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Arts and Entertainment

Hollywood On Ice: 2011 Sundance Competiton Films Announced

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Photo by Joey Maloney via Flickr

Photo by Joey Maloney via Flickr
The Sundance Institute made the first of three festival announcements today for the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. Included in the announcement were the Institute’s selections for US Dramatic Competition, US Documentary Comp., World Cinema Dramatic Comp. and World Cinema Documentary Comp. In all, 10,279 films were submitted for consideration marking the first time in the festival’s history that submissions have hit above 10,000. Of the 3,812 feature submissions received, 115 were accepted to screen at the Festival.

So, which selections will get the most attention this year in the snowy wonderland of Park City, UT? It is hard to tell from one paragraph blurbs but here are some films that are drawing pre-festival buzz:

2010 Best Supporting Actress Nominee Vera Farmiga makes her directorial debut with , Higher Ground, the story of a frustrated young mother who turns to a fundamentalist community for answers but after years of dogma and loss, must find the courage to reclaim her life. Farmiga stars as well.

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With Demi Moore, Kate Bosworth, Ellen Barkin, Ellen Burstyn and Thomas Hayden Church, the film with the most “star power” would be The Loved Ones. The film, directed and written by Sam Levinson, follows a pair of reckless siblings dragged into a chaotic family wedding by their overwrought mother.

Sundance has always prided itself on the documentary selections and bringing documentary films to the mainstream. With Super Size Me, DIG!, Murderball, The Cove and Waiting For Superman among past selections, their nose for interesting and diverse topics has been spot on.


This year’s selections are no different, with stories about Suicide, Women’s Representation in the Media (a film Directed by incoming Lt. Gov Gavin Newsom’s wife Jennifer), Domestic Abuse, Hip Hop and Elmo (yes, that Elmo).

Ever wonder who's behind the Muppet? BEING ELMO: A Puppeteer's Journey delves into the puppet and introduces you to the heart and soul of Elmo, Kevin Cash. Directed by Constance Marks.

From actor Michael Rapport is Beats, Rhymes and Life is the story of one of the most revered and respected hip hop groups of all time, A Tribe Called Quest.

In addition to the four "Competition Categories," the Festival presents films in six out-of-competition sections to be announced on December 2 and the Shorts Programs will be announced Mon, Dec 6th.

Trevor Groth, Director of Programming, said "Knowing how difficult it is to get a film made anywhere, and given that the number of submissions was higher than ever, it is a testament to the passion and creativity of filmmakers everywhere that they are able to preserve and stay true to their vision. The caliber of films submitted this year was exceptional and made for exhilarating discussion among the programmers. Now that discussion gets turned over to the audience."

One criticism of the selections, as noted by Brooks Barnes of the New York Times was that they lack the “star power” of previous years. Natalie Portman, James Franco, Ashton Kutcher and others have made their “indie turns” in recent years but this year the selections are noticeably lacking of “A-list” talent. When asked about this, festival director John Cooper said, “It's all about performance. Sometimes big time actors can't act,” adding, “it's not so much about actors or not, it's really the overall quality of the film itself -- honestly.”

In recent years the star power debate has been a lightning rod of discussion among both press and festival attendees, with some arguing that it is not true to the “independent roots” of the festival and others claiming it brings a level of attention to the festival that wouldn’t necessarily be there. Regardless of which side is right, the Sundance Institute has made it clear that above all it is about the films, rather than who is in them. For years the goal of a Sundance film was to attract a distribution company and gain theatrical release however in recent years Sundance films have attracted Oscar buzz with Precious getting a nomination last year and 2010’s Grand Jury Winner Winter's Bone drawing Best Picture talk this year.

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The 2011 Sundance Film Festival runs January 20-30 in Park City, Salt Lake City, Ogden and Sundance, Utah.