Sundance features diverse mix of films

Every year enthusiastic audiences join filmmakers at the Sundance Film Festival for 10 days of dramatic and documentary films, shorts, performances, panel discussions and lively music events.

The lineup for the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, on Jan. 17 – Jan. 27, has a selection that promises to live up to expectations set by years past.

Movie Star · Isaiah Washington (left) and Tequan Richmond star in Blue Caprice, one of the films attracting buzz at the festival this year. The film explores the different factors that can lead someone to physical violence. - Courtesy of Brigade Marketing

Movie Star · Isaiah Washington (left) and Tequan Richmond star in Blue Caprice, one of the films attracting buzz at the festival this year. The film explores the different factors that can lead someone to physical violence. – Courtesy of Brigade Marketing

Feature films are getting a lot of attention at this year’s festival. The selected films  bring fresh ideas about life and the art of storytelling.

A regular to the festival, screenwriter Lynn Shelton returns to Sundance with her film Touchy Feely, which takes a detailed look at a family whose psychic balance suddenly unravels. Abby (Rosemary Dewitt) is a successful massage therapist and free spirit, while her brother Paul (Josh Pais) thrives on structure and principle, running a dental practice and volunteering his dramatic daughter Jenny (Ellen Page) to be his assistant. Suddenly, Abby develops an aversion to bodily contact, which hinders her career as well as her love life. Meanwhile, rumors of Paul’s “healing touch” begin to enhance his business as well as his home life. As Abby searches to find her new place in life, her brother discovers a whole new side of himself.

On a more feel-good note, screenwriter David Gordon Green (Eastbound & Down, Pineapple Express) displays his expertise of character study in Prince Avalanche. An unusual couple, the high-maintenance Alvin (Paul Rudd) and his girlfriend’s dopey brother Lance (Emile Hirsch), leave the city to repaint the lines on the country highway that has been damaged by wildfire. As they embark on their journey, the two men butt heads when they exchange stories but eventually learn about alternative approaches to self-discovery from each other.

Keeping with his chosen genre, screenwriter Jim Mickle (Stake Land) paints a grotesque, suspenseful portrait of an introverted family struggling to maintain their ghoulish traditions in We Are What We Are. Frank (Bill Sage) privately rules his family out of determination to keep his ancestral customs intact by any means necessary. When a rainstorm hits the area, tragedy occurs and it is up to Frank’s daughters, Iris (Ambyr Childers) and Rose (Julia Garner), to put meat on the table — but not the kind that can be found at the local grocery store. As the storm drags on, the police begin to uncover the dark secret within the family’s home.

Sundance, of course, is not just for veteran screenwriters. Alexandre Moors makes his big screen debut as a writer-director in Blue Caprice, a psychological thriller about a boy lured to the U.S. and into the arms of a dangerous father figure. Inspired by real-life events, the film examines the infamous and terrifying Beltway sniper attacks from the point of view of the shooters, whose bizarre relationship expedited their journey across America. Blue Caprice documents the factors that influence its subjects to embrace physical violence.

Films centered on strange relationships, such as screenwriter Hannah Fidell’s second feature film, A Teacher, is a topic not uncommon at Sundance. In the film, Diana (Lindsay Burdge), a young and well-liked teacher, is having trouble following the status quo when she finds herself entering into a secret affair with her student Eric (Will Brittain). Even when the relationship is threatened by the suspicion of others, she is too invested in the sexual fantasy to accept the illegality of her actions. As Diana habitually avoids responsibility in the adult world, her life begins to spiral out of control. Though the issue of teacher-student sexual relations is not unfamiliar to the media and the public, Fidell resists any urge to exploit or pathologize her protagonist.

Some films are more lighthearted than others. Screenwriter Chad Hartigan’s This is Martin Bonner is a story about friendship, human connections and second chances at life. Middle-aged Martin Bonner  (Paul Eenhoorn) leaves his past behind and moves to Reno, where he begins work helping parolees adapt to life outside prison while experimenting with speed-dating and spending his weekends as a soccer referee. Meanwhile, Travis Holloway (Richmond Arquette) forms an unlikely friendship that provides both of them with understanding and encouragement.

To round out this eclectic selection of films there is also British director Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers. In the film, Chris (Steve Oram) wants to show Tina (Alice Lowe) his world on a journey through the British Isles. Tina has led a sheltered life and there are things that Chris needs her to see, but it doesn’t take long for his dream to fall apart. Litterbugs, obnoxious teenagers and Tina’s nosy mother send Chris — and anyone who gets in his way — over the edge.

Whether you’re an aspiring filmmaker or a film fanatic, the 2013 Sundance Film Festival has something for everyone’s cinematic interests. For the many fellow Trojans unable to hop on a plane to Utah on a moment’s notice, fear not. It’s only a matter of time before these exciting new feature films come to a theater near you.

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