Sundance premieres: Quirky mix, big names

This week, the Sundance Film Festival announced that it would be adding three world premieres to its out-of-competition lineup, all of them from directors who’ve shown films at Sundance before: Lisa Cholodenko’s THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT, starring Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo and Annette Benning; Gurinder Chadha’s IT’S A WONDERFUL AFTERLIFE, starring Shabana Azmi, Goldy Notay and Sally Hawkins; and Galt Niederhoffer’s THE ROMANTICS, starring Katie Holmes, Anna Paquin, Elijah Wood, Candice Bergen and Josh Duhamel.

“When the opportunity to screen the latest films from three extremely innovative storytellers presented itself, we knew we could not deny our audiences,” festival director John Cooper said of the last-minute additions. (The festival runs Jan. 21-31.)

The festival’s Premieres category, which aims to highlight diversity in independent cinema and often showcases films from established filmmakers for which there is already advance buzz, is generally where the glam celebrity set shows up at Sundance. “Sundance … thrives on famous faces,” writes Brooks Barnes in the New York Times’ Carpetbagger blog, noting that, this year, “the non-competition slate will provide a bevy of them.”

Among the boldface names slated to appear onscreen in Park City this year: Ben Affleck, Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones, John C. Reilly, Kevin Kline, Naomi Watts, Maria Bello, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, Jessica Alba, Kristen Stewart, Dakota Fanning, Keifer Sutherland, 50 Cent, Catherine Keener and Marisa Tomei. Philip Seymour Hoffman will make his directing debut at the festival with JACK GOES BOATING, in which he also stars.

Barnes finds this year’s out-of-competition lineup “quirky.” And Los Angeles Times writer Paul Gaita observes that “a richly diverse group of directors will be represented in the out-of-competition section” as well.

Famous names aside, the press may be most excited about a new out-of-competition premiere category, Next, in which low-budget film — all costing less than $500,000 — will be screened. “While half a million bucks is big money to any individual, it’s a minuscule budget for a film, and probably means a lot of equipment was borrowed and cast and crew worked practically for free on a labor of love,” writes USA Today reporter Anthony Breznican.

Sundance is creating new opportunities not only for filmmakers but for audiences as well. On January 28, the organization will send eight filmmakers to screen their festival films (most of them Premiere films) and answer questions in eight different cities across the United States. So if you are in Ann Arbor, Michigan, or Brookline, Massachusetts, or Madison, Wisconsin, you can have the full Sundance experience right in the comfort of your own town — especially if you ride a packed bus through snowy streets to get there.