Fresh start at Sundance

Gilmore sees engagement, diversity on '07 slate

In announcing the competition slate for the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, Geoffrey Gilmore, its longtime director, said he sees the beginning of a new era in independent filmmaking.

"Filmmakers are undergoing a massive expansion in perspective and aesthetic qualities," he said Wednesday. "Where once independence meant a detachment, a kind of navel-gazing, that doesn't exist right now. Instead, there is engagement and innovation. Filmmakers are going out and engaging the real world in terms of subject matter, vision and innovative storytelling."

Old categories of films long a staple of Sundance — the coming-of-age picture or the dysfunctional family drama — are no longer applicable to the competition films in the upcoming festival, Gilmore said. These new films tend to be more optimistic about the future, both politically and personally. Where once the independent world created its films almost in reaction to Hollywood and its happy endings, the new independents are drawing on the traditions of the American independent film itself. So if one thing characterizes Sundance 2007, Gilmore said, it is "freshness."

For the festival — which runs Jan. 18-28 in Park City, Sundance, Salt Lake City and Ogden, Utah — programmers looked at a mind-boggling 3,287 feature submissions. That includes 1,852 U.S. films and 1,435 international movies, an increase from the previous year, when 1,764 U.S. features and 1,384 international films were considered.

The 122 feature films selected include 82 world premieres, 23 North American premieres and 11 U.S. premieres representing 25 countries. The competition section is divided into dramatic and documentary sections for both Independent Film — meaning American films — and World Cinema. Each section will present 16 features, for a total of 64 films that screen in competition.

While the number of first-time filmmakers is down, programmers have discovered the phenomenon of filmmakers in "new guises." So Chris Smith, whose "American Movie" won the Grand Jury Prize for best documentary at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival, returns in dramatic competition with "The Pool," a Hindi-language film set in Goa, India.

"You anticipate what a Chris Smith movie is, then you look at 'The Pool' and you say, 'That's Chris Smith?' " Gilmore said. He added that no fewer than four of the films in the dramatic competition are in languages other than English.

"American independent filmmakers are reaching out and changing the parameters that used to so easily encapsulate them," Gilmore said. "They are redefining what American independent film is."

Diversity is another factor, but not in the way Sundance programmers formerly used the word. "Four Sheets to the Wind" was developed in the Sundance Screenwriters and Directors Lab by Sterlin Harjo, an Oklahoma resident and descendent of the Seminole and Creek tribes. "Adrift in Manhattan" from director Alfredo de Villa, who is Latino, focuses on an eye doctor and an aging artist losing his eyesight.

"These are complicated and sophisticated films," Gilmore said. "You can't call them Native-American or Latino films. They no longer are reducible to their origins. They no longer represent a particular community, but are simply American independent works."

Dramatic competition presents a range of subjects from personal stories about life in suburban and small-town America to stories taking place outside the U.S. The documentary competition naturally has films focused on the country's current travails in Iraq, such as Charles Ferguson's "No End in Sight" and Rory Kennedy's "Ghosts of Abu Ghraib," but also on aspects of World War II in Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman's "Nanking" and Steven Okazaki's "White Light/Black Rain: The Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki."

Each of the 16 films in dramatic and documentary categories is a world premiere. Programmers saw 856 films submitted for the documentary competition, while 996 features were submitted for the dramatic competition.

Sundance launched the world competition categories in 2005 to bolster the prominence of the international films at a festival long seen as a showcase for American indie films. Director of programming John Cooper said that with the upcoming festival, "we now feel the benefit of all the travel we've done (to select films). We have hit our stride with a well-rounded program. Of the 16 films, 13 countries are represented. We found the best films, not necessarily world premieres, to rebuild the respect for foreign films in the U.S."

This year's selections include stories about a writer from China, a nomad in Mongolia, a peasant in Burkina Faso and the aftermath of crime and war in Sierra Leone.

Gela Babluani, a French director born in Georgia and the 2006 Grand Jury Prize winner for "13" (Tzameti), will return to Park City with "The Legacy," a film he made with his father, Temur Babluani. The film looks at culture shock when three French hipsters travel through rural Georgia.

John Carney's "Once" is a modern-day musical set in Dublin. The Israeli-German production "Sweet Mud" (Adama Meshugaat) by Dror Shaul, is Israel's submission for the foreign-language Oscar.

Meanwhile, longtime British documentarian Nick Broomfield ("Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer," "Kurt & Courtney") will showcase "Ghosts," a fictional tale of an illegal Chinese immigrant in the U.K.

