An unusually strong international flavor pervades the Sundance Film Festival's Premieres slate, with new pictures from British helmer Michael Winterbottom, Irish directors Lenny Abrahamson and John Michael McDonagh, Dutch filmmaker Anton Corbijn, Welsh-born action maven Gareth Evans and Iranian-born French auteur Marjane Satrapi figuring prominently among the 17 world-premiere titles unveiled today alongside the Documentary Premieres section.
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"I think we've really built the dramatic competition up in a way that it's firing at the level we always hoped it would," Groth said. "In the last couple of years, we've wanted to extend beyond that and let people know Sundance can be a place to launch new films from more established filmmakers. Internationally, it's really world-class."
Cooper added that despite their international provenance, these filmmakers should expect an informed and intelligent reception from audiences in Park City, Utah. "American audiences have knowledge of their work; young audiences have knowledge of their work," he said. "It's fascinating that they're seeing what the festival can do for them."
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As the festival's highest-profile program and an annual hotbed of distributor interest, Premieres should continue to see plenty of star wattage from a full panoply of actors including Philip Seymour Hoffman, Keira Knightley, Michael Fassbender, Elizabeth Banks, Steve Coogan, Paul Rudd, Ryan Reynolds, Shailene Woodley, Michael Shannon, John Lithgow and Alfred Molina.
Reynolds stars in Satrapi's dark, surreal-sounding "The Voices," about a young man with two talking pets, while Woodley stars in "White Bird in a Blizzard," the latest effort directed by Gregg Araki, a Sundance veteran ("The Living End," "Splendor," "Smiley Face"). Winterbottom, another Park City regular who was previously in Premieres with this year's "The Look of Love," is back with "The Trip to Italy," a sequel to 2010′s foodie-funnymen crowd-pleaser "The Trip." Speaking of sequels: "The Raid 2," Gareth Evans' ambitious follow-up to his 2012 Sundance hit "The Raid: Redemption," should be one of the festival's hottest tickets, particularly among hardcore genre fans.
Both "The Trip to Italy" (IFC) and "The Raid 2" (Sony Classics) will arrive at Sundance with distribution already in place, along with David Wain's romantic-comedy spoof "They Came Together" and Corbijn's John le Carre adaptation "A Most Wanted Man," both of which are being released in the U.S. by Lionsgate.
That leaves 13 Premieres titles still in the hunt for distribution, among them two films from screen actors making their directorial debuts: "Hits," a comedy about fame in the viral-video era from David Cross, and "Rudderless," a story of grief and rock 'n' roll helmed and co-written by William H. Macy, starring Billy Crudup and Anton Yelchin. "Rudderless" has been selected as the festival's closing-night film.
A number of directors represented in Premieres have had films in past Sundance competition slates, including McDonagh, who made a splash with 2011′s World Cinema entry "The Guard" and returns with another Brendan Gleeson vehicle, "Calvary." Mike Cahill, whose "Another Earth" was in the 2011 dramatic competition, is back with another science-fiction-flavored tale starring Brit Marling, "I Origins."
Ira Sachs, who competed two years ago with "Keep the Lights On," makes his Premieres debut with another gay New York romance, "Love Is Strange," starring Lithgow and Molina as a longtime couple. Lynn Shelton, who competed at Sundance earlier this year with "Touchy Feely," will bring her latest effort, "Laggies," starring Keira Knightley and Sam Rockwell. And Jordan Vogt-Roberts (whose "The Kings of Summer" premiered at the most recent Sundance festival as "Toy's House") heads in another direction with "Nick Offerman: American Ham," a taping of the popular comedian's one-man show.
Eleven nonfiction titles will make their debuts in Documentary Premieres, which, like Premieres, is chockablock with Park City veterans including "Paradise Lost" trilogy helmer Joe Berlinger, back with "Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger"; Steve James, returning with "Life Itself," a profile of the late Roger Ebert; Alex Gibney with "Finding Fela," about the Nigerian musician and human-rights activist Fela Anikulapo Kuti; and Amir Bar-Lev with "Happy Valley," an inquiry into the Penn State sex-abuse scandal.
In addition to "Life Itself," two personality-focused pics likely to generate particular audience and buyer interest are Greg Whiteley's "Mitt," which was filmed during Mitt Romney's failed presidential run, and Jennifer Kroot's "To Be Takei," about "Star Trek" thesp and human-rights activist George Takei. Cooper noted that Chapman and Maclain Way's "The Battered Bastards of Baseball," about the rise of the Portland Mavericks, was one of two strong baseball-themed docs in the 2014 selection, the other being the U.S. docu competition entry "No No: A Dockumentary."
The 30th annual Sundance Film Festival runs Jan. 16-26.
The 17 world premieres in this section are from the U.S. unless otherwise specified.
"Calvary" (Ireland-U.K.) -- Directed and written by John Michael McDonagh. A darkly comedic drama about a priest forced to do battle with dark forces when his life is threatened one day during confession. Cast: Brendan Gleeson, Chris O'Dowd, Kelly Reilly, Aidan Gillen, Dylan Moran, Marie-Josee Croz.