LOS ANGELES: Sex, the Internet and good old fashioned rock ’n’ roll will dominate the 29th Sundance Film Festival, the top showcase of independent U.S. cinema, which opens Thursday in the snowy mountains of Utah.
Founded by Robert Redford, Park City’s annual festival aims to nurture independent filmmakers who might otherwise be eclipsed by output from the major studios – while Hollywood uses it to scout up-and-coming talent.
The event will present 119 films from 32 countries, including 51 first-timers and more than 100 world premieres.
Sex and desire, for teenagers and adults, are key themes that will be explored in both fictional movies and documentaries, said festival director John Cooper.
“It is undeniable that there are a lot of examinations of sexual relationships in this year’s lineup,” Cooper said. “Filmmakers are dealing with sex as power, sex as basic human need and desire, sex from both the male and female point of view.
“I chalk this up to the fact that independent filmmakers have always been at the forefront as far as tackling fresh ideas and issues – even taboo subjects.”
Among the films sure to create buzz are “Lovelace,” starring “Les Miserables” alumna Amanda Seyfried in the title role as 1970s porn star Linda Lovelace, of “Deep Throat” fame.
Also on the program are “The Lifeguard,” about the dangerous relationship between a pool lifeguard and a teenager, and “Interior. Leather Bar” – an X-rated art film directed by and starring James Franco.
Franco and co-director Travis Mathews have reimagined sexually explicit footage cut from William Friedkin’s 1980 thriller “Cruising,” in which Al Pacino played a New York cop who goes undercover in the city’s gay S&M scene.
Sundance will also feature films looking at the high-tech world, including “Google and the World Brain,” a documentary about the web giant’s plans to scan every book in the world.
Ashton Kutcher stars in “jOBS,” a biopic about late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, and director Alex Gibney will unveil “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks,” about Julian Assange’s whistle-blowing website.
On the documentary front, one of the festival’s strong points, about 40 films will be screened including “Manhunt,” a counterpoint to Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty” that looks at the CIA’s hunt for Osama bin Laden.
Another hotly anticipated documentary is “After Tiller,” which tells the story of the last four doctors in the United States who still perform third-trimester abortions, after the 2009 assassination of George Tiller.
Documentary filmmakers “approach problems facing our society from a very deep level that is unusual in mainstream media,” Cooper said. “They both expose problems and provide solutions.”
The music world will also have its moment in the sun, with screenings of documentaries about The Eagles and Russia’s Pussy Riot, as well as a film from Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl about the iconic Sound City recording studio.
The festival’s parallel out-of-competition Next section is dedicated to low-budget films, while Park City At Midnight will show a selection of horror and B-movie productions.
The 29th Sundance Film Festival runs Jan. 17-27.