Traditionally, international films meant art films in the U.S., Gilmore said. "Now these are not necessarily art films. 'Amelie' and 'Downfall' represent a new edge of where international filmmaking is going. It now embraces genre filmmaking all over the world, not just in Asia. Our selections include art, genre films, melodramas and minimalist works that should redefine what international film is in the U.S."

"The films in the world cinema competition contain complex stories that embrace full visions of life and explore topics that transcend the confines of personal, geographic and artistic borders," Cooper said.

A complete list of the four categories follows.

documentary COMPETITION

Banished (Director: Marco Williams) — The story of three U.S. towns which, in the early 20th century, forced their entire black populations to leave, explores what — if anything — can be done to repair past racial injustice. World Premiere.

Crazy Love (Director: Dan Klores) — An unsettling true story about an obsessive relationship between a married man and a beautiful, single, 20-year-old woman that began in 1957 and continues today. World Premiere.

Everything's Cool (Directors: Judith Helfand, Daniel B. Gold) — A group of self-appointed global warming messengers are on a high-stakes quest to find the iconic image, proper language and points of leverage to help the public go from embracing the urgency of the problem to creating the political will necessary to move to an alternative energy economy. World Premiere.

For the Bible Tells Me So (Director: Daniel Karslake) — Grounded by the stories of five conservative Christian families, the film explores how the religious right has used its interpretation of the Bible to support its agenda of stigmatizing the gay community and eroding the separation between church and state. World Premiere.

Ghosts of Abu Ghraib (Director: Rory Kennedy) — This inside look at the abuses that occurred at the infamous Iraqi prison in fall 2003 uses direct, personal narratives of perpetrators, witnesses and victims to probe the effects of the abuses on all involved. World Premiere.

Girl 27 (Director: David Stenn) — When underage dancer Patricia Douglas is raped at a wild MGM stag party in 1937, she makes headlines and legal history, and then disappears. Follows author-screenwriter Stenn as he investigates one of Hollywood's most notorious scandals. World Premiere.

Hear and Now (Director: Irene Taylor Brodsky) — Brodsky tells a deeply personal story about her deaf parents, and their radical decision — after 65 years of silence — to undergo cochlear implant surgery, a complex procedure that could give them the ability to hear. World Premiere.

Manda Bala (Send a Bullet) (Director: Jason Kohn) — In Brazil, known as one of the world's most corrupt and violent countries, "Manda Bala" follows a politician who uses a frog farm to steal billions of dollars, a wealthy businessman who spends a small fortune bulletproofing his cars, and a plastic surgeon who reconstructs the ears of mutilated kidnapping victims. World Premiere.

My Kid Could Paint That (Director: Amir Bar-lev) — A 4-year-old girl whose paintings are compared to Kandinsky, Pollock and even Picasso, has sold $300,000 worth of paintings. Is she a genius of abstract expressionism, a tiny charlatan or an exploited child whose parents have sold her out for the glare of the media and the lure of the almighty dollar? World Premiere.

Nanking (Director: Bill Guttentag, Dan Sturman) — A powerful and haunting depiction of the atrocities suffered by the Chinese at the hands of the invading Japanese army during "the rape of Nanking," one of the most tragic events of World War II. While more than 200,000 Chinese were murdered and tens of thousands raped, a handful of Westerners performed extraordinary acts of heroism, saving more than 250,000 lives in the midst of the horror. World Premiere.

No End in Sight (Director: Charles Ferguson) — A comprehensive examination of the Bush administration's conduct of the Iraq war and occupation. Featuring first-time interviews with key participants, the film creates a startlingly clear reconstruction of key decisions that led to the current state of affairs in this wartorn country. World Premiere.

Protagonist (Director: Jessica Yu) — Explores the organic relationship between human life and Euripidean dramatic structure by weaving together the stories of four men — a German terrorist, a bank robber, an "ex-gay" evangelist, and a martial arts student. World Premiere.

Chasing Ghosts (Director: Lincoln Ruchti) — Twin Galaxies Arcade, Iowa, 1982: the birthplace of mankind's obsession with video games. The fate of this world lies in the hands (literally) of a few unlikely heroes: they are the Original Video Game World Champions, and the arcade is their battleground. World Premiere.

War Dance (Directors: Sean Fine, Andrea Nix Fine) — Devastated by the long civil war in Uganda, three young girls and their school in the Patongo refugee camp find hope as they make a historic journey to compete in their country's national music and dance festival. World Premiere.

