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A year for irreverence

ANNA BLOOM, Of the Record staff

The world may be a miserable place, but that doesn’t mean filmmakers can’t find the funny in it.

Sundance Film Festival Director Geoffrey Gilmore says the 2008 festival slate is full of comedy of all kinds dark, satirical, strange, perverse, deadpan. "I think it’s fair to say that audiences are exhausted right now with the serious work," Gilmore told The Park Record. "That doesn’t mean that we don’t have serious work in the festival, we do, but some people’s take on the depressing world out there is to laugh at it be irreverent. So that’s what you’re going to see this year at Sundance a lot of irreverence."

Among the comedies in the lineup are: "Choke," a sardonic story about a mother-and-son relationship, fear of aging, sexual addiction and "the dark side of historical theme parks;" "The Last Word," a romantic comedy about a writer who makes his living composing other people’s suicide notes; and "I Always Wanted to Be A gangster (J’ai Toujours Reve D’Etre un Gangster)," an existential comedy about aspiring French criminals.

The final selection of 121 feature films for 2008 came after programmers spent nearly a year sifting through a record number of submissions. Gilmore says these days, the process is year-round he chose his first film in March.

All told, programmers had 3,624 films to choose from 2,021 from the United States and 1,603 international feature-length films. The number surpasses last year’s number by nearly 350 films.

A total of 51 films are by filmmakers who have never had a feature at the festival, a number that Gilmore says reflects the festival’s mission of discovering new talent and new voices in film. "That’s a huge number," he says. "I don’t know that any other festival in the world can say that."

Yet the festival will also have its familiar faces. The stars that could be shuffling along Main Street, should they choose to come to their premieres, include Mary Kate Olsen, rapper Method Man, indie film rebel Steve Zahn, Billy Crudup, Paul Giamatti of "Sidways" fame, Angelica Huston, Tom Arnold, Winona Ryder, Peter Sarsgaard, Sienna Miller and Felicity Huffman.

Christine Jeffs, who will screen her film, "Sunshine Cleaning," about two entrepreneurs in the biohazard removal and crime scene cleanup business, comes to Sundance after the commercial success of the 2003 film "Sylvia," starring Gwyneth Paltrow as Sylvia Plath and Blythe Danner as Plath’s mother.

Sundance veterans will likewise be returning. Alex Gibney plans to screen his fourth festival film, "Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson." He will return after directing Sundance 2005’s "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room," and as producer of the 2006 documentary "Who Killed the Electric Car?" and the 2007 Sundance Special Jury Prize documentary, "No End in Sight." Edet Belzberg plans to screen "An American Soldier," about army recruiters in the United States, after winning the Special Jury Prize for her documentary "Children Underground" in 2001.

"I think filmmakers return to Sundance to make the kind of film they want to make, meaning they don’t necessarily see themselves as moving toward a more commercially-driven arena," Gilmore says. "We showcase work that means something to people and surprises them"

And the slogan "Focus on Film," distributed on buttons at last year’s festival, will hold true again in 2008 and many festivals to come more than a message, it’s a mantra, he says.

"Sometimes there seems to be so much garbage all around you on the street, you get lost in the hustle and bustle," Gilmore explains. "But you know what? We’re first and foremost a film festival. That’s what we’re about and to talk about any other thing is really beside the point."


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