LOS ANGELES – Ashley Judd, Robert Downey Jr., Rosario Dawson, Paul Giamatti, Maggie Gyllenhaal and singer Tom Waits are among the stars appearing in movies competing for top honors at January's Sundance Film Festival.
On Monday, festival organizers announced 64 films that will play at the Park City, Utah, festival that runs Jan. 19-29, including "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints," starring Downey, Dawson, Chazz Palmintieri and Dianne Wiest in a drama set on the tough 1980s streets of New York City's Astoria neighborhood.
That film is among 16 that will play in Sundance's U.S. dramatic competition, whose highlights in recent festivals have included "In the Bedroom," "American Splendor," "Napoleon Dynamite" and "Garden State."
Overseen by Robert Redford's Sundance Institute, the festival is the nation's top showcase for independent film.
The competition also features "Come Early Morning," with actress Joey Lauren Adams making her directing debut with a drama about a self-destructive Southern woman that stars Judd, Tim Blake Nelson, Diane Ladd and Stacey Keach; "SherryBaby," with Gyllenhaal in the story of a woman adjusting to life after prison; Giamatti, Michael Pitt and Michelle Williams in "Hawk Is Dying," about an auto upholsterer spicing up his life by training a red-tailed hawk; and "Wristcutters: A Love Story," with Waits, Patrick Fugit, Shannon Sossamon and Jake Busey in an afterlife fantasy about people who have committed suicide.
Sundance has produced a number of populist hits in recent years, but festival director Geoffrey Gilmore said the range of competition films this time has a more daring, idiosyncratic quality akin to Sundance's early days.
"It's a festival that very much kind of underscores for me what independent filmmaking is," Gilmore said. "It's an independent filmmaking that is not going to be mistaken by anybody for films that come out of Hollywood. The kind of risk-taking, the kind of storytelling, the kind of originality, the films have a kind of surprising quality that takes us back to our roots."
Among 16 films contending for the top U.S. documentary prize will be "American Blackout," director Ian Inaba's examination of voting troubles for blacks in Florida and Ohio in recent presidential elections; "The World According to Sesame Street," Linda Goldstein Knowlton and Linda Hawkins Costigan's chronicle of the venerable children's show; "Thin," Lauren Greenfield's portrait of four women battling anorexia and bulimia; and "Wide Awake," Alan Berliner's account of his struggle with insomnia.
The U.S. documentary competition also has two films relating to Iraq: "Ground Truth: After the Killing Ends," Patricia Foulkrod's look at U.S. military training, the war in Iraq and how it affects soldiers coming home; and "Iraq in Fragments," James Longley's examination of Iraqis living amid the war and occupation.
Sundance's world-cinema dramatic competition features the Brazilian film "House of Sand," starring Fernanda Montenegro (a best-actress Academy Award nominee for "Central Station"), the life story of a woman in remote Brazil over three generations; "One Last Dance," a hit man tale from Singapore featuring Francis Ng and Harvey Keitel; and "Grbavica," a film out of Bosnia-Herzegovina about a woman and her daughter coping with the aftermath of the Bosnian war.
World-documentary contenders include the Israeli film "5 Days," a look at the evacuation of 8,000 Jewish settlers to make room for 250,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip; the Japanese entry "Dear Pyoungyang," the story of a Korean-Japanese daughter probing her father's undying loyalty to North Korea; and Britain's "Glastonbury," a look at the 30-year history of England's annual Glastonbury music festival.
Sundance was to announce its star-studded premiere lineup and other festival films later in the week.