Sundance filmmakers laugh through gloomy times

Wed Jan 14, 2009 8:35pm EST
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By Bob Tourtellotte

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The tables have turned at 2009's Sundance Film Festival.

For most of the past two decades, the United States' top event for independent film that begins on Thursday has been chock full of dark dramas about the grim side of human nature, but this year amid a gloomy real-life economy, organizers promise a broad range of movies -- some with a lot of laughs.

Jim Carrey offers up "I Love You Phillip Morris," in which the comedian plays a con man falling for a male prison inmate (Ewan McGregor). Former "Saturday Night Live" performer Amy Poehler has "Spring Breakdown," about women nearing 40 who take a wild holiday to a party-filled school spring break.

One of the most talked-about films ahead of the festival is director Marc Webb's romance "500 Days of Summer," and Sundance veterans, brothers Mark and Michael Polish are showing "Manure" about a man who sells ... well, the title says it all.

"It takes all the power away from the critics," director Michael Polish joked about reviewers' inability to reduce his film to poop because, in fact, that is what it's about!

Comedy aside, the ironic twist for Sundance 2009 points to a trend of recent years in which U.S. "independent" cinema has been dominated by divisions of Hollywood studios, such as the Fox Searchlight unit of 20th Century Fox, that look for films with broad appeal to achieve maximum box office.

For evidence, one need look no farther than Sundance hits "Little Miss Sunshine" (2006) and "Napoleon Dynamite" (2004).

Still, the Utah-based festival backed by actor Robert Redford's Sundance Institute for filmmaking remains a place where different cinematic styles are championed by organizers and little-known filmmakers look for a leg up in the industry.   Continued...

<p>A trolley travels down Main Street at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah January 14, 2009. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok</p>