Sundance opens with hope for indie film

Fri Jan 16, 2009 12:43am EST
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By Bob Tourtellotte

PARK CITY, Utah (Reuters) - The 25th Sundance Film Festival opened on Thursday with founder Robert Redford sounding an optimistic note for cinematic art and an artful movie challenging audiences to laugh through the pain of an imperfect world.

The Australian animated film "Mary and Max," a tale of misfits on opposite sides of the globe who find friendship by becoming pen pals, was described by festival director Geoffrey Gilmore as being about "compassion, love, friendship and ideas."

It seemed a fitting opening for 25th anniversary of the top U.S. festival for independent film; while it illustrates the broadening of "indie" movies -- it has a global perspective and uses stop-motion technology and clay figures -- "Mary and Max" reminds audiences that films made outside Hollywood's mainstream often deal with human frailty.

"It's not the sort of story you'd see from (Hollywood studios) DreamWorks or Pixar. It deals with different or marginalized characters," director Adam Elliot told Reuters. "It's something a bit odd. But at the end of the day, it's supposed to be a feel-good film."

Sundance, backed by Redford's Sundance Institute for filmmaking, has long championed non-mainstream work.

When it began in 1985, the festival's low-budget movies often centered on human dramas, and as past Sundance films like "sex, lies and videotape" and "Clerks" proved profitable, the indie market began to grow.

The range of independent films broadened to include more comedy and technology, and the movies became more global in their scope. Sundance has helped usher in those changes.

TOUGH TO BE INDIE   Continued...

<p>Festival founder Robert Redford speaks to the media on stage at the Egyptian Theatre prior to the opening night of the 2009 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah January 15, 2009. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok</p>