By Anthony Kaufman | Indiewire November 29, 2006 at 9:00AM
The 2007 Sundance Film Festival, to be held Jan 18-28, is shining its spotlight on an enormously diverse collection of American independent films. The seen-that coming-of-age New York stories and dysfunctional family comedies are scarce, say festival organizers, replaced with complicated storylines and unexpected settings.
"I feel like we're on the cusp of a new era," says Sundance festival director Geoffrey Gilmore, "where the old ideas of independent film -- that insularity, that narrowness of subject matter -- are no longer the case. We're beginning to witness work that is really expanding the horizons of what American film is and can be," he adds, "work that is both enormously innovative and strikingly different than what we've seen in the past."
The complete competition lineups are posted below and the balance of the feature roster will be announced tomorrow here at indieWIRE.com.
"There's an originality in the storylines," agrees director of programming John Cooper, "and there are complicated storylines, more than you'd see in the independent film of 10 years ago."
Today, organizers announced the 64 films selected for the Independent Film and World Cinema Competitions. Across the entire festival, 122 feature films will be shown, whittled down from 1,852 domestic submissions and 1,435 international ones (an increase from last year's 1,764 U.S. and 1,384 world entries), including 82 world premieres, 23 North American premieres and 11 U.S. premieres, representing 25 different countries.
Examples of the expanding reach of this year's narrative competition, which was culled from 996 submissions, include Chris Smith's Hindi-language "The Pool," about a boy who works in a hotel in Goa, India, Gina Kim's partially Korean-language drama "Never Forever," about the conflicts between an American woman and her Asian-American husband, Sterlin Harjo's "Four Sheets To The Wind," a Native American drama set in Tulsa, and Christopher Zalla's "Padre Nuestro," one of many immigrant tales in this year's festival that Gilmore says goes beyond the conventions of the genre.
"Diversity is almost taken for granted," says Gilmore. "Now we're working with independent film that's really broken out of the genres. It's eclectic and hard to categorize."
While Gilmore says the number of first-time filmmakers is smaller than in past years (roughly 35), there is an increasing number of second-time filmmakers "who have come back to the festival in a completely new costume," he says, citing the existence of new works by filmmakers who are leaving their "comfort zone."
The boundaries between documentary and fiction filmmakers, for example, are collapsing with three features in this year's dramatic competition directed by nonfiction veterans: in addition to "American Movie" director Smith's "The Pool," "Hell House" director George Ratliff unveils his fiction debut "Joshua," starring Sam Rockwell and Vera Farmiga, and "Spellbound" director Jeffrey Blitz premieres his Picturehouse release "Rocket Science." It also goes the other way. Seattle-based filmmaker Robinson Devor, who was in the 2005 dramatic competition with "Police Beat," returns to the 2006 festival in the documentary competition with ThinkFilm's "Zoo," about a Seattle family man who died after having sex with a horse.
Cooper sees the same sense of groundbreaking in this year's documentaries. "They've really pushed the limits on how they tell the story and how they get their information across," he says.
"It's the kind of work that the Academy wouldn't know what to do with," adds Gilmore.
Coincidentally, this year's documentary competition includes three heavy-hitters with Oscar track records, including two-time-winner of the Academy's best documentary short prize Bill Guttentag, co-director with Dan Strurman, of WWII doc "Nanking"; Jessica Yu, who won an Oscar for "Breaking Lessons," appears with "Protagonist"; and Steven Okazaki, a winner in 1990 for "Days of Waiting," offers his latest "White Light/Black Rain: The Destruction Of Hiroshima and Nagasaki."
This year's festival will also showcase a number of familiar faces. David Gordon Green returns to the festival with his latest "Snow Angels," after winning a special jury prize for "All the Real Girls" in 2003, and Andrew Wagner unveils his follow-up to "The Talent Given Us," a drama called "Starting Out In The Evening," staring Frank Langella and Lauren Ambrose based on Brian Morton's novel and produced under the InDigEnt banner.
