December 3, 2008 / 9:33 PM / in 9 years

Sundance Film Festival unveils competition films

<p>Actor Robert Redford poses for a portrait in New York after being named winner of the 2008 Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize on November 12, 2008. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson</p>

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Sundance Film Festival, the premiere event for U.S. independent movies, on Wednesday unveiled a wide-ranging list of more than 60 movies that will compete for awards at its 25th anniversary event in January.

The festival, backed by Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute for filmmaking, puts the media spotlight on low-budget and art films made outside Hollywood’s mainstream studios.

Past Sundance hits include Oscar-nominated “Little Miss Sunshine,” and the festival annually boosts the careers of previously little-known actors, directors and writers.

Festival director Geoffrey Gilmore said the 188 feature films chosen for the 2009 event blend different styles and genres and cross national and cultural borders.

The opening night premiere of “Mary and Max” uses clay animation to tell how an older man in the United States and a young girl from Australia become pen pals and strike up an enduring friendship.

“It’s a film that’s emblematic of the crossing of genres, and of being interconnected globally,” he said.

The same holds true for many competition films, which are closely watched for new talent. The 2004 Sundance hit “Napoleon Dynamite” launched the careers of actor John Heder and filmmakers Jared and Jerusha Hess, who went on to major movie success with “Nacho Libre” starring Jack Black.

COMPETITION FILMS

Among the 16 films competing in the U.S. drama section are “Push,” from writer/director Lee Daniels, based on a novel about girl in Harlem struggling to overcome obstacles and discover herself.

“Humpday” from filmmaker Lynn Shelton, is described in promotional material as a “farcical comedy about straight male bonding gone a little too far.”

Gilmore said that the dark dramas typical of independent filmmaking will share the spotlight with romances and comedies in line with a recent trend of filmmakers expanding their storytelling range.

“You might think what we have this year is a lot of work reflecting the dark times we are in, but you wouldn’t be right,” he said. “Instead what you have is independent films that are engaged -- engaged and entertaining.”

Sixteen U.S. documentaries will compete in nonfiction filmmaking. They include “Dirt the Movie,” by Bill Benenson and Gene Rosow, looking at how humans are destroying dirt, and “Over the Hills and Far Away,” from Michel Scott, chronicling a family’s journey through Mongolia in search of a shaman to heal their autistic son.

In the festival’s World Cinema section, 16 dramas and 16 documentaries will compete for awards.

Overall, the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, starting on January 15 will screen 118 feature-length films from 21 countries over 10 days. Movies in non-competitive categories will be unveiled on December 4 and a list will be available at www.sundance.org/festival.

Editing by Jill Serjeant and Alan Elsner

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