The early December ritual of the Sundance lineup release is again underway with the competition lineups announced today. Now that die hards have had a bit of time to digest the official roster, and the rumors and insider tip offs are now heresay, iW came up with some initial factoids and trivia for some of this year’s titles, including Sundance veterans, newcomers, Oscar winners & nominees actor-turned-director and even a dramatic competition slug out between two “Sopranos” stars. No doubt there will be more to add to this initial round of tidbits, but here’s some of the history and facts from this year’s U.S. competition.
U.S. Dramatic Competition
– Actor Ryan Gosling returns to Sundance this year in director Derek Cianfrance’s portrait of an American marriage opposite Michelle Williams. Gosling received an Oscar nomination for his role in Ryan Fleck’s “Half Nelson,” which screened in competition in 2006.
– “Douchebag” director Drake Doremus returns to Park City with his feature in competition. He was in town last year atop Main Street at Slamdance with his comedy/drama “Spooner.”
– “Ugly Betty” actress America Ferrera joins the cast in Ryan Piers Williams’ “The Dry Land,” about a soldier returning home from war. Ferrera won Sundance’s Dramatic Prize for Acting in 2002 for Patricia Cardoso’s “Real Women Have Curves.” The film also stars Wilmer Valderrama, Ethan Suplee, June Diane Raphael and Melissa Leo.
– “Hesher” director Spencer Susser returns to Sundance following his 2008 entry, “I Love Sarah Jane.” The film stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who will also have an installation in this year’s Sundance New Frontier section titled, “hitRECord.org.” Gordon-Levitt was in Sundance last year with Marc Webb’s “(500) Days of Summer,” and is long a Park City veteran, including with Gregg Araki’s 2005 feature, “Mysterious Skin.” Portman is also a regular in town, starring in Zach Braff’s “Garden State” in 2004. Portman has been making the rounds recently with the upcoming release of “Brothers” and she received a tribute award at Monday night’s Gotham Independent Film Awards in New York City.
– Actor Jesse Eisenberg returns to Sundance with Kevin Tyler Asch’s “Holy Rollers.” Eisenberg, who first hit the scene in a significant way with 2002’s “Roger Dodger” by Dylan Kidd at the Tribeca Film Festival, traveled to Sundance for Noah Baumbach’s “The Squid and the Whale” in 2005 (in which the director won Directing and Screenwriting prizes). Eisenberg has lately been seen in “Adventureland” and “Zombieland.”
– Director/screenwriters Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman return to the festival with “Howl,” about beat poet Allen Ginsberg, making their move into narrative film. The pair won the Directors Award in 2000 for “Paragraph 175,” and also screened “The Celluloid Closet” in 1996. Epstein directed the seminal 1984 doc, “The Times of Harvey Milk.”
– Director/screenwriter Bryan Poyser returns to Utah with his feature on estranged brothers in “Lovers of Hate.” He screened his film, “Dear Pillow” at the 2004 Slamdance Film Festival.
– Actor Anthony Mackie will join Kerry Washington, Jamie Hector, Wendell Pierce and Jamara Griffin in director/screenwriter Tanya Hamilton’s “Night Cathes Us.” Mackie starred in Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker,” which won Best Ensemble Cast as well as Best Feature Monday night at the Gothams. He was also in Ryan Fleck’s “Half Nelson.”
– Actress Ashley Greene returns to Sundance with debut director Anthony Burns’ “Skateland,” set in a 1980s small Texas town skate rink. She starred in 2007’s “King of California” which played the fest, and she’s well-known to “Twilight” enthusiasts the world over.
– Mark Ruffalo will star in the film which is also his directorial debut, “Sympathy for Delicious,” along with Orlando Bloom, Juliette Lewis, Laura Linney and John Carroll Lynch.
– “3 Backyards” director Eric Mendelsohn won the Directing Award in 1999 for “Judy Berlin” at Sundance, and returns with his latest, which stars Embeth Davidtz and Edie Falco. Falco, who stars in Showtime’s “Nurse Jackie” played Carmela Soprano opposite her premium TV husband, James Gandolfini, who stars in Jake Scott’s “Welcome to the Rileys,” also in the Dramatic Competition.
– Director Debra Granik took the 1998 Short Filmmaking prize for “Snake Feed” as well as the Directing Award in 2004 for “Down to the Bone,” which also picked up a Best Performance nod for actress Vera Farmiga at the fest. Granik returns this year with “Winter’s Bone,” starring Jennifer Lawrence and John Hawkes.”
U.S. Documentary Competition
– Director Alex Gibney returns to Sundance with his latest, “Casino Jack & The United States of Money.” He, of course, won the Oscar for Best Documentary in 2007 and received a nomination in 2005 for “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” which also screened in competition. He also screened “Gonzo: The Life and Worlk of Hunter S. Thompson” in competition in 2008.
– Director duo Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg return to Sundance with “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work.” They are vets of the fest, having screened “The Devil Came on Horseback” in 2007 and “The Trials of Darryl Hunt” in 2006. “Devil” cinematographer Tim Hetherington will also be in Sundance in the doc competition – this time as co-director (along with Sebastian Junger) for “Restrepo.”
– “Lucky” director Jeffrey Blitz won accolades including an Oscar nomination as well as big box office grosses for 2003’s “Spellbound,” and won a directing award in Sundance for “Rocket Science” in 2007. He returns this year with a spotlight on lotto winners.
– Laura Poitras received a Truer Than Fiction nomination at the Spirit Awards in 2004 for “Flag Wars,” along with Linda Goode Bryant (in addition to prizes at SXSW and Full Frame). She will be at Sundance with “The Oath.”
– Jennifer Arnold returns to Sundance with “A Small Act.” She directed “American Mullet,” which screened at Sundance in 2001.
– Leon Gast along with David Sonenberg won the Oscar for Best Documentary in 1997 for “When We Were Kings,” which also received a Special Recognition at the 1996 Sundance Film Festival. He turns the camera on a paparazzo with his latest, “Smash His Camera.”
– Filmmaking duo Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing take their doc about the abortion battle, “12th & Deleware” to Sundance this year. The pair’s “Jesus Camp” received an Oscar nomination in 2007, and won prizes at Tribeca and SilverDocs.
– Director Amir Bar-Lev is no stranger to Sundance, having been a producer on “Trouble the Water” (directed by Carl Deal and Tia Lessin) which received an Oscar nomination earlier this year, and won the prize for Best Doc at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. He also directed 2007’s “My Kid Could Paint That,” which reportedly sold for a premium sum that year to Sony Classics that year. His latest, “Untitled Pat Tillman Project” is the story of football star turned soldier, Pat Tillman.
– Davis Guggenheim palled around with former Vice President Al Gore at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival with his global warming doc, “An Inconvenient Truth,” which won the Oscar for Best Documentary at the 2007 Academy Awards. He returns in 2010 with “Waiting for Superman,” which looks at the crisis of public education in the U.S.