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: