'Mary and Max' to open Sundance

Second animated film in fest's history to get honor

NEW YORK -- The 25th Sundance Film Festival's slate is taking shape with the clay animated opening night film "Mary and Max" starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Toni Collette.

The Aussie feature debut of director Adam Elliot and producer Melanie Coombs, the team behind 2004's Oscar-winning animated short "Harvie Krumpet," will have its world premiere Jan. 15 in Park City, Utah. "Max" is only the second animated film in the fest's history to be selected for the prestigious slot, following 2007's "Chicago 10."

"Dame Edna" creator Barry Humphries narrates the story of a pen-pal friendship between a lonely, 8-year-old girl (Collette) living in suburban Melbourne and a morbidly obese New Yorker (Hoffman). The tale spans two decades and is far from children's fare, covering such topics as autism, taxidermy, psychiatry, alcoholism, obesity and kleptomania.

"This portrait of a global friendship between two marvelously dysfunctional people is an exceptionally moving, funny and thought-provoking work," said SFF director Geoffrey Gilmore.

How such an offbeat project will fare in an indie film industry with feet of clay remains to be seen, but the opening night slot has traditionally helped films without domestic distribution attract industry attention. Icon Entertainment International was repping worldwide sales for "Max" at last week's American Film Market and will be shopping it to U.S. distributors in Utah.

"By opening night it will have been five years since Melanie and I began working on the film," said Elliot, whose "Krumpet" also premiered at the fest. "It has been a whale of a pregnancy, and we are so thrilled that the birth will be in Sundance."
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