White Light/Black Rain: The Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Director: Steven Okazaki) — Offers a visceral, topical and moving portrait of the human cost of atomic warfare. World Premiere.

Zoo (Director: Robinson Devor) — A humanizing look at the life and bizarre death of a seemingly normal Seattle family man who met his untimely end after an unusual encounter with a horse. World Premiere.

dramatic competition

Adrift in Manhattan (Director: Alfredo De Villa; screenwriters: Nat Moss, Alfredo De Villa) — Set in New York, a grieving eye doctor is forced to take a closer look at her life, an aging artist confronts the loss of his eyesight, and a young photographer battles his innermost demons. World Premiere.

Broken English (Director-screenwriter: Zoe Cassavetes) — A young woman in her 30s finds herself surrounded by friends who are married, in relationships or with children. She unexpectedly meets a quirky Frenchman who opens her eyes to a lot more than love.

World Premiere.

Four Sheets to the Wind (Director-screenwriter: Sterlin Harjo) — Cufe Smallhill finds his father dead. Fulfilling a dying wish, he disposes of the body in the family pond and sets off to begin a new life in the big city of Tulsa. World Premiere.

The Good Life (Director-screenwriter: Steve Berra) — A story about a "mostly normal" young man whose small-town existence running a faded movie palace is shaken when he comes in contact with a mysterious young woman. World Premiere.

Grace is Gone (Director-screenwriter: James C. Strouse) — A young father learns that his wife has been killed in Iraq and must find the courage to tell his two young daughters the news. World Premiere.

Joshua (Director: George Ratliff; screenwriters: David Gilbert, George Ratliff) — A successful young Manhattan family is torn apart by the machinations of Joshua, their 8-year-old prodigy, when his newborn baby sister comes home from the hospital. World Premiere.

Never Forever (Director-screenwriter: Gina Kim) — When an American woman and her Asian-American husband discover that they are unable to conceive, she begins a clandestine relationship with an attractive stranger in a desperate attempt to save her marriage. World Premiere.

On the Road With Judas (Director-screenwriter: JJ Lask) — Reality, fiction and the notions of storytelling intertwine in this narrative about a young thief and the woman he loves. World Premiere.

Padre Nuestro (Director-screenwriter: Christopher Zalla) — Fleeing a criminal past, Juan hops a truck transporting illegal immigrants from Mexico to New York, where he meets Pedro, who is seeking his rich father. World Premiere.

The Pool (Director: Chris Smith; Screenwriters: Chris Smith, Randy Russell) — A boy working in a hotel becomes obsessed with a swimming pool at a home in the opulent hills of Panjim, Goa, in India. His life gets turned upside down when he attempts to meet the mysterious family that arrives at the house. World Premiere.

Rocket Science (Director-screenwriter: Jeffrey Blitz) — A 15-year-old boy from New Jersey with a stuttering problem falls in love with the star of the debate team and finds himself suddenly immersed in the ultra-competitive world of debating. World Premiere.

Snow Angels (Director: David Gordon Green; screenwriter: Stewart O'Nan) — A drama that interweaves the life of a teenager with his former baby-sitter, her estranged husband and their daughter. World Premiere.

Starting Out in the Evening (Director: Andrew Wagner; screenwriters: Andrew Wagner, Fred Parnes) — The solitary life of a writer is shaken when a smart, ambitious graduate student convinces him that her thesis will bring him back into the literary spotlight. World Premiere.

Teeth (Director-screenwriter: Mitchell Lichtenstein) — Still a stranger to her own body, a high school student discovers she has a "physical advantage" when she becomes the object of male violence. World Premiere.

The Untitled Dakota Fanning Project, AKA Hounddog (Director-screenwriter: Deborah Kampmeier) — Set in late 1950s Alabama, a precocious, troubled girl finds her angel in the blues. World Premiere.

Weapons (Director-screenwriter: Adam Bhala Lough) — Weapons presents a series of brutal, seemingly random youth-related killings over the course of a weekend in a typical working-class American suburb, and tragically reveals how they are interrelated. World Premiere.

World cinema documentary competition

Acidente/Brazil (Director: Cao Guimaraes and Pablo Lobato) — Experimental in form, this lush cinematic poem weaves together stories and images from 20 different cities in the state of Menas Gerais, Brazil, to reveal the fundamental role the accidental and the unpredictable play in everyday human life. North American Premiere.

