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US Sundance Festival Showcases International Film, Documentaries

  • VOA News

The annual Sundance Film Festival has opened in Park City, Utah, bringing 119 films from 32 different countries to a snow-covered ski town, in what has become known as Hollywood's winter vacation.

This 35-year-old festival was started by actor and director Robert Redford as a way to help independent filmmakers promote their work. Now, it has become one of the most prominent film festivals in the world, with a reputation for showcasing low-budget films that later go on to win big awards -- even Academy Awards .

Movies shown at the 10-day film festival are selected from thousands of submissions -- about 4,000 feature-length movies and more than 8,000 short films.

Many films made outside the United States get their first widespread exposure in the U.S. through Sundance. This year's festival opened with a screening of "May in the Summer," about the identity crisis of a Jordanian woman who lives in the United States but goes to Jordan to prepare for her wedding.

Documentaries and short films also are showcased at the festival, with topics including former U.S. vice president Dick Cheney, the history of suicide in the family of author Ernest Hemingway, and the everyday lives of backup dancers for famous singers.

In addition to the hundreds of film screenings taking place in Park City, a dozen short films selected for the festival will be viewable online, on the Screening Room YouTube channel.

Cherien Dabis wrote, directed and starred in "May in the Summer." Speaking at the festival, she told reporters it was a way to share her heritage.

"It was very important to me because it is my heritage and I did grow up very aware of the fact that Middle Easterners are very misrepresented and underrepresented. And I just wanted to tell a universal story in the Middle East so that we could see the context in the Middle East and yet a story that has nothing to do with the things that we see every day on the news. Because the Middle East is in the news every day, it's so important that we widen our perceptions of what it is.''

While the festival helps promote unknown talent, it also is a place where celebrity actors and directors come to promote their latest work, filling an otherwise quiet resort town with the glamour of the U.S. movie industry.

David O. Russell, who wrote and directed the award winning "Silver Linings Playbook," told reporters at an event in California that the Sundance Festival helped launch his career.

"Sundance gave me a destination when I was a bartender, when I had a day job. I would make my short films and that was my goal: to get them to Sundance. It gave me a destination, and I thank Robert Redford for that. I thank Sundance for that. It saved my life. I went there. I worked as a ticket taker. I'd bring my short films there. I'd go there. And after I went there with my first feature, that we made for $80,000, I was able to stop being a bartender for the first time in my mid-30s. Yes, it was a big deal. It changed my life."

The festival runs through January 27.