New films by Sundance veterans Gus Van Sant, Mira Nair, Victor Nunez and Miguel Arteta, plus the directorial debut of actor John Malkovich, are among the highlights of the high-profile Premieres to be unspooled at the Sundance Film Festival in January.
Van Sant's Jerry, said to be a largely improvisational effort that was shot in the Argentine desert for a reported $7m, may prove of particular interest since only the scantest details about the production have emerged since the project was first floated to buyers at Cannes this year. The film re-unites the director with both Matt Damon and Casey Affleck, the brother of Ben. Coincidentally, Damon and Ben Affleck are the producers of another film at Sundance this year, Stolen Summer, the chosen winner of their Project Greenlight competition for budding filmmakers.
Also unveiled yesterday as Sundance finished announcing all this year's selections were the international films that comprise the World Cinema section that has been home to several festival discoveries in previous years. Among this year's selections are five world premieres: Paul Goldman's Australian Rules from Australia; Sandrine Ray's Vivante (Alive) from France; Tomasz Wiszniewski's Where Eskimos Live, a Polish-Germany-American co-production featuring Bob Hoskins; and two British films, Paul Greengrass' Bloody Sunday, an attempted non-partisan account of the Northern Ireland shootings of 13 unarmed civilians by members of the Parachute Regiment; and Marc Munden's Miranda starring this year's Sundance "It-Girl" Christina Ricci alongside John Hurt and Kyle Maclachlan.
The entire prestigious ten-day event kicks off next year with Moises Kaufman's screen version of his own award-winning off-Broadway play, The Laramie Project, which was produced by Good Machine for HBO. The same US pay-TV network also financed the film chosen as the festival's Centrepiece Premiere, Hysterical Blindness, the first new film from this year's Venice Film Festival winner Mira Nair.
With HBO additionally involved in as many as six of this year's selected documentary features, next year's Sundance offers further evidence of television's pivotal role these days in the financing of festival-calibre independent features. In addition to HBO, a noticeable number of this year's selections were commissioned by the UK'S Channel 4 through its FilmFour offshoot and there are several others too involving the Independent Film Channel. HBO's rival, Showtime Networks (which is a partner in the Sundance Channel), financed Ernest Dickerson's Our America.
THE LARAMIE PROJECT (US) - Opening Night Salt Lake City
Dir: Moises Kaufman
Cast: Christina Ricci, Laura Linney, Jeremy Davies, Steve Buscemi, Janeane Garofolo, Camryn Manheim
An all-star cast illuminates this dramatization of the Matthew Shepherd hate crime in Wyoming, in which a young gay man was brutally beaten and left to die in 1998. Playwright Kaufman and members of his New York theatrical troupe visited the town of Laramie immediately after the murder and conducted 200 interviews from which his award-winning play was based. The film version was workshopped at the Sundance screenwriters Lab.
Prod co: Good Machine for HBO
BIRTHDAY GIRL (UK)
Dir: Jez Butterworth
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Ben Chaplin, Vincent Cassel, Mathieu Kassovitz
A thirtysomething bank clerk from St Albans has his small-town life turned upside down by the arrival of his Russian mail order bride. Butterworth, who also made 1997's Mojo shot this film as far back as 1999,
US dist/int'l sales: Miramax
Dir: Victor Nunez
Cast: Timothy Olyphant, Josh Brolin, Sarah Wynter, William Forsythe
Nunez has become a Sundance fixture, where his past films include both Ulee's Gold and 1996 joint Grand Prize jury-winner Ruby In Paradise. His latest follows an ex-con (Olyphant) as he returns to his Florida hometown after three years to settle a debt and becomes embroiled in an affair with the wife (Wynter) of his best friend, the local sheriff (Brolin).
Prod co's: IFC Productions and Clear Blue Sky Productions. Represented by Cinetic Media's John Sloss.
Dir: John McKay
Cast: Andie MacDowell, Imelda Staunton, Anna Chancellor, Kenny Doughty, Bill Paterson
Originally entitled The Sad Fuckers Club, Crush focuses on the close bond between three women in a genteel English town and what happens when that bond is threatened by a passionate love affair with a younger man. Co-financed by the UK's Film Four and Germany's Senator, the film was first seen by distributors at a market screening at this year's Cannes Film Festival.
US dist: Sony Pictures Classics; Int'l sales/UK dist: Film Four Int'l
THE DANCER UPSTAIRS (US) - Opening Night Park City
Dir John Malkovich
Cast: Javier Bardem, John Malkovich, Abel Folk, Juan Diego Botto, Laura Morante, Elvira Manrique, Lucas Rodriguez
Malkovich's directorial debut is a filmic recreation of the capture of the founder of Peru's Shining Path guerilla group and is based on the novel by Nicholas Shakespeare, who also wrote the script. Javier Bardem plays the young policeman who finds himself caught between two forces in his twelve year pursuit to apprehend the famous South American Marxist revolutionary, known here as Ezequiel who is portrayed by Malkovich himself.
Prod co/int'l sales: LolaFilms
THE DANGEROUS LIVES OF ALTAR BOYS (US)
Dir: Peter Care
Cast: Emile Hirsch, Kieran Culkin, Jena Malone, Vincent D'Onofrio, Jodie Foster
Originally selected to premiere at last year's Sundance, where it was pulled at the eleventh hour because it remain unfinished, Altar Boys tells the story of a group of junior high school friends who are caught drawing an obscene comic book and who, in turn, plan a heist that will outdo all their previous stunts and make them local legends in the process. Foster, who produced, plays the one-legged nun who originally busted them
US dist: ThinkFilm; Int'l sales: Initial Entertainment Group
THE GOOD GIRL (US)
Dir: Miguel Arteta
Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Jake Gyllenhaal, John C. Reilly, Zoey Deschannel, Tim Blake
The director of Chuck & Buck and Star Maps returns to Sundance with story about how a young married woman's mundane life takes a turn for the worse when she strikes up an adulterous affair with a colleague, the handsome but disturbed discount store cashier who thinks he's Holden Caulfield. The script is by Arteta's Chuck & Buck collaborator Mike White.
Int'l sales: Myriad Pictures
HUMAN NATURE (France/US)
Dir: Michael Gondry
Cast: Tim Robbins, Patricia Arquette, Rhys Ifan
A woman is in love with a man in love with another woman. All three have designs on a young man raised as an ape in this latest quirky creation from Being John Malkovich screenwriter Charlie Kaufman. Good Machine produced the film which had its world premiere earlier this year at the Cannes Film Festival. Director Gondy made his name in music videos.
US dist: Fine Line Features; Int'l sales: StudioCanal
HYSTERICAL BLINDNESS (US) - Centrepiece Premiere
Dir Mira Nair
Cast: Ben Gazzara, Juliette Lewis, Uma Thurman, Gena Rowlands, Bobby Tisdale, Justin Chambers
Nair, who triumphed at this y