Bajo Juarez, the City Devouring its Daughters/Mexico (Director: Alejandra Sanchez) — In an industrial town in Mexico near the U.S. border, hundreds of women have been sexually abused and murdered. As the body count continues to rise, a web of corruption unfolds that reaches the highest levels of Mexican society. U.S. Premiere.

Cocalero/Bolivia (Director: Alejandro Landes) — Set against the backdrop of the Bolivian government's attempted eradication of the coca crop and oppression of the indigenous groups that cultivate it and the American war on drugs, an Aymara Indian named Evo Morales travels through the Andes and the Amazon in jeans and sneakers, leading a historic campaign to become the first indigenous president of Bolivia. World Premiere.

Comrades in Dreams/Germany (Director: Uli Gaulke) — From the far ends of the globe, four lives that could not be more different are united by a single passion — their unconditional love of cinema and their quest to bring the magic of the silver screen to those who need it most. North American Premiere.

Crossing the Line/U.K. (Director: Daniel Gordon) — Reveals the clandestine life of Joseph Dresnok, who, at the height of the Cold War, was one of the few Americans who defected to North Korea, one of the least understood countries in the world.

North American Premiere.

Enemies of Happiness (Vores Lykkes Fjender)/Denmark (Directors: Eva Mulvad, Anja Al Erhayem) — Malalai Joya, a 28-year-old Afghani woman, redefines the role of women and elected officials in her country with her historic 2005 victory in Afghanistan's first Democratic parliamentary election in more than 30 years. North American Premiere.

The Future is Unwritten/Ireland, U.K. (Director: Julien Temple) — An invitation from Joe Strummer, the punk rock warlord, to journey beyond the myth to the heart and voice of a generation. His life, our times, his music. World Premiere.

Hot House/Israel (Director: Shimon Dotan) — At once chilling and humanizing, the film provides an unprecedented look at how Israeli prisons have become the breeding ground for the next generation of Palestinian leaders as well as the birth place of future terrorist threats.

North American Premiere.

In the Shadow of the Moon/U.K. (Director: David Sington) — One of the defining passages of American history, the Apollo space program literally brought the aspirations of a nation to another world. Awe-inspiring footage and candid interviews with the astronauts who visited the moon provide an unparalleled perspective on the precious state of our planet. World Premiere.

Manufactured Landscapes/Canada (Director: Jennifer Baichwal) — This stunningly visual work provides the unique perspective of photographer Edward Burtynsky, who chronicles the transforming landscape of the world because of industrial work and manufacturing. U.S. Premiere.

The Monastery: Mr. Vig and the Nun/Denmark (Director: Pernille Rose Gronkjær) — Worlds collide, tempers flare and dreams are realized when Mr. Vig, an 82-year-old virgin from Denmark, and Sister Ambrosija, a headstrong Russian nun, join forces to transform Mr. Vig's rundown castle into an orthodox Russian monastery. North American Premiere.

On a Tightrope/Norway, Canada (Director: Petr Lom) — The daily lives of four children living in an orphanage who are learning the ancient art of tightrope walking become a metaphor for the struggle of the Uighur's, China's largest Muslim minority, who are torn between religion and the teachings of communism. North American Premiere.

Three Comrades (Drie Kameraden)/Netherlands (Director: Masha Novikova) — In this intimate film, we witness the lives of three lifelong friends whose worlds are torn apart by war in Chechnya's bloody struggle for independence. North American Premiere.

A Very British Gangster/U.K. (Director: Donal MacIntyre) — Given his many contradictions, Dominic Noonan, head of one of Britain's biggest crime families, is a man who defies stereotypes. This close-up look at his life, from gun trials to the murder of his brother on the streets of Manchester, reveals a community struggling with poverty, violence and drugs. World Premiere.

VHS-Kahloucha/Tunisia (Director: Nejib Belkadhi) — in a poor district of Tunisia, self-made auteur Moncef Kahloucha, a guerilla filmmaker in the purest sense, demonstrates that it takes a village to make fun movies as he brings the power of cinema to the people. North American Premiere.

Welcome Europa/France (Director: Bruno Ulmer) — Kurdish, Moroccan and Romanian young men migrate to Europe for a better life only to face the harsh realities and laws of survival on the streets of a foreign land. North American Premiere.

World cinema dramatic competition

Blame it on Fidel (La Faute a Fidel)/France (Director-screenwriter: Julie Gavras) — A 9-year-old girl weathers big changes in her household as her parents become radical political activists in 1970-71 Paris. North American Premiere.