Sundance documentary veterans include "American Hollow's" Rory Kennedy, with "Ghosts of Abu Ghraib," Marco Williams, the co-director of "Two Towns of Jasper," with "Banished," and "Blue Vinyl" filmmakers Judith Helfand and Daniel B. Gold's "Everything's Cool."
The festival's three-year-old World Cinema competitions also continue to evolve, with an increasingly disparate number of nations represented, from Brazil to Burkina Faso, Israel to Ireland. "We've been on every continent except Antarctica," says Gilmore.
Not restricted to world premieres, the World Cinema selections have often screened at other festivals, but continue to belong to Sundance's mission of highlighting new filmmakers with a unique vision. "We saw this delightful Irish film called 'Once' at Galway," says Gilmore. "So we're picking a film out of a festival from its country of origin and bringing it here where it will be completely new for everybody, even though it's not a world premiere."
Gilmore also highlights Aussie writer-director Matthew Saville's "Noise." "That's a director that you're going to hear about in the future." And like the American films, Gilmore says "Noise" takes a familiar genre - the cop film - and "goes in a completely different direction."
With a Chinese film produced out of the UK (Xiaolu Guo's "How is Your Fish Today") and a British film about a Chinese immigrant directed by documentary filmmaker Nick Broomfield ("Ghosts"), Gilmore says, "We're really dealing with this aspect of globalization in filmmaking that is changing the face of international film."
If independent films used to be a reaction against Hollywood, with darker endings and youth-oriented cynicism, Gilmore and Cooper say this year's submissions reflect more complicated struggles, "where there is an awful lot of films dealing with a struggle to survive and a struggle to move to another stage in one's life," adds Gilmore. "It's not just coming of age stories; now it's coming of middle-age stories. I think there's a maturation."
Perhaps the same could be same of Sundance, too.
The films screening in Documentary Competition are:
"Banished," Director: Marco Williams
This story of three U.S. towns which, in the early 20th century, forced their entire African American populations to leave, explores what--if anything--can be done to repair past racial injustice. World Premiere.
"Chasing Ghosts," Director: Lincoln Ruchti
Twin Galaxies Arcade, Iowa, 1982: The birthplace of mankind's obsession with video games. The fate of this world lies in the hands (literally) of a few unlikely heroes: They are the Original Video Game World Champions and the arcade is their Battleground. World Premiere.
"Crazy Love," Director: Dan Klores
An unsettling true story about an obsessive relationship between a married man and a beautiful, single 20-year-old woman, which began in 1957 and continues today. World Premiere.
"Everything's Cool," Directors: Judith Helfand and Daniel B. Gold
A group of self-appointed global warming messengers are on a high stakes quest to find the iconic image, proper language, and points of leverage to help the public go from embracing the urgency of the problem to creating the political will necessary to move to an alternative energy economy. World Premiere.
"For the Bible Tells Me So," Director: Daniel Karslake
Grounded by the stories of five conservative Christian families, the film explores how the religious right has used its interpretation of the Bible to support its agenda of stigmatizing the gay community and eroding the separation between church and state. World Premiere.
"Ghosts Of Abu Ghraib," Director: Rory Kennedy
This inside look at the abuses that occurred at the infamous Iraqi prison in the fall of 2003 uses direct, personal narratives of perpetrators, witnesses, and victims to probe the effects of the abuses on all involved. World Premiere.
"Girl 27," Director: David Stenn
When underage dancer Patricia Douglas is raped at a wild MGM stag party in 1937, she makes headlines and legal history, and then disappears. GIRL 27 follows author-screenwriter David Stenn as he investigates one of Hollywood's most notorious scandals. World Premiere.
"Hear and Now," Director: Irene Taylor Brodsky
Filmmaker Irene Taylor Brodsky tells a deeply personal story about her deaf parents, and their radical decision -- after 65 years of silence -- to undergo cochlear implant surgery, a complex procedure that could give them the ability to hear. World Premiere.
