Stacie Passon, director of 'Concussion,' is one of the eight female directors in competition at the festival.
(Photo: Debbie Harner)
Women are taking over the Sundance Film Festival.
The celebration of independent works in Park City, Utah, Jan. 17-27 features a competition among domestic dramatic films in which half of the 16 entries are directed by women - an unprecedented number from an industry that frequently cries out for greater female representation.
"That's never happened before," says Trevor Groth, director of programming. "It's a very interesting moment."
Female heroes are becoming more common in blockbuster films, as seen in this year's Brave, The Hunger Games and the Twilight saga. At Sundance, this is expanding not only to the director's roles, but also to the increasing number of female characters they bring to to the screen.
Groth gives some of the credit to the startling success of the 2010 Sundance entry Winter's Bone, which featured the future Hunger Games star Jennifer Lawrence and was directed by Debra Granik. (Lawrence would receive a best-actress Oscar nomination for Winter's Bone.)
"With a woman director and a woman lead and a very unfamiliar story to see on screen, it connected with audiences and might have opened up doors to get to the films we're seeing right now."
The 2013 festival features films such as Stacie Passon'sConcussion, about a woman who changes her life after a blow to the head ("It will likely be one of the more talked-about films at the festival," says Groth), and Jill Soloway's Afternoon Delight,about a housewife who takes in a stripper to be her live-in nanny.
Actress Lake Bell will also make a return to the festival in a film she wrote, directs and stars in called In a World ... , about a vocal coach looking to become a voiceover star.
"It's just one of those really exciting discoveries of this triple-threat talent," Groth says.
Sundance also will continue to highlight big-name Hollywood stars working against their traditional personae in challenging, independent roles. In Kill Your Darlings, Daniel Radcliffe stars as Allen Ginsberg in a story that brings the young beat poet together with peers Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs at Columbia University in 1944.
"I have to give him a lot of credit," says Groth of Radcliffe. "Not just for choosing to do this role but also for his great performance. It's going to go a long way to make people see him as a truly respected actor and not just Harry Potter. It's a really brave, smart choice."
Jessica Biel (Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes) and Kristen Bell (The Lifeguard) also bring against-type characters to the screen at Sundance.
Bell's role as a woman in her 20s who moves back to her hometown and starts an affair with a high school student "doesn't shy away from the sexuality or from the complicated nature of the affair," says Groth. "And she's great in it."
In the 16-film documentary competition, the political discourse will continue.
"We have films that discuss many issues brought up in the election cycle, but in a very more thoughtful way," says festival director John Cooper. "People have an interest in going much deeper than the political chatter."
This will be seen in films such as American Promise (which follows two African-American families pursuing the education of their sons), Citizen Koch (which follows the political discourse in Wisconsin leading to the 2012 election) and Inequality for All (which looks at the increasing equity gap in the population).
The festival will also host a film about the Occupy movement called 99%: The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film, one of several Occupy documentaries submitted.
"But this is the one that rose up from the ranks," Groth says. "It really captures the spirit and struggles of the movement, and it's a really interesting film."
The films will all be part of Sundance founder Robert Redford's legacy of bringing powerful documentaries to the forefront of national discussion.
"These (films) are not walking party lines or preaching to the converted," Groth says. "They are trying to have a more complex understanding of each situation and trying to understand why we are where we're at as a country."
For a full list of Sundance entries, visit sundance.org.
Bryan Alexander, USA TODAY