The Sundance Film Festival thrives on the potential for discovery — a new artistic voice, a new world explored, a new approach to telling a story. And with the announcement of its official competition lineups and NEXT <=> category selections Wednesday, fest director John Cooper and programming director Trevor Groth expect that those unknown breakthroughs will be no less potent in the festival’s 29th year.
“The quality continues to grow for independent film,” Cooper says, pointing to the more than 12,000 submissions the festival received this year. “I’m chalking a lot of it up to the vital community that exists, when we talk about well-known actors willing to be in independent films and the creation of better film teams — creative producers, art directors, DPs — a general surge of talent that’s both creating independent film and staying with independent film as a career.”
While there are 27 brand-new directorial voices represented in competition this year, there are also a number of returning vets. Among them are James Ponsoldt (“Smashed,” 2012) with “The Spectacular Now,” written by “(500) Days of Summer” screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber; Jacob Kornbluth (“Haiku Tunnel,” 2001) with the documentary “Inequality for All;” Lynn Shelton (“Humpday,” 2009) with “Touchy Feely;” Cherien Dabis (“Amreeka,” 2009) with “May in the Summer;” and Shane Carruth (“Primer,” 2004) with “Upstream Color.”
The 16 world premiere films in the U.S. dramatic section will be vying for the kind of attention a handful of selections receive each year coming out of the 10-day event. The 2012 festival boosted a number of films — Ava DuVernay’s “Middle of Nowhere,” Ira Sachs’ “Keep the Lights On,” Colin Trevorrow’s “Safety Not Guaranteed” and, of course, Benh Zeitlin’s grand jury prize-winning “Beasts of the Southern Wild” — to some degree. And Cooper and Groth continue to try to grow the audience for its world cinema selections.
“We’re always looking at that world competition as a place of discovery,” says Cooper. “For films that get neglected by American audiences, for sure, but also that may even get neglected in their countries of origin.”
The NEXT section, which is devoted to very low-budget American films crafted with an original vision, this year includes Alexandre Moors’ “Blue Caprice,” a fictional take on the two men behind the DC sniper murders; Andrew Bujalski’s existential comedy “Computer Chess;” Matthew Porterfield’s family drama “I Used to Be Darker” and Yen Tan’s “Pit Stop.”
“The festival is about the individual films, and the visions that they are,” says Groth. “What we wanted NEXT <=> to look like, those films perfectly represent.”
Of the 4,044 feature-length film submissions, 113 have been selected for screening during the festival, including 98 world premieres and 51 movies from first-time filmmakers. The line-ups for the Spotlight, Park City at Midnight and New Frontier sections will be unveiled Thursday, Nov. 29, while the Premieres and Documentary Premieres sections will have their time Monday, Dec. 3. (The Short Film section comes Tuesday, Dec. 4.)
The Sundance Film Festival runs from Jan. 17-27, 2013.
Click through to the individual programs:
The 16 world premieres in the U.S. Dramatic Competition after the jump:
Afternoon Delight / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Jill Soloway) — In this sexy, dark comedy, a lost L.A. housewife puts her idyllic hipster life in jeopardy when she tries to rescue a stripper by taking her in as a live-in nanny. Cast: Kathryn Hahn, Juno Temple, Josh Radnor, Jane Lynch.
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: David Lowery) — The tale of an outlaw who escapes from prison and sets out across the Texas hills to reunite with his wife and the daughter he has never met. Cast: Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Nate Parker, Keith Carradine.
Austenland / U.S.A., United Kingdom (Director: Jerusha Hess, Screenwriters: Jerusha Hess, Shannon Hale) — Thirtysomething, single Jane is obsessed with Mr. Darcy, as played by Colin Firth in Pride and Prejudice. On a trip to an English resort, her fantasies of meeting the perfect Regency-era gentleman become more real than she ever imagined. Cast: Keri Russell, JJ Feild, Bret Mckenzie, Jennifer Coolidge, Georgia King, James Callis.
C.O.G. / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Kyle Patrick Alvarez) — In the first ever film adaptation of David Sedaris’ work, a cocky young man travels to Oregon to work on an apple farm. Out of his element, he finds his lifestyle and notions being picked apart by everyone who crosses his path. Cast: Jonathan Groff, Denis O’Hare, Corey Stoll, Dean Stockwell, Casey Wilson, Troian Bellisario.