"Manda Bala" (Send A Bullet), Director: Jason Kohn
In Brazil, known as one of the world's most corrupt and violent countries, "Manda Bala" follows a politician who uses a frog farm to steal billions of dollars, a wealthy businessman who spends a small fortune bulletproofing his cars, and a plastic surgeon who reconstructs the ears of mutilated kidnapping victims. World Premiere.
"My Kid Could Paint That," Director: Amir Bar-Lev
A 4-year-old girl whose paintings are compared to Kandinsky, Pollock and even Picasso, has sold $300,000 dollars worth of paintings. Is she a genius of abstract expressionism, a tiny charlatan or an exploited child whose parents have sold her out for the glare of the media and the lure of the almighty dollar? World Premiere.
"Nanking," Director: Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman
A powerful and haunting depiction of the atrocities suffered by the Chinese at the hands of the invading Japanese army during "The Rape of Nanking", one of the most tragic events of WWII. While more than 200,000 Chinese were murdered and ten of thousands raped, a handful of Westerners performed extraordinary acts of heroism, saving over 250,000 lives in the midst of the horror. World Premiere.
"No End in Sight," Director: Charles Ferguson
A comprehensive examination of the Bush Administration's conduct of the Iraq war and occupation. Featuring first-time interviews with key participants, the film creates a startlingly clear reconstruction of key decisions that led to the current state of affairs in this war-torn country. World Premiere.
"Protagonist," Director: Jessica Yu
"Protagonist" explores the organic relationship between human life and Euripidean dramatic structure by weaving together the stories of four men--a German terrorist, a bank robber, an "ex-gay" evangelist, and a martial arts student. World Premiere.
"War Dance," Director: Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine
Devastated by the long civil war in Uganda, three young girls and their school in the Patongo refugee camp find hope as they make a historic journey to compete in their country's national music and dance festival. World Premiere.
"White Light/Black Rain: The Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki," Director: Steven Okazaki
"White Light/Black Rain" offers a visceral, topical and moving portrait of the human cost of atomic warfare. World Premiere.
"Zoo," director: Robinson Devor
A humanizing look at the life and bizarre death of a seemingly normal Seattle family man who met his untimely end after an unusual encounter with a horse. World Premiere.
The films screening in Dramatic Competition are:
"Adrift in Manhattan," Director: Alfredo de Villa; Screenwriters: Nat Moss, Alfredo de Villa
Set in New York City, a grieving eye doctor is forced to take a closer look at her life; an aging artist confronts the loss of his eyesight; and a young photographer battles his innermost demons. World Premiere.
"Broken English," Director and Screenwriter: Zoe Cassavetes
A young woman in her thirties finds herself surrounded by friends who are married, in relationships or with children. She unexpectedly meets a quirky Frenchman who opens her eyes to a lot more than love. World Premiere.
"Four Sheets to the Wind," Director and Screenwriter: Sterlin Harjo
Cufe Smallhill finds his father dead. Fulfilling a dying wish, he disposes of the body in the family pond and sets off to begin a new life in the big city of Tulsa. World Premiere.
"The Good Life," Director and Screenwriter: Steve Berra
A story about a "mostly normal" young man whose small town existence running a faded movie palace is shaken when he comes in contact with a mysterious young woman. World Premiere.
"Grace is Gone," Director and Screenwriter: James C. Strouse
A young father learns that his wife has been killed in Iraq and must find the courage to tell his two young daughters the news.
"Joshua," Director: George Ratliff; Screenwriters: David Gilbert, George Ratliff
A successful, young Manhattan family is torn apart by the machinations of Joshua, their eight-year-old prodigy, when his newborn baby sister comes home from the hospital. World Premiere.
"Never Forever," Director and Screenwriter: Gina Kim
When an American woman and her Asian-American husband discover they are unable to conceive, she begins a clandestine relationship with an attractive stranger in a desperate attempt to save her marriage. World Premiere.
