Ladies will continue to drive the feature lineup at the Sundance Film Festival as Robert Redford’s independent-cinema fair celebrates its 30th anniversary next month in Park City, Utah.
At the top of the list released Wednesday, female directors dominate the competition, with eight out of the 16 films helmed by women. And in front of the camera, women reign supreme — only this time, comedians eclipse the layout.
Actresses like Amy Poehler, Kristen Wiig, Molly Shannon, Aubrey Plaza, Amy Sedaris and Jenny Slate all appear in features playing at the upcoming fest. And In the case of Wiig, Shannon and Plaza, we have funny gals turning serious.
Following her dramatic turn in the upcoming The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Wiig will play the twin sister of fellow SNL alum Bill Hader in The Skeleton Twins. In the film, which also stars Luke Wilson and Ty Burrell, the siblings coincidentally cheat death on the same day.
Shannon and Plaza will star in Life After Beth, which focuses on a mysterious second chance at love after death.
“Comedians are big this year, especially with what we are calling ‘Funny ladies’,” said Sundance director John Cooper. “A lot of these roles are setting up typical comedic actresses in roles that are a little deeper. In general a lot of actors are being drawn to independent film because of the quality of interesting roles that they can play.”
Altogether, 117 feature-length films, selected out of 12,218 titles submitted (72 more than for 2013), are scheduled for Sundance 2014. Some 37 countries and 54 first-time filmmakers will be represented.
Sundance films typically offer the ideal fabric and draw for performers who are departing from their usual Hollywood formulas.
Girls sitcom creator Lena Dunham, whose debut movie Tiny Furniture won best narrative feature when it premiered at the South by Southwest film festival in 2010, will appear in writer/director Joe Swanberg’s Happy Christmas, also starring Anna Kendrick.
In her first feature since The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn-Part 2, Kristen Stewart plays a guard stationed at Guantanamo Bay in budding writer/director Peter Sattler’s Camp X-Ray.
But this is not to say men won’t get their share of attention at Sundance, which runs January 16-26. Sam Shepard, Michael C. Hall and Don Johnson team for the violent small-town corruption tale Cold in July.
Stories with music themes make up a notable portion of the list. Song One, starring Anne Hathaway, is centered in Brooklyn’s music scene. And the 1970s-set Low Down features a stellar cast, including Elle Fanning, Glenn Close, Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea and Game of Thrones stars Peter Dinklage and Lena Headey.
Sundance is known for launching the careers of promising new talent, like first-time writer-director Ryan Coogler, who premiered the harrowing Fruitvale Station at last January’s festival — a film that earned three Independent Spirit Award nominations, including best first feature. This time around, potential breakouts include first-time actor Josh Wiggins, who plays opposite Aaron Paul in a film about a reckless and displaced teen.
And in the festival’s Next category, Desiree Akhavan, who wrote, directed and stars in the Brooklyn-set coming-of-age Appropriate Behavior, is poised to be a fierce triple-threat. “We showed Lake Bell’s film In a World... last year and Akhavan’s work this year is in that Bell and Lena Dunham ilk,” said Cooper.
Sixteen American documentaries will also debut at the festival. “Many deal with very contemporary issues that are still in the headlines right now,” said Sundance director of programming Trevor Groth. “The ability to turn films around so quickly is really notable.”
Documentarians Ben Cotner and Ryan White took a look at the campaign to overturn California’s ban on same-sex marriage in The Case Against 8, while The Overnighters, from director Jesse Moss, examines the manpower boom in the oil fields of the Northwest.
Sundance will announce its premiere lineup on Monday.