When the Sundance Film Festival launches its annual 10-day run Thursday, it will mark the independent film event’s 34th, 27th or 23rd year ― depending on whether you’re counting from the founding of the U.S. Film Festival in 1978, its takeover by Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute in 1985, or its renaming to “Sundance” in 1989. What’s evident from this year’s lineup is that well-known names have increasingly come to dominate the proceedings, which will make tiny, oxygen-deprived Park City, Utah, as much a mecca of gawkerdom as a place of cinematic discovery.
The not-so-little festival is boasting big names. The Premiere section is the usual repository of celebrity sightings ― “2 Days in New York” for instance, is directed by French actress Julie Delpy and stars Chris Rock; “Bachelorette” features this year’s possible best actress nominee Kirsten Dunst (“Melancholia”), Isla Fisher and James Marsden; “Celeste and Jesse Forever” has Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg and Emma Roberts.
That all these famous folks are expected to be visiting the festival will only amp up its TMZ quotient.
Even in competition, where the unknown traditionally strive to be known, films are crawling with the prominent and established: Actor Mark Webber directs and co-stars in “The End of Love” with Michael Cera, Jason Ritter and Amanda Seyfried. Ry Russo-Young (“You Wont Miss Me”) returns with “Nobody Walks,” which stars John Krasinski, Olivia Thirlby and Rosemarie DeWitt. And “The Surrogate” will bring to Park City veteran actors John Hawkes, Helen Hunt and William H. Macy.
All of which means nothing, save that films without stars will struggle harder to get noticed. Among the promising features in various other sections of the festival (which cover U.S. and world documentaries, world premieres, and the new and more ambitious Next section of avant-garde/transgressive cinema), are “L” from the Greek outfit that gave us “Dogtooth”; the kid-boxer documentary “China Heavyweight,” from director Yung Chang (“Up the Yangtze”) and Eugene Jarecki’s “The House I Live In,” which focuses on the 40 years of futility in the War on Drugs.
As usual, there will be something for everyone at Sundance, including those who like to trip over each other while gasping for breath.