"On the Road with Judas," Director and Screenwriter: JJ Lask
Reality, fiction and the notions of storytelling intertwine in this narrative about a young thief and the woman he loves. World Premiere.
"Padre Nuestro," Director and Screenwriter: Christopher Zalla
Fleeing a criminal past, Juan hops a truck transporting illegal immigrants from Mexico to New York City, where he meets Pedro, who is seeking his rich father. World Premiere.
"The Pool," Director: Chris Smith; Screenwriters: Chris Smith, Randy Russell
A boy working in a hotel becomes obsessed with a swimming pool in the opulent hills of Panjim, Goa in India. His life gets turned upside down when he attempts to meet the mysterious family that arrives at the house. World Premiere.
"Rocket Science," Director and Screenwriter: Jeffrey Blitz
A 15-year-old boy from New Jersey with a stuttering problem falls in love with the star of the debate team and finds himself suddenly immersed in the ultra-competitive world of debating. World Premiere.
"Snow Angels," Director: David Gordon Green; Screenwriter: Stewart O'Nan
A drama that interweaves the life of a teenager with his former baby-sitter, her estranged husband, and their daughter. World Premiere.
"Starting Out in the Evening," Director: Andrew Wagner; Screenwriters: Andrew Wagner, Fred Parnes
The solitary life of a writer is shaken when a smart, ambitious graduate student convinces him that her thesis will bring him back into the literary spotlight. World Premiere.
"Teeth," Director and Screenwriter: Mitchell Lichtenstein
Still a stranger to her own body, a high school student discovers she has a "physical advantage" when she becomes the object of male violence. World Premiere.
"The Untitled Dakota Fanning Project, AKA Hounddog," Director and Screenwriter: Deborah Kampmeier
Set in late 1950s Alabama, a precocious, troubled girl finds her angel in the Blues. World Premiere.
"Weapons," Director and Screenwriter: Adam Bhala Lough
"Weapons" presents a series of brutal, seemingly random youth-related killings over the course of a weekend in a typical small town in America, and tragically reveals how they are all interrelated. World Premiere.
The films screening in World Cinema Documentary Competition are:
"Acidente" / Brazil, Director: Cao Guimaraes and Pablo Lobato
Experimental in form, this lush cinematic poem weaves together stories and images from twenty different cities in the state of Menas Gerais, Brazil, to reveal the fundamental role the accidental and the unpredictable play in everyday human life. North American Premiere.
"Bajo Juarez: The City Devouring Its Daughters" / Mexico, Director: Alejandra Sanchez
In an industrial town in Mexico near the US border, hundreds of women have been sexually abused and murdered. As the body count continues to rise, a web of corruption unfolds that reaches the highest levels of Mexican society. U.S. Premiere.
"Cocalero" / Bolivia, Director: Alejandro Landes
Set against the backdrop of the Bolivian government's attempted eradication of the coca crop and oppression of the indigenous groups that cultivate it and the American war on drugs, an Aymara Indian named Evo Morales travels through the Andes and the Amazon in jeans and sneakers, leading a historic campaign to become the first indigenous president of Bolivia. World Premiere.
"Comrades in Dreams" / Germany, Director: Uli Gaulke
From the far ends of the globe, four lives that could not be more different are united by a single passion--their unconditional love of cinema and their quest to bring the magic of the silver screen to everyday lives who need it most. North American Premiere.
"Crossing the Line" / UK, Director: Daniel Gordon
"Crosing the Line" reveals the clandestine life of Joseph Dresnok who, at the height of the Cold War was one of the few Americans who defected to North Korea, one of the least understood countries in the world. North American Premiere.
"Enemies of Happiness" (Vores Lykkes Fjender) / Denmark, Director: Eva Mulvad and Anja Al Erhayem
Malalai Joya, a 28-year-old Afghani woman, redefines the role of women and elected officials in her county with her historic 2005 victory in Afghanistan's first democratic parliamentary election in over 30 years. North American Premiere.
