Sundance Premieres early, often

U2, CSNY, Gondry, Ball, Redford's kid represent

At the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, the gala Premieres, which used to take place in the chilly nighttime, will begin as early as 3 p.m., and there will be more this year than ever.

As the Sundance Institute on Thursday announced the lineup of films screening out of competition at its 2008 edition, organizers said that the Premieres section has significantly expanded. This year, 24 films will play as galas, occupying the 3, 6 and 9:30 p.m. slots at the Eccles Theater in Park City, the festival's largest venue. By contrast, there were 17 Premieres at Sundance 2007.

Although he admitted he was tempted, festival director Geoffrey Gilmore said the size of Sundance has not expanded. The festival again will screen 121 feature films, which includes 81 world premieres. What organizers have done, director of programming John Cooper said, is to reposition films in the Spectrum category — which previously played in the 3 p.m. slot — into the Premiere section.

"These are films that deserve that (Premiere) position inside the Eccles," Cooper said.

The announcement rounds out the rest of the 2008 program, which includes Premieres, Spectrum, New Frontier and Park City at Midnight sections. The 2008 Sundance Film Festival runs Jan. 17-27 in Park City, Salt Lake City, Ogden and Sundance, Utah.

The Premieres section showcases highly anticipated films from the American indie world and from international filmmakers. Perhaps the two most highly anticipated films are music related.

Catherine Owens and Mark Pellington's 3-D film of U2's Vertigo world tour — snippets of which were shown in May at the Festival de Cannes — will be presented in its entirety. The only question is: What 3-D glasses will be used?

Gilmore said the festival must decide between two kinds of glasses or goggles. "Either way, there will be a single projector putting a split film image on the screen that are read by the (3-D) goggles," he said.

This year's closing-night film will be the world premiere of Bernard Shakey's "CSNY Deja Vu," which looks at the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young reunion tour and the musicians' connection to its audience in political and musical terms. Young is credited as a co-writer on the project.

Pellington performs a twofer this year as his "Henry Poole Is Here" also is in the Premieres section. After discovering he has a mere six weeks to live, Henry Poole (Luke Wilson) retreats from his everyday life for the comfort of booze, junk food and solitude until a "miracle" and his oddball neighbors intervene.

Another person who will be doing Q&As more than once will be actress-director Amy Redford, daughter of Sundance Institute founder Robert Redford. As an actress, she stars in "Sunshine Cleaning," an irreverent comedy that will play in Dramatic Competition. As a first-time director, she will present "The Guitar," which like "Henry Poole," centers on a person diagnosed with a terminal illness. Amos Poe's "Guitar" screenplay is about a woman (Saffron Burrows) without long to live who blows her savings to pursue her dreams.

Michel Gondry came to Sundance two years ago with his mind-blowing "The Science of Sleep." He returns with his "Be Kind Rewind," in which Jack Black plays a man whose brain has become magnetized, leading to the unintentional destruction of all the movies in a friend's video store. In order to keep the store's one loyal customer, the pair re-create a long line of films including "The Lion King," "Rush Hour" and "Ghostbusters."

" 'Be Kind Rewind' will tax people's patience but has a wonderful payoff," Gilmore said.

As previously announced, the festival opens with the world premiere of "In Bruges," written and directed by first-time filmmaker and award-winning playwright Martin McDonagh. The film, which stars Ralph Fiennes, Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, revolves around two hitmen ordered to take a forced holiday in Bruges, Belgium.

Two films about filmmaking should amuse the in-crowd. In Barry Levinson's "What Just Happened?" Robert De Niro plays a desperate producer struggling with a desperate film shoot. In Steven Schachter's "The Deal," William H. Macy co-writes and stars in a tale about another similarly desperate producer who cons a studio into financing a film that actually has no script.

The tongue-in-cheek latter film "brings back Meg Ryan to the kind of romantic roles she plays so well," Gilmore said.

Premieres also is the section containing several films seen at earlier festivals such as writer-director Tom McCarthy's "The Visitor" and Alan Ball's "Nothing Is Private" — movies that deal with immigrants in America — which debuted at Toronto, and Tom Kalin's "Savage Grace," which rocked Cannes with its themes of dynastic decline, incest, madness and death.

Sundance 2008 will throw an even brighter spotlight on documentaries by creating a sidebar within the Spectrum category for seven docus.

"The professional career of documentarians has changed dramatically," Gilmore said. "Documentaries were once a small world. Now it's a much broader spectrum of professionals and of people who move back and forth between features and documentaries, making films on subjects they are passionate about."

The Spectrum section also is where returning Sundance alums are to be found. To wit, "Made in America" by Stacy Peralta, who enjoyed a hit at the 2001 festival with "Dogtown and Z-Boys"; "Blind Date" from Stanley Tucci, who has come to Sundance with such interesting films as "Big Night" (1996) and "Joe Gould's Secret" (2000); "August" from Austin Chick, who made 2002's "XX/XY"; "Baghead" by writer-directors Mark and Jay Duplass, who brought "Scrapple" in 2004; and "Bottle Shock," a retelling of the famous 1976 blind wine tasting in Paris that rocketed California wines to fame and glory, from Randall Miller, whose "Marilyn Hotchkiss' Ballroom Dancing & Charm School" played in 2005.

Park City at Midnight usually is the repository of the strange and the bloody. This year, though, Gilmore insisted, "the genre films are very fresh with a strong quality of execution."

Quentin Tarantino, absent from Park City for a few years, returns to "present" Larry Bishop's modern-day take on 1960s biker flicks, "Hell Ride." A German-Canadian Midnight entry, "Otto (Up With Dead People)," is described by Gilmore as "an incredibly odd but interesting mix of gay zombies and a European setting."

The British "Donkey Punch," named after a risky sexual practice, is a thriller that takes place aboard a luxury yacht. And Michael Haneke will bring "Funny Games," an almost shot-by-shot remake of his 1997 Austrian chiller, only this time in English and in a Long Island setting.