PARK CITY, Utah (AP) — It's that time of year again when a tiny ski-resort town becomes the place to be for anyone in show business — stars and directors, distribution executives, musicians, unknown filmmakers hoping that people might want to hear the stories they tell.
Opening Thursday, the Sundance Film Festival takes over Park City for a week and a half every January. Anything resembling a theater is booked with screenings. Directors and their casts trudge snowy streets to introduce films and do interviews. Bars and restaurants are stuffed with people talking deals, or just talking about something crazy or unexpected they just saw on screen.
"It's almost like Burning Man. Once a year, this tiny little town that then transforms itself into kind of a crazy film city for 10 days out of the year," said writer-director Lynn Shelton, a Sundance regular ("Humpday," ''Your Sister's Sister") who returns this year with "Touchy Feely," starring Rosemarie DeWitt as a massage therapist suddenly struck by an aversion to touching others. "It's crammed with people all there for one reason. Whatever relationship they have to the industry, they're all there for the love of films."
The top U.S. showcase for independent cinema, Sundance has grown along with the do-it-yourself film world and has played a huge role in creating opportunities for low-budget filmmakers to get their work made and seen.
Robert Redford added the festival in 1985 as an offshoot of his Sundance Institute that offers professional support to indie filmmakers.
That first year, the festival showed a couple of dozen films. This year, Sundance is playing 119 feature films from 32 countries, culled from about 4,000 that were submitted.
"It's gotten pretty overwhelming," Redford said. "I never dreamed when we started — we didn't even know that we would last — and then when it lasted and grew, it became huge. I never anticipated that it would get to this size."
Now the name Sundance is almost a synonym for the possibilities of independent film. The festival helped launch the careers of filmmakers such as Steven Soderbergh, Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino and has premiered such Academy Award winners and nominees as "Little Miss Sunshine," ''Precious," ''Winter's Bone" and last year's top Sundance prize winner, "Beasts of the Southern Wild."
This year's lineup includes Ashton Kutcher as Apple co-founder Steve Jobs in director Joshua Michael Stern's film biography "jOBS"; Amanda Seyfried as porn star Linda Lovelace in Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman's "Lovelace"; Shia LaBeouf and Evan Rachel Wood in Fredrik Bond's romance "The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman"; Dakota Fanning and Elizabeth Olsen in Naomi Foner's teen tale "Very Good Girls"; Daniel Radcliffe as Allen Ginsberg in John Krokidas' beat-poet story "Kill Your Darlings"; and Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in Richard Linklater's "Before Midnight," a follow-up to "Before Sunrise" and "Before Sunset."