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Sundance Film Festival Kicks Off

Unknowns try to make their mark

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Penelope Poulou

The Sundance Film Festival can serve as a launching pad for small independent films and unknown artists trying to make their mark.
The Sundance Film Festival can serve as a launching pad for small independent films and unknown artists trying to make their mark.

Thousands have descended upon the small mountain resort of Park City, Utah for the 33rd Sundance Film Festival. For 10 days each year, filmmakers and actors from around the world gather in the old mining town to showcase their work. This year, 200 films are being shown out of the more than 9,000 submitted.

They represent a diversity of works. War dramas such as the film, “Kinyarwanda,” about the 1994 genocide in Rwanda deepen people's awareness of  unfathomable violence. Feature films like “The Son of No One,” a gritty story about a  young cop in a tough New York neighborhood, present a stellar cast and could make it to the Oscars next year.

There are tongue- in-cheek documentaries, such as Morgan Spurlock's “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.” The lens follows the director as he sets out to find sponsors to finance his work. In return, the “Super Size Me” director offers to show their commercial products on his film.

Spurlock believes the strategy can work for any struggling filmmaker in a down economy. “I think if you have a small compelling story and went to some company and said, 'Hey can we get a little money if we put your phone in there maybe?'  People would say, 'Sure, we can give you a little bit of money.'”

Although the festival is about small independent films and unknown artists trying to make their mark, its growing appeal and prestige attracts famous actors, directors and celebrities  One of them is Chaz Bono, the former daughter, now son, of Cher and the late Sonny Bono. Chaz used to be called Chastity. In his documentary, “Becoming Chaz,” Bono chronicles his step-by-step gender change into a man. The film premiered at Sundance.

Oscar-nominated actress Vera Fermiga also makes her directorial debut with her new drama, “Higher Ground.”

"There is this fabulous relationship in this film between two women, my character and her best friend Anika, and I love the portrayal of deep, deep friendship," says Fermiga, who also stars in the film. "I think it's rare. We've got Thelma and Louise. We need more films to remind us of the fact that in each other we remind ourselves who we can be."

At the old Miner's Hospital in Park City, the New Frontier art exhibit showcases  multimedia art  and how it interacts with users. One exhibit is “The Johnny Cash Project," a video of  country music  legend Johnny Cash, embellished by Internet users around the world.

"Essentially, what the piece allows users to do is to select a frame from the video and handcraft it, redraw the frame and incorporate their own sensibilities, their love for Johnny Cash, in different ways,” says curator Shari Frilo.

Fifty-thousand people come to this picturesque mountain town to enjoy the films, the scene, the music.  

“I want to see some of the movies just to see what the industry is going to be like the next few years and to meet some people,” says one woman.

“I personally love Sundance. It's actually my third time here and every year I come for the films, the people and the excitement around the whole event," says another visitor. "First-time filmmakers come and bring the vision in the big screen.”

But for many, Sundance means hard work.

“It's fierce. It's competitive, like the rest of the film industry," says one film publicist. "We're all friends, but we're all competing for the same people. ”

Whether for work or play, the Sundance Film Festival celebrates creativity, imagination and artistic expression.

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