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Parties, premieres galore at Sundance film fest

The world's top independent movie festival will feature some 120 feature and documentary films from 32 countries this year.

india Updated: Jan 21, 2006 13:02 IST

The Sundance Film Festival, the world's top independent movie showcase and a hotspot for Hollywood deal-making, kicked off in the Utah mountains with a flurry of parties and premieres.

Some 120 feature and documentary films from 32 countries will be presented over 10 days in the packed Park City ski resort during the 25th edition of the event, launched by movie star Robert Redford in 1981.

As in previous years, the 2006 festival, peppered by movies about the war in Iraq, immigration and US politics, is expected to see the discovery of a host of unknown "small" movies that could go on to become major global commercial hits.

"While every year the Festival evolves and has a different complexion, the through line is the discovery of fresh, original voices from around the world with quality storytelling that takes risks whether it be in dramatic or documentary films," said festival director Geoffrey Gilmore.

Hollywood stars, movie moguls, star gazers and anxious independent filmmakers arrived to a fresh blanket of snow searching for the right deal, the next hit and entertainment.

This year's festival started Thursday with the premiere of a dramatic comedy titled "Friends With Money," starring Hollywood darling Jennifer Aniston and will feature a total of 85 world premieres.

"Sundance is about storytelling," Sundance Institute president and founder Redford told a press conference. "Storytellers can broaden our minds: engage, provoke, inspire, and ultimately, connect us."

Some 64 movies will compete for prizes in the top US and international drama and documentary categories at the festival, which runs from January 19 to 29.

While the movies unspooling at the festival are independent, they feature a galaxy of well known stars, including Robert Downey Jr, Maggie Gyllenhaal, "Sideways" star Paul Giamatti, Rosario Dawson and Ryan Gosling.

Redford admitted that Sundance -- which in recent years has been accused by some of selling out to commercialism and mainstream moviemakers -- has sometimes been overtaken by Tinseltown glitter.

"Sometimes it blurred what we are doing," Redford admitted to reporters. "Once the festival achieved a certain level of notoriety, people (came here) with agendas that were not the same as ours."

The "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" screen icon launched the festival as a small affair that gave non-mainstream filmmakers a rare forum at which to exhibit their work, which was ruthlessly shunned by Tinseltown.

Since then, a host of hidden jewels have been discovered at Sundance, including the 1989 global hit Sex, Lies and Videotape, Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs, the dark Scottish film Trainspotting and 2004's Oscar-nominated Maria Full of Grace.

This year, non-studio films may prove even more alluring to the Hollywood deal-makers as the 2006 Oscars race is dominated by a raft of successful smaller films including Brokeback Mountain, Good Night, And Good Luck, Capote and Paul Haggis's racially-charged drama Crash.

Redford and Gilmore introduced Nicole Holofcener, the director of Friends With Money, which also stars Catherine Keener, Frances McDormand and Joan Cusack.

"With a magnificent ensemble cast, Friends With Money addresses both contemporary social issues and personal lives, a characteristic of many great movies and an exciting film to open this year's festival," Gilmore said.

Among the other offerings this year are several documentaries about the Iraq conflict, including Ground Truth: After the Killing Ends, by Patricia Foulkrod, detailing the experiences of US soldiers during training, in combat in Iraq and later returning to America.

Iraq in Fragments from director James Longley, tells the story of Iraqis living in war conditions, under occupation and amid ethnic tension.

On the political front, American Blackout takes a look at voting troubles in the 2002 US presidential election, while the World According to Sesame Street is a look at how the children's television show is adapted around the world according to local conditions.

Immigration and the flow of people across borders inspired several documentaries, including Crossing Arizona, about Latin Americans slipping over the border into the United States, and God grew tired of us, which follows four Sudanese youths that head to America through sub-Saharan Africa.

First Published: Jan 21, 2006 13:02 IST