cooper said. "There are fewer, but they're better."

Included in the Premieres division are a number of films with higher-profile actors and directors, including Greg Mottola directing Kristen Stewart and Ryan Reynolds in "Adventureland"; Antoine Fuqua directing Richard Gere, Ethan Hawke and Don Cheadle in "Brooklyn's Finest"; and Glenn Ficarra and John Requa directing Ewan McGregor and Jim Carrey in "I Love You Philip Morris."

Billy Bob Thornton turns up in both "The Informers," an adaptation of a Bret Easton Ellis novel directed by Gregor Jordan, and "Manure," from brothers Mark Polish and Michael Polish. Kevin Spacey stars in "Moon," directed by Duncan Jones, and "Shrink," from director Jonas Pate.

The Spectrum section includes a bevy of anticipated nonfiction offerings from noted filmmakers. Davis Guggenheim will bring "It Might Get Loud," a history of the electric guitar as told by the Edge, Jimmy Page and Jack White; Spike Lee offers "Passing Strange," another musical journey; Robert Townsend directs "Why We Laugh: Black Comedians on Black Comedy"; and the Gonzo pranksters the Yes Men bring "The Yes Men Fix the World."

Gilmore doesn't see the growing dissolution of studio specialty wings as having any real impact on submissions or acquisitions. In terms of submissions, "At this point, that can come from any place in the studio," he said. "The studios don't need a specialized division to get in touch with a film festival anymore. They might have a decade ago. Now, there's a relationship that exists throughout."

As for acquisitions, "All of the studio specialized divisions have reconceived what they think their agendas need to be," Gilmore said. "They're much more mainstream than they were a few years ago, and they're driven by a higher theatrical target in terms of what they think they need to succeed."

Gilmore and Cooper see a shift in how strategic the studios made their festival offers. Cannes and Toronto can work well to build momentum for a fall Oscar run, but Sundance's January position doesn't serve that goal.

On a logistical note, the awards ceremony for the winning short films has been moved up from the end of the festival to midweek, on Tuesday night. "It creates an energy around them in just getting meetings and stuff," Cooper said. "Shorts tend to get overshadowed, so it's a way of pulling it out a little bit." (partialdiff)
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