The Six Faces to Watch

6:00 AM PST 01/17/2012 by Jay A. Fernandez
Dana Manan

Odds are good that Sundance will be a major launching pad for these actors and directors on the brink of the big time.

Odds are good that Sundance will be a major launching pad for these actors and directors on the brink of the big time.

Katie Aselton

Aselton's directorial debut, The Freebie, brought her positive attention when it screened at Sundance in 2010, but the 33-year-old's new thriller, Black Rock, is poised to show the broader range of an actress-director mostly known for comedy (Our Idiot Brother, FX's The League).

Ann Dowd

Dowd's performance in Compliance is one of the trickiest in the festival, that of a beleaguered fast-food manager whose detainment of a teenage counter girl at the request of a suspicious policeman leads her down a perilous and unexpected path. The return to Sundance of filmmaker Craig Zobel (2007's Great World of Sound), Compliance sets up the 54-year-old character actress (Garden State, The Notorious Bettie Page) for a breakout like that of Melissa Leo in the 2008 grand jury prize-winning Frozen River.

Benh Zeitlin

Buyers, sellers and programmers alike have been chattering about 29-year-old Zeitlin's competition debut, Beasts of the Southern Wild, a coming-of-age story about a 6-year-old girl living in a surreal rural South. A product of the Sundance Institute's directors lab, the movie spotlights a new filmmaker with a strikingly original -- and independent -- vision.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead

Although the 27-year-old actress has done her share of studio work (The Thing, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Final Destination 3), her raw performance in the competition film Smashed as a woman struggling to shed her marriage's dependence on alcohol showcases stripped-down dramatic chops that could open doors.

Mark Webber

The 31-year-old writer-actor and Sundance regular has kicked around the indie world for 13 years, but at the 2012 fest, he not only provides onscreen support in two female-centric comedies (Save the Date, For a Good Time, Call …) but also writes and directs himself in his filmmaking debut, The End of Love, a competition drama about a new father struggling with the death of his infant's mother.

Gina Rodriguez

A virtual unknown, Rodriguez is the fierce central force in competition entry Filly Brown, a Mexican girl coping with her mother's incarceration via hip-hop. It's a challenge similar to that faced by then-unknown Michelle Rodriguez (no relation), whose knockout debut in Karyn Kusama's Girlfight helped that film win the 2000 grand jury prize and launched her career.

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