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Sundance 2014: Buzzy Premieres Lean Toward Comedy, Documentary All-Stars Unveiled, Redford Books Failure Workshop

Festivals
by Anne Thompson and Beth Hanna
December 9, 2013 4:00 PM
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"They Came Together"

The Sundance Film Festival has unveiled the films selected to screen in its out-of-competition Premieres and Documentary Premieres sections. This is where the better-known directors and stars show up for red carpet walks in front of the Eccles Theater, and where much of the acquisition heat will be focused. The 2014 festival runs January 16-26 in Park City, Salt Lake City, Ogden and Sundance, Utah. Sundance director John Cooper and his staff have been trying to make the festival experience better for audiences by creating an online wait list solution via a new app, "so you don't have to wait in line so much," says Cooper. "You can do the wait list through your smart phone."

Cooper and his head programmer Trevor Groth say that Hollywood agents and managers are applying less pressure now to try and get prime opening slots for their films--the first Sundance weekend now runs through Wednesday, says Cooper. "We're more transparent and they're less rigid."

"They're trusting us to do our jobs," says programmer Trevor Groth. "Over the last few years it's gotten smoother, this was the best yet."

Clearly, this year's Sundance is strong on comedy, as Michael Winterbottom reunites with Steve Coogan in "A Trip to Italy," and Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd and Ed Helms topline David Wain's "They Came Together." Seattle filmmaker Lynn Shelton created "Laggies" with comedic novelist Andrea Siegel. "The Guard" writer-director John Michael McDonagh reunites with Brendan Gleeson with dark Irish comedy "Calvary." Gleeson's son Domhnall stars in "Frank," which is generating early buzz mostly because star Michael Fassbender took a big chance by wearing a giant ceramic head throughout the film. 

Several Sundance regulars return with new work. Documentarian Steve James is back with "Life Itself," his portrait of the late critic Roger Ebert; Alex Gibney will unspool music doc "Finding Fela," Amir Bar-Lev explores the truth behind the Jerry Sandusky pedophile scandal in "Happy Valley," Rory Kennedy looks back at "Last Days in Vietnam," and in "Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger," Joe Berlinger (the "Paradise Lost" West Memphis Three trilogy) explores the way Boston law enforcement dealt with the crime lord who finally was sentenced for his many sins. "What's new in the documentary world," says Sundance director John Cooper, "is the topical issue that is still happening; the window is shrinking. There's a timely urgency in the documentaries."

Actress Brit Marling rejoins her "Another Earth" director Mike Cahill in feature "I Origins," a story that explores where we all came from. Sundance regular Gregg Araki adapts a Laura Kasischke novel, "White Bird in a Blizzard," starring Shailene Woodley and Eva Green. And Anton Corbijn adapts John Le Carre spy thriller "A Most Wanted Man" with an all-star cast. Jake Paltrow ("The Good Night") brings a dystopian western to Sundance, "Young Ones." 

Continuing this year's actor-director trend, William H. Macy directs "Rudderless," starring Billy Crudup as a grieving father who starts a rock band; the film co-stars Macy and wife Felicity Huffman. 

To celebrate the 30th anniversary this year, Sundance is mounting a Cinema Cafe panel on the idea of failure called Free Fail, which was Robert Redford's idea, says Cooper. "He sees failure as a true component of the creative process, one that we don't celebrate nearly enough. Instead of trying to deny it, we are looking at failure as part of what creativity is." Likely Best Actor Oscar nominee Redford may or may not participate depending on his schedule.

Along with other workshops to be announced, including one on film criticism inspired by Steve James' Roger Ebert doc, they're planning to screen one film that they failed to show at a past Sundance. (No, it's not "One False Move.") 

In addition to those announced today, films in the U.S. and World Competition and NEXT were announced November 4 (full lineup), and Spotlight, Park City at Midnight, New Frontier and Sundance Kids sections were announced November 5 (full lineup)

Full lineups below:

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