Sundance mixes it up

Premiere films hard to classify

Premieres at the Sundance Film Festival — taking place on chilly evenings in Park City, usually with major stars in attendance — have been showcases for big films, usually from studios and often by established filmmakers. At Sundance 2007, the Premieres will be much harder to categorize, festival director Geoffrey Gilmore said.

"There will be first-time filmmakers, unknown filmmakers, films that play to a broad audience, yet also challenging films with dense, complicated stories," he said.

Gilmore made these comments Thursday as he and director of programming John Cooper announced the lineup of films in the festival's out-of-competition sections. Along with Premieres, these include Spectrum, Park City at Midnight and New Frontier. The festival runs Jan. 18-28 in Park City as well as in locations throughout Utah including Salt Lake City, Sundance and Ogden.

Premieres will include the closing-night film, Nelson George's "Life Support," starring Queen Latifah as an AIDS activist in a Brooklyn black community, and the previously announced opening-night film, Brett Morgan's "Chicago 10," an innovative documentary that uses animation to tell the story of the 1968 anti-war protest at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago and the famous 1969 conspiracy trial.

What drives this section are actors' performances, Cooper said. He pointed to Samuel L. Jackson in two Premiere films, as an ex-boxing champ living on the streets in Rod Lurie's "Resurrecting the Champ" and as a bluesman in Craig Brewer's "Black Snake Moan"; Michael Douglas as an unstable father in Mike Cahill's "King of California"; Brenda Blethyn in Cherie Nowlan's "Clubland" from Australia; Jared Leto as John Lennon's murderer, Mark David Chapman, in Jarrett Schaefer's "Chapter 27"; and perennial Sundance fave Catherine Keener in "An American Crime," Tommy O'Haver's take on the true story of a housewife in the 1960s who kept a girl locked in her basement.

Other performances singled out by Cooper and Gilmore include Jim Broadbent as eccentric British politician Lord Longford in Tom Hooper's TV drama "Longford"; Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney as siblings in Tamara Jenkins' "The Savages"; Molly Shannon in the fest's Saturday Night Premiere, Mike White's "Year of the Dog," described as a comedy with serious drama; and Kevin Kline as a Texas cop on the trail of sex traffickers in Marco Kreuzpaintner's "Trade."

The Spectrum section changed its name from American Spectrum in 2006 to broaden the category to include international films and docus, "a full spectrum of work," Cooper said. Of particular interest in this section, albeit for tragic reasons, is "Waitress," selected by Sundance programmers before the murder of its director-actress, Adrienne Shelly, best known for her work in Hal Hartley's "Trust" and "The Unbelievable Truth." Programmers anticipate a very poignant screening.

Hartley will be represented in Spectrum by the U.S. premiere of "Fay Grim," while actor-director Steve Buscemi will world premiere his journalist drama "Interview." Meanwhile, Buscemi will star in Tom DiCillo's "Delirious," which also has a journalism angle.

"Bugmaster" (Mushishi) from Japanese director Katsuhiro Otomo, based on a celebrated manga, will screen in a version 32 minutes shorter than the one that debuted at the Venice Film Festival in September.

The New Frontier section is highlighted by a new initiative from the festival, one that Gilmore referred to as the "traditional avant-garde." He coined the oxymoron-sounding phase while explaining a kind of experimental film familiar to Sundancegoers versus the works showcased at the upcoming festival from artists working at the intersection of art, film and emerging media technologies.

This will result in a new venue called New Frontier on Main, located across from the Egyptian Theatre on Main Street in Park City (previously known as the Film Center). This spot will host screenings, moving image installations, live performances, a cafe/lounge and panel discussions.

"It's a crossover from Internet technology and nontraditional storytelling, a new wave we want to find a way to platform," Cooper said. "These are artists pushing the limits of how audiences engage with moving images."

Thus, Nina Menkes ("Phantom Love," set in Los Angeles and India) represents the traditional avant-garde, while Travis Wilkerson's "Proving Ground" combines video, text, live music and commentary. Even Anthony Hopkins takes his turn as writer-director of "Slipstream," where "time, dreams and reality collide."

For Park City at Midnight, usually a slasher/ghoul fest, Cooper promised "a lot comedies" albeit with the requisite weirdness.

Gilmore and Cooper said the festival has "fine-tuned" the experience of Sundance itself for the upcoming edition. From the walking paths between the venues to the shuttle buses, the goal is easier navigation and a better overall experience. "We need to make the festival accessible for first timers, especially international visitors," Gilmore said.

The festival has hired consultants for the bus routes and operation. It also will move the Industry Center from its headquarters at the Marriott Park City to the Yarrow Hotel, where press screenings take place. There they will establish a hospitality room for press and industry.

A new parking lot on Main Street should relieve some congestion there. However, construction at the popular Eccles Theatre on the high school campus continues, so parking will remain a problem probably for another two years.

As for the ambush marketers and swag lounges that proliferate around Main Street, Gilmore and Cooper suggested that these may be winding down. But neither is holding his breath.

A complete list of out-of-competition films follows.