"The Future is Unwritten" / Ireland, UK, Director: Julien Temple
An invitation from the Punk Rock Warlord himself to journey beyond the myth to the heart and voice of a generation. His life, our times, his music. World Premiere.
"Hot House"/ Israel, Director: Shimon Dotan
At once chilling and humanizing, "Hot Houe" provides an unprecedented look at how Israeli prisons have become the breeding ground for the next generation of Palestinian leaders as well as the birth place of future terrorist threats. North American Premiere.
"In the Shadow of the Moon"/ UK, Director: David Sington
One of the defining passages of American history, the Apollo Space Program literally brought the aspirations of a nation to another world. Awe-inspiring footage and candid interviews with the astronauts who visited the moon provide unparallel perspective on the precious state of our planet. World Premiere.
"Manufactured Landscapes" / Canada, Director: Jennifer Baichwal
This stunningly visual work provides the unique perspective of photographer Edward Burtynsky, who chronicles the transforming landscape of the world due to industrial work and manufacturing. U.S. Premiere.
"The Monastery: Mr. Vig and the Nun" / Denmark, Director: Pernille Rose Gronkjaer)-- Worlds collide, tempers flare and dreams are realized when Mr. Vig, an 82-year-old virgin from Denmark and Sister Ambrosija, a headstrong Russian nun, join forces to transform Mr. Vig's run-down castle into an Orthodox Russian monastery. North American Premiere.
"On a Tightrope" / Norway, Canada, Director: Petr Lom
The daily lives of four children living in an orphanage who are learning the ancient art of tightrope walking becomes a metaphor for the struggle of the Uighur's, China's largest Muslim minority, who are torn between religion and the teachings of communism. North American Premiere.
"Three Comrades" (DRIE Kameraden) / Netherlands, Director: Masha Novikova
In this intimate film we witness the lives of three lifelong friends worlds are torn apart by war in Chechnya's bloody struggle for independence. North American Premiere.
"A Very British Gangster" / UK (Director: Donal MacIntyre)--Given his many contradictions, Dominic Noonan, head of one of Britain's biggest crime families, is a man who defies stereotypes. This close up look at his life, from gun trials to the murder of his brother on the streets of Manchester, reveals a community struggling with poverty, violence and drugs. World Premiere.
"VHS-Kahloucha"/ Tunisia, Director: Nejib Belkadhi
In a poor district of Tunisia, self-made auteur, Moncef Kahloucha, a guerilla filmmaker in the purest sense, demonstrates that it takes a village to make some fun movies as he brings the power of cinema to the people. North American Premiere.
"Welcome Europa" / France, Director: Bruno Ulmer
Kurdish, Moroccan and Romanian young men migrate to Europe for a better life only to face the harsh realities and the laws of survival on the streets of a foreign land. North American Premiere.
The films screening in World Cinema Dramatic Competition are:
"Blame It on Fidel" (La Faute A Fidel) / France, Director and Screenwriter: Julie Gavras
A 9 year-old girl weathers big changes in her household as her parents become radical political activists in 1970-71 Paris. North American Premiere.
"Drained" (O Cheiro Do Ralo) / Brazil, Director: Heitor Dhalia; Screenwriters: Marcal Aquino, Heitor Dhalia
A pawn shop proprietor buys used goods from desperate locals--as much to play perverse power games as for his own livelihood, but when the perfect rump and a backed-up toilet enter his life, he loses all control. North American Premiere.
"Dreams of Dust" (Reves De Poussiere)" / Burkina Faso, Canada, France, Director and Screenwriter: Laurent Salgues
A Nigerian peasant comes looking for work in Essakane, a dusty gold mine in Northeast Burkina Faso, where he hopes to forget the past that haunts him. North American Premiere.
