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Sundance Film Festival unveils its 2012 competition lineup

November 30, 2011 |  1:00 pm

Safety Not Guaranteed

This post has been corrected, as indicated below.

The programmers of the Sundance Film Festival, the nation's top showcase for movies made outside the studio system, have sorted through more than 4,000 features to select the 32 movies that will compete for the festival's grand jury prizes in narrative and documentary filmmaking.

While the final roster of films for the U.S. dramatic and U.S. documentary competition -- 16 movies in each category -- features some familiar names both in front of and behind the cameras, the lineup is heavily larded with newcomers and any number of people in the midst of career switches: actors (including "Scott Pilgrim's" Mark Webber) and a publicist ("The Help's" Ava DuVernay) who are becoming directors.

Last year's festival sparked a number of big sales for independently financed features, including "LIke Crazy," but few of those films turned into art-house hits, and some, like "Another Earth," fizzled fast. Festival organizers say the bulk of high-profile sales in January's festival will likely come from Sundance's premiere lineup, which will be announced Monday.

The full lineup for the Sundance competition, including the 26 films in the world cinema dramatic and documentary competitions, follows, with descriptions from the festival:

U.S. Dramatic Competition:  The world premieres of 16 American narrative feature films.

"Beasts of the Southern Wild": In this mythological tale inspired by the coastal erosion crisis facing the communities of southern Louisiana, a 6-year-old Bayou Don Quixote sets out to find her long-lost mother when her father is beset by a mysterious illness. Director: Benh Zeitlin. Screenwriters: Benh Zeitlin, Lucy Alibar. Cast: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry.

"The Comedy": An aging hipster looks for a sense of purpose and meaning in a world which seems to value status, popularity and good looks above art and substance. Director: Rick Alverson. Screenwriters: Rick Alverson, Robert Donne, Colm O'Leary. Cast: Tim Heidecker, Eric Wareheim, Kate Lyn Sheil, Alexia Rassmusen, Gregg Turkington.

"The End of Love": A young father unravels following the loss of the mother of his child. Director and screenwriter: Mark Webber. Cast: Mark Webber, Shannyn Sossamon, