Melanie Lynskey is shown in a scene from "Hello I Must Be Going," a love story between a 19-year-old man and a 35-year-old divorcee that will be featured at the Sundance Film Festival, opening Thursday. - AP

LOS ANGELES: The 28th Sundance Film Festival opens in the Utah mountains on Thursday, trumpeted as a showcase of the “mature”independent US cinema standing up proudly to the Hollywood juggernaut.Founded by Robert Redford, the annual festival in Park City aims to nurture independent filmmakers who might otherwise be eclipsed by the major studios' output — while Hollywood uses it to scout new up-and-coming talent.

The January 19-29 festival will present 117 feature films from 30 countries, including 45 first-timers — 24 in competition — and 91 world premiers.

“What I am seeing is more depth of quality by independent filmmakers, even from 10 years ago. As the independent film movement matures, a new bar is set each year,” festival director John Cooper told AFP.“The filmmakers are responding to that and know they have to compete. I think the films in the festival are very diverse in the stories they want to tell,” he added.

Most films screened do not yet have a distributor, and the chalets of Park City host multi-million-dollar battles every year between independent distributors like the Weinstein Company and the studios' “art house” divisions.

Buyers scoop up many of the films — especially US entrants in competition — in deals that often lead to awards success, including, in recent years, “Precious”, “Little Miss Sunshine”, “Winter's Bone” and “Blue Valentine.”The last few years saw a flurry of films about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and although there are none in the documentary competition this year, topical strife will be well-represented.

Egypt's uprising comes under the spotlight in “1/2 Revolution,” while the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is explored through the story of an amateur Palestinian videographer in “Five Broken Cameras” and the Israeli army in “The Law in These Parts.”Filmmakers tackle major issues from nuclear power (“The Atomic States of America”) and US healthcare (“Escape Fire”) to drugs (“The House I Live In”) and the relationship between homosexuality and the church (“Love Free or Die”).

“The Invisible War” — which looks at a taboo of the US military, the growth of rapes of female soldiers by their male comrades — has generated considerable interest.

On the fiction front several major figures will present their latest work, including Spike Lee, with “Red Hook Summer,” and BritonStephen Frears, with “Lay the Favorite.”Hollywood stars including Catherine Zeta-Jones, Sigourney Weaver, Bradley Cooper, Richard Gere, Dennis Quaid and Bruce Willis will also be in town.

US comedian Chris Rock makes an unexpected appearance in French filmmaker Julie Delpy's “2 Days in New York” — in which he “convincingly plays the straight man” — following the success of her “2 Days in Paris” in 2007.

The festival's parallel out-of-competition Next section will this year focus on low-budget films, while Park City At Midnight will show a selection of horror and B-movie productions.





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