"Driving With My Wife's Lover" (Ane-Eui Aein-Eul Mannada) / South Korea, Director: Kim Tai-sik; Screenwriters: Kim Jeon-han, Kim Tai-sik
When a mild-mannered South Korean man decides to track down the cab driver having an affair with his wife, a strange bond develops between the pair during a long-distance drive. North American Premiere.
"Eagle Vs. Shark" / New Zealand, Director and Screenwriter: Taika Waititi
The tale of two socially awkward misfits and the strange ways they try to find love. World Premiere.
"Ezra" / France, Director: Newton I. Aduaka; Screenwriters: Newton I. Aduaka, Alain-Michel Blanc
A young ex-child soldier in Sierra Leone attempts to return to a normal life after the civil war which devastated his country. World Premiere.
"Ghosts" / UK, Director: Nick Broomfield; Screenwriters: Nick Broomfield, Jez Lewis
Based on a true story, "Ghosts" is the tragic account of an illegal Chinese immigrant woman as she struggles relentlessly for a better life in the U.K. North American Premiere.
"How is Your Fish Today?" (Jin Tian De Yu Zen Me Yang?) / UK, Director: Xiaolu Guo; Screenwriter: Rao Hui and Xiaolu Guo
Blurring boundaries between reality and fiction, "How is Your Fish Today?" traces a Chinese writer's inner journey through his fictional characters. North American Premiere.
"How She Move" / Canada, Director: Ian Iqbal Rashid; Screenwriter: Annmarie Morais
Following her sister's death from drug addiction, a high school student is forced to leave her private school to return to her old, crime-filled neighborhood where she re-kindles an unlikely passion for the competitive world of "Step" dancing. World Premiere.
"The Island" (Ostrov) / Russia, Director: Pavel Lounguine; Screenwriter: Dmitri Sobolev
Somewhere in Northern Russia in a small Russian Orthodox monastery lives an unusual man whose bizarre conduct confuses his fellow monks, while others who visit the island believe that the man has the power to heal, exorcise demons and foretell the future. U.S. Premiere.
"Khadak" / Belgium, Germany, Directors and Screenwriters: Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth
Set in the frozen steppes of Mongolia, "Khadak" tells the epic story of Bagi, a young nomad confronted with his destiny after animals fall victim to a plague which threatens to eradicate nomadism. U.S. Premiere.
"The Legacy" / Georgia, France, Directors and Screenwriters: Gela Babluani, Temur Babluani
Three French hipsters and their translator travel through rural Georgia to claim a remote, ruined castle that one of them has inherited. En route, they encounter an old man and his grandchild who are on a journey to carry out a mysterious, morbid ritual designed to end a conflict between warring clans. North American Premiere.
"The Night of Buffalo" (El Bufalo De La Noche) / Mexico, Director: Jorge Hernandez Aldana; Screenwriters: Jorge Hernandez Aldana, Guillermo Arriaga
A 22-year-old schizophrenic commits suicide after his girlfriend cheats on him with his best friend. Before killing himself, he lays out a plan that will drive the lovers into the abyss of madness. World Premiere.
"Noise" / Australia, Director and Screenwriter: Matthew Saville
A young cop, beset with doubt and afflicted with tinnitus (ear-ringing), is pitched into the chaos that follows a mass murder on a suburban train. He struggles to clear the screaming in his head while the surrounding community deals with the after effects of the terrible crime. World Premiere.
"Once" / Ireland, Director and Screenwriter: John Carney
"Once" is a modern-day musical set on the streets of Dublin. Featuring Glen Hansard and his Irish band "The Frames", "Once" tells the story of a busker and an immigrant during an eventful week as they write, rehearse and record a songs that reveal their unique love story. North American Premiere.
"Sweet Mud," (Adama Meshugaat) / Israel, Director and Screenwriter: Dror Shaul
On a kibbutz in southern Israel in the 1970's, Dvir Avni realizes that his mother is mentally ill. In this closed community, bound by rigid rules, Dvir must navigate between the kibbutz motto of equality and the stinging reality that his mother has, in effect, been abandoned by the community. U.S. Premiere.
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