The Sundance Film Festival announced its 2011 lineup today. The festival, which invades the small ski-resort town of Park City, Utah, Jan. 20-30, will include 115 films from 28 different countries. Befitting a fest known for its nurturing of fresh talent (40 of the 115 are from first-time filmmakers), the 32 films in the U.S. Dramatic and Documentary (16 in each category) include a bunch of new names as well as a few familiar faces.
The announcement came armed with this quote from Festival Director John Cooper, a guy who, since taking over the reins in 2009, has tried to steer Sundance away from the celebrity spectacle of recent years and back to its core mission: “The Festival is a challenge to narrowly define. It is all at once exciting, fun, crazy, engaging, visceral, and sometimes even painful. We can explain storylines, we can share what we know of each artist’s unique journey, but ultimately what we will experience for 10 days in January is different for each of us. It’s the spark from the filmmakers — their passion — that brings 200 unique worlds to life and, in turn, ignites the audience. The films, conversations, encounters are there to experience. And that’s what makes Sundance so magical.”
The most intriguing (and recognizable) name in the Dramatic category is that of actress Vera Farmiga, who makes her directorial debut with Higher Ground, the story of a “frustrated young mother turns to a fundamentalist community for answers, but after years of dogma and loss, she must find the courage to ask the questions that will help her reclaim her life.” The cast includes Farmiga, Joshua Leonard (of 2009 Sundance favorite Humpday), Donna Murphy, Bill Irwin, Dagmara Dominczyk and John Hawkes.
Another noteworthy entry in the Dramatic competition is the latest from Azazel Jacobs, whose previous effort, Momma's Man, was probably my favorite film at Sundance 2008. Jacobs' new one, Terri, comes with this description: “Orphaned to an uncle who is fading away, mercilessly teased by his peers and roundly ignored by his teachers, Terri is alienated and alone. When the dreaded vice-principal sees something of himself in Terri, they establish a friendship which opens Terri up to the possibility that life is not something to be endured, but something to be shared, and even enjoyed.”
While most of Terri's cast is made up of unknowns — which is consistent with Jacobs' intimate, ultra-low-budget approach — it looks like the vice-principal is played by none other than John C. Reilly, who teamed up with Sundance veterans the Duplass brothers for Cyrus earlier this year.
Of the filmmakers in the always-strong Documentary competition, actor Michael Rapaport is the most recognizable. His feature directorial debut, Beats, Rhymes and Life, looks at the rise and mondo influence of Hip Hop stalwarts A Tribe Called Quest.
So far I don't see any local connections among the competition films. I'll let you know ASAP if something surfaces on that front.