In announcing the competition slate for the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, Geoffrey Gilmore
, its longtime director, said he sees the beginning of a new era in independent filmmaking. "Filmmakers are undergoing a massive expansion in perspective and aesthetic qualities," he said. "Where once independence meant a detachment, a kind of navel-gazing, that doesn't exist right now. Instead, there is engagement and innovation. Filmmakers are going out and engaging the real world in terms of subject matter, vision and innovative storytelling."
Old categories of films long a staple of Sundance -- the coming-of-age picture or the dysfunctional family drama -- are no longer applicable to the competition films in the upcoming festival, Gilmore insisted. These new films tend to be more optimistic about the future, both politically and personally. Where once the independent world created its films almost in reaction to Hollywood and its happy endings, the new independents are drawing on the traditions of the American independent film itself. So if one thing characterizes Sundance 2007, Gilmore said, it is "freshness."
For the festival -- which runs Jan. 18-28 in Park City, Sundance, Salt Lake City and Ogden, Utah -- programrs looked at a mind-boggling 3,287 feature submissions. That includes 1,852 U.S. films and 1,435 international movies, an increase over the previous year, when 1,764 U.S. features and 1,384 international films were considered.
The 122 feature films selected include 82 world premieres, 24 North American premieres and 10 U.S. premieres representing 25 countries. The competition section is divided into dramatic and documentary sections for both Independent Film -- meaning American films -- and World Cinema. Each section will present 16 features, for a total of 64 films that screen in competition.
While the number of first-time filmmakers is down, programrs have discovered the phenomenon of filmmakers in "new guises." So Chris Smith, whose American Movie
won the Grand Jury Prize for best documentary at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival, returns in dramatic competition with The Pool
, a Hindi-language film set in Goa, India.
"You anticipate what a Chris Smith movie is, then you look at 'The Pool' and you say, 'That's Chris Smith?' " Gilmore said. He added that no fewer than four of the films in the dramatic competition are in languages other than English.
"American independent filmmakers are reaching out and changing the parameters that used to so easily encapsulate them," Gilmore said. "They are redefining what American independent film is."
Diversity is another factor, but not in the way Sundance programrs formerly used the word. Four Sheets to the Wind
was developed in the Sundance Screenwriters and Directors Lab by Sterlin Harjo
, an Oklahoma resident and descendent of the Seminole and Creek tribes. Adrift in Manhattan
from director Alfredo De Villa
, who is Latino, focuses on an eye doctor and an aging artist losing his eyesight.
"These are complicated and sophisticated films," Gilmore said. "You can't call them Native-American or Latino films. They no longer are reducible to their origins. They no longer represent a particular community, but are simply American independent works."
Dramatic competition presents a range of subjects from personal stories about life in suburban and small-town America to stories taking place outside the U.S. The documentary competition naturally has films focused on the country's current travails in Iraq, such as Charles Ferguson's No End in Sight
and Rory Kennedy
's Ghosts of Abu Ghraib
, but also on aspects of World War II in Bill Guttentag
and Dan Sturman
and Steven Okazaki
's "White Light/Black Rain: The Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki."
Each of the 16 films in dramatic and documentary categories is a world premiere. Programrs saw 856 films submitted for the documentary competition, while 996 features were submitted for the dramatic competition.
Sundance launched the world competition categories in 2005 to bolster the prominence of the international films at a festival long seen as a showcase for American indie films. Director of programming John Cooper said that with the upcoming festival "we now feel the benefit of all the travel we've done (to select films). We have hit our stride with a well-rounded program. Of the 16 films, 13 countries are represented. We found the best films, not necessarily world premieres, to rebuild the respect for foreign films in the U.S."
This year's selections include stories about a writer from China, a nomad in Mongolia, a peasant in Burkina Faso and the aftermath of crime and war in Sierra Leone.
The 2006 Grand Jury Prize winner for "13 (Tzameti)", Gela Babluani, a French director born in Georgia, will return to Park City with The Legacy
, a film he made with his father, Temur Babluani
. The film looks at culture shock when three French hipsters travel through rural Georgia.
John Carney's Once
is a modern-day musical set in Dublin. The Israeli-German production, Sweet Mud
(Adama Meshugaat) by Dror Shaul
, is Israel's submission for the foreign-language Oscar.
Meanwhile, longtime British documentarian Nick Broomfield
("Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer," "Kurt & Courtney") will showcase Ghosts
, a fictional tale of an illegal Chinese immigrant in the U.K.
Traditionally, international films meant art films in the U.S., Gilmore said. "Now these are not necessarily art films. 'Amelie' and 'Downfall' represent a new edge of where international filmmaking is going. It now embraces genre filmmaking all over the world, not just in Asia. Our selections include art, genre films, melodramas and minimalist works that should redefine what international film is in the U.S."
"The films in the world cinema competition contain complex stories that embrace full visions of life and explore topics that transcend the confines of personal, geographic and artistic borders," Cooper said.
The complete list of titles announced Wednesday follows.
ADRIFT IN MANHATTAN (Director: Alfredo de Villa; Screenwriters: Nat Moss
, Alfredo De Villa
) -- Set in New York City, a grieving eye doctor is forced to take a closer look at her life; an aging artist confronts the loss of his eyesight, and a young photographer battles his innermost demons. World premiere.
BROKEN ENGLISH (Director and Screenwriter: Zoe Cassavetes) -- A young woman in her thirties finds herself surrounded by friends who are married, in relationships or with children. She unexpectedly meets a quirky Frenchman who opens her eyes to a lot more than love. World premiere.
FOUR SHEETS TO THE WIND (Director and Screenwriter: Sterlin Harjo
) -- Cufe Smallhill finds his father dead. Fulfilling a dying wish, he disposes of the body in the family pond and sets off to begin a new life in the big city of Tulsa. World premiere.
THE GOOD LIFE (Director and Screenwriter: Steve Berra) -- A story about a "mostly normal" young man whose small town existence running a faded movie palace is shaken when he comes in contact with a mysterious young woman. World premiere.
GRACE IS GONE (Director and Screenwriter: James C. Strouse) -- A young father learns that his wife has been killed in Iraq and must find the courage to tell his two young daughters the news. World premiere.
JOSHUA (Director: George Ratliff; Screenwriters: David Gilbert, George Ratliff) -- A successful, young Manhattan family is torn apart by the machinations of Joshua, their eight-year-old prodigy, when his newborn baby sister comes home from the hospital. World premiere.
NEVER FOREVER (Director and Screenwriter: Gina Kim) -- When an American woman and her Asian-American husband discover they are unable to conceive, she begins a clandestine relationship with an attractive stranger in a desperate attempt to save her marriage. World premiere.
ON THE ROAD WITH JUDAS (Director and Screenwriter: JJ Lask) -- Reality, fiction and the notions of storytelling intertwine in this narrative about a young thief and the woman he loves.