Sundance departs from formulas

— Opening night will mark some firsts for the Sundance Film Festival, the nation's top showcase for independent movies.

For the first time, the curtain rises today with the premiere film screening in the festival's hometown, the ski resort of Park City, rather than in nearby Salt Lake City, where the opening-night movie has traditionally played.

For the first time, this year's opening flick is a documentary, the surfing chronicle "Riding Giants," instead of a fictional film.

And for the first time, the 11-day festival will feature a film starring its top man, Robert Redford, who plays a kidnapped businessman in "The Clearing," which also features Helen Mirren and Willem Dafoe. Redford's Sundance Institute oversees the festival.

Redford had been reluctant to have "The Clearing" at Sundance, worrying it might present a conflict of interest, said Geoffrey Gilmore, Sundance festival director.

"What he did with 'The Clearing' was act in a small, low-budget film for the first time in many years," Gilmore said. "I got a chance to see it, thought it was absolutely right for Sundance, then had to convince him it was something good for the film, good for him and good for the festival."

Other prominent offerings among Sundance's 137 feature films are Julianne Moore and Matthew Broderick's "Marie and Bruce," a tale of a disintegrating relationship; "The Butterfly Effect," with Ashton Kutcher as a man who learns he can undo the past; "Iron Jawed Angels," starring Hilary Swank and Frances O'Connor as leaders of the women's suffrage movement in 1912; DMX and David Arquette's "Never Die Alone," about a drug dealer's return to his home turf; "The Woodsman," with Kevin Bacon as a child molester trying to rebuild his life after prison; and the Martin Luther King Jr. documentary "Citizen King."

Sundance has grown into a hybrid for indie filmmakers, celebrity watchers and Hollywood dealmakers. Small distributors and boutique subsidiaries for major studios showcase upcoming films.

Distributors also scout Sundance for the next Quentin Tarantino or Kevin Smith and flesh out their schedules with film acquisitions. Recent films bought at Sundance include "You Can Count on Me," "In the Bedroom," last year's audience award winner "The Station Agent" and "The Blair Witch Project," the one megahit Sundance has produced.

Lawrence filmmaker Kevin Willmott's movie "C.S.A. The Confederate States of America" will premiere Saturday night at the Sundance Film Festival.It also will be screened Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.Willmott is an assistant professor in the theater and film department at Kansas University.The mock-documentary "CSA: The Confederate States of America," was described this week in the Los Angeles Times as "an ingenious, head-turning look at alternative history, presenting a modern television documentary, complete with commercials, as it would be if the South had won the Civil War."


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