The Sundance Institute announced the initial wave of narrative films and documentaries for the 2014 Sundance Film Festival today and it features one of the more star-studded competition lineups in the film's history.
The U.S. Dramatic Competition features new films starring Kristen Stewart ("Camp X-Ray"), Anne Hathaway ("Song One"), Kristen Wiig ("The Skeleton Twins"), Aaron Paul ("Hellion"), Mark Ruffalo ("Infinitely Polar Bear"), Michael C. Hall ("Cold in July") and Peter Dinklage ("Low Down"), just to name a few. Traditionally, Sundance positions films with more popular talent in the U.S. Premieres selections. This may be a welcome change for what is arguably the second most prestigious film competition in the world or a random blip based on the quality of films.
In a statement released by the festival, Robert Redford, President and Founder of Sundance Institute, as well as potential best actor nominee at the upcoming Academy Awards, said, “That the Festival has evolved and grown as it has over the past 30 years is a credit to both our audiences and our artists, who continue to find ways to take risks and open our minds to the power of story. This year's films and artists promise to do the same.”
John Cooper, Director of the Sundance Film Festival and them man responsible for the creative direction of the festival, noted, “The films selected for our 2014 Festival show that filmmakers are empowered and emboldened by the 30-year legacy of the independent film movement. The confidence to play with the medium and to surprise audiences indicates the vital role independent film has come to serve in the cultural landscape.”
Some of the more intriguing titles in the aforementioned U.S. Dramatic competition include John Slattery's feature directing and screenwriting debut "God's Pocket" and Joe Swanberg's follow up to "Drinking Buddies," "Happy Christmas," which features Anna Kendrick and Lena Dunham in starring roles.
Stewart toplines Peter Sattler's "Camp X-Ray" which is one of the first non-documentaries to focus on the controversial Guantanamo Bay prison. She is no stranger to Park City having appeared in six previous films that screened at Sundance including "The Runaways" and "Undertow."
J.J. Abrams is quietly participating in the festival as an executive producer, along with longtime business partner Bryan Burk, of Maya Forbes' drama "Infinitely Polar Bear." The acquisition title is supposed to feature impressive performances by both Ruffalo and Zoe Saldana.
Another film many will be looking out for is Justin Simien's "Dear White People." Simien previously worked in the marketing departments of both Paramount Pictures and Participant Films, but partially got recognition form is project thanks to a very funny twitter account of the same name.
Jeff Baena, who co-wrote "I Heart Huckabees" with David O. Russell, makes his directorial debut with "Life After Beth." The comedy finds Dane De Haan as a man whose girlfriend (Aubrey Plaza) mysteriously comes back from the dead with unexpected consequences. The cast includes John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon.
Jeff Preiss's "Low Down" is a period piece based on Amy Jo Albany's memoir of the same name and could be a premier acquisition title. The prestige worthy cast includes John Hawkes, Elle Fanning, Glenn Close, Peter Dinklage, Lena Headley and Flea. And yes, that's two "Game of Thrones" stars in the same movie. You can bet "Low Down" will get a prime Eccles Theater debut thanks to that.
Wiig and former "Saturday Night Live" co-star Bill Hader are taking a dramatic turn in Craig Johnson's "The Skeleton Twins." The duo will play two twins who realize the only way to turn their individual lives around is to improve their relationship.
Last year's best supporting actress winner, Hathaway, had a very small cameo in last year's entry "Don Jon," but effectively makes her Sundance debut with Kate Barker-Froyland's "Song One." The romantic drama finds her character unexpectedly falling for a Brooklyn musician played by up and comer Johnny Flynn.
The World Dramatic competition includes films from Australia, Norway, Ethiopia, Serbia, India, Argentina and Chile. It also puzzlingly features two features from the United Kingdom including the musical "God Help the Girl" featuring, we assume, a singing Emily Browning.
As for the NEXT competition, the intriguing titles include the lesbian hooker buddy comedy "The Foxy Merkins," the Watts, Los Angeles set "Imperial Dreams," the Icelandic road trip comedy "Land Ho!," a Valentine's Day set comedy "Obvious Child" starring Jenny Slate, '80s coming of age flick "Ping Pong Summer" with Susan Sarandon, Lea Thompson and Amy Sedaris, "Listen Up Philip" with Jason Schwartzman and Elisabeth Moss and, finally, Catherine Keener as a war photographer suffering post traumatic disorder after being held captive in Libya in "War Story."
The U.S. Documentary and World Documentary competitions include such films as "The Cast Against 8" and "Fed Up." A complete rundown is available here.
While the festival will reveal its out of competition Premieres, Midnight, New Frontier and Documentary Premieres selections, it did note that a total 118 feature-length films have been chosen and they, representing 37 countries and 54 first-time filmmakers, including 34 in competition. Over 12,218 films were submitted for consideration (72 more than for 2013), including 4,057 feature-length films and 8,161 short films. Most intriguingly, of the feature film submissions, 2,014 were from the U.S. and 2,043 were international. That last statistic is a clear indicator of the growing international prestige of the festival. And, as expected, a majority (97) of the feature films at the Festival will be world premieres.
The festival will begin on Thursday, Jan. 16 and end on Saturday, Jan. 26th. Instead of one opening night film, the festival will continue its recent tradition of kicking off the event with multiple pictures. This year, a film from each competition category will screen on the festival's first day. They include "Whiplash," "Lilting," "Dinosaur 13" and "The Green Prince."
A complete list of the U.S. Dramatic, World Dramatic and Next competition films along with key filmmakers and cast, is listed below.