Concussion / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Stacie Passon) — After a blow to the head, Abby decides she can’t do it anymore. Her life just can’t be only about the house, the kids and the wife. She needs more: she needs to be Eleanor. Cast: Robin Weigert, Maggie Siff, Johnathan Tchaikovsky, Julie Fain Lawrence, Emily Kinney, Laila Robins.
Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Francesca Gregorini) — Emanuel, a troubled girl, becomes preoccupied with her mysterious, new neighbor, who bears a striking resemblance to her dead mother. In offering to babysit her newborn, Emanuel unwittingly enters a fragile, fictional world, of which she becomes the gatekeeper. Cast: Kaya Scodelario, Jessica Biel, Alfred Molina, Frances O’Connor, Jimmi Simpson, Aneurin Barnard.
Fruitvale / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Ryan Coogler) — The true story of Oscar, a 22-year-old Bay Area resident who crosses paths with friends, enemies, family and strangers on the last day of 2008. Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Octavia Spencer, Melonie Diaz, Ahna O’Reilly, Kevin Durand, Chad Michael Murray.
In a World… / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Lake Bell) — An underachieving vocal coach is motivated by her father, the king of movie-trailer voice-overs, to pursue her aspirations of becoming a voiceover star. Amidst pride, sexism and family dysfunction, she sets out to change the voice of a generation. Cast: Lake Bell, Demetri Martin, Rob Corddry, Michaela Watkins, Ken Marino, Fred Melamed.
Kill Your Darlings / U.S.A. (Director: John Krokidas, Screenwriters: Austin Bunn, John Krokidas) — An untold story of murder that brought together a young Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs at Columbia University in 1944, providing the spark that led to the birth of an entire generation – their Beat revolution. Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHann, Ben Foster, Michael C. Hall, Jack Huston, Elizabeth Olsen.
The Lifeguard / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Liz W. Garcia) — A former valedictorian quits her reporter job in New York and returns to the place she last felt happy: her childhood home in Connecticut. She gets work as a lifeguard and starts a dangerous relationship with a troubled teenager. Cast: Kristen Bell, Mamie Gummer, Martin Starr, Alex Shaffer, Amy Madigan, David Lambert.
Ma’ George / U.S.A. (Director: Andrew Dosunmu, Screenwriter: Darci Picoult) — A woman torn between her African culture and new life in America struggles to give her husband the son who will carry on his family’s legacy. Cast: Isaach De Bankolé, Danai Gurira, Anthony Okungbowa, Yaya Alafia, Bukky Ajayi.
May in the Summer / U.S.A., Qatar, Jordan (Director and screenwriter: Cherien Dabis) — A bride-to-be is forced to reevaluate her life when she reunites with her family in Jordan and finds herself confronted with the aftermath of her parents’ divorce. Cast: Cherien Dabis, Hiam Abbass, Bill Pullman, Alia Shawkat, Nadine Malouf, Alexander Siddig. DAY ONE FILM
The Spectacular Now / U.S.A. (Director: James Ponsoldt, Screenwriters: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber) — Sutter is a high school senior who lives for the moment; Aimee is the introvert he attempts to “save.” As their relationship deepens, the lines between right and wrong, friendship and love, and “saving” and corrupting become inextricably blurred. Cast: Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kyle Chandler.
Touchy Feely / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Lynn Shelton) — A massage therapist is unable to do her job when stricken with a mysterious and sudden aversion to bodily contact. Meanwhile, her uptight brother’s foundering dental practice receives new life when clients seek out his “healing touch.” Cast: Rosemarie DeWitt, Allison Janney, Ron Livingston, Scoot McNairy, Ellen Page, Josh Pais.
Toy’s House / U.S.A. (Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts, Screenwriter: Chris Galletta) — Three unhappy teenage boys flee to the wilderness where they build a makeshift house and live off the land as masters of their own destiny. Or at least that’s the plan. Cast: Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, Moises Arias, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Alison Brie.
Upstream Color / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Shane Carruth) — A man and woman are drawn together, entangled in the life cycle of an ageless organism. Identity becomes an illusion as they struggle to assemble the loose fragments of wrecked lives. Cast: Amy Seimetz, Shane Carruth, Andrew Sensenig, Thiago Martins.