Drained (O Cheiro do Ralo)/Brazil (Director: Heitor Dhalia; screenwriters: Marcal Aquino, Heitor Dhalia) — A pawn shop proprietor buys used goods from desperate locals as much to play perverse power games as for his own livelihood, but when the perfect rump and a backed-up toilet enter his life, he loses all control. North American Premiere.

Driving With My Wife's Lover (Ane-eui Aein-eul Mannada)/South Korea (Director: Kim Tai-sik; screenwriters: Kim Jeon-han, Kim Tai-sik) — When a mild-mannered South Korean man decides to track down the cab driver having an affair with his wife, a strange bond develops between the pair during a long-distance drive. North American Premiere.

Eagle vs. Shark/New Zealand (Director-screenwriter: Taika Waititi) — The tale of two socially awkward misfits and the strange ways they try to find love. World Premiere.

Ezra/France (Director: Newton I. Aduaka; screenwriters: Newton I. Aduaka, Alain-Michel Blanc) — A young ex-child soldier in Sierra Leone attempts to return to a normal life after the civil war that devastated his country. World Premiere.

Ghosts/U.K. (Director: Nick Broomfield; screenwriters: Nick Broomfield, Jez Lewis) — Based on a true story, the film is the tragic account of an illegal Chinese immigrant woman as she struggles relentlessly for a better life in the U.K. North American Premiere.

How is Your Fish Today? (Jin Tian de yu Zen me Yang?)/U.K. (Director: Xiaolu Guo; screenwriters: Rao Hui, Xiaolu Guo) — Blurring boundaries between reality and fiction, the film traces a Chinese writer's inner journey through his fictional characters. North American Premiere.

How She Move/Canada (Director: Ian Iqbal Rashid; screenwriter: Annmarie Morais) — Following her sister's death from drug addiction, a high school student is forced to leave her private school to return to her old, crime-filled neighborhood, where she rekindles an unlikely passion for the competitive world of "step" dancing. World Premiere.

The Island (Ostrov)/Russia (Director: Pavel Lounguine; screenwriter: Dmitri Sobolev) — Somewhere in northern Russia in a small Russian orthodox monastery lives an unusual man whose bizarre conduct confuses his fellow monks, while others who visit the island believe that the man has the power to heal, exorcise demons and foretell the future. U.S. Premiere.

Khadak/Belgium, Germany (Director-screenwriters: Peter Brosens, Jessica Woodworth) — Set in the frozen steppes of Mongolia, the film tells the epic story of Bagi, a young nomad confronted with his destiny after animals fall victim to a plague that threatens to eradicate nomadism. U.S. Premiere.

The Legacy/Georgia, France (Director-screenwriters: Gela Babluani, Temur Babluani) — Three French hipsters and their translator travel through rural Georgia to claim a remote, ruined castle that one of them has inherited. En route, they encounter an old man and his grandchild who are on a journey to carry out a mysterious, morbid ritual designed to end a conflict between warring clans. North American Premiere.

The Night Buffalo (El Bufalo de la Noche)/Mexico (Director: Jorge Hernandez Aldana; screenwriters: Jorge Hernandez Aldana, Guillermo Arriaga) — A 22-year-old schizophrenic commits suicide after his girlfriend cheats on him with his best friend. Before killing himself, he lays out a plan that will drive the lovers into an abyss of madness. World Premiere.

Noise/Australia (Director-screenwriter: Matthew Saville) — A young cop, beset with doubt and afflicted with tinnitus (ear-ringing), is pitched into the chaos that follows a mass murder on a suburban train. He struggles to clear the screaming in his head while the surrounding community deals with the aftereffects of the terrible crime. World Premiere.

Once/Ireland (Director-screenwriter: John Carney) — A modern-day musical set on the streets of Dublin. Featuring Glen Hansard and his Irish band the Frames, the film tells the story of a busker and an immigrant during an eventful week as they write, rehearse and record songs that reveal their unique love story. North American Premiere.

Reves de poussiere (Dreams of Dust)/Burkina Faso, Canada, France (Director-screenwriter: Laurent Salgues) — A Nigerian peasant comes looking for work in Essakane, a dusty gold mine in northeast Burkina Faso, where he hopes to forget the past that haunts him. U.S. Premiere.

Sweet Mud (Adama Meshugaat)/Israel (Director-screenwriter: Dror Shaul) — On a kibbutz in southern Israel in the 1970s, Dvir Avni realizes that his mother is mentally ill. In this closed community bound by rigid rules, Dvir must navigate between the kibbutz motto of equality and the stinging reality that his mother has, in effect, been abandoned by the community. U.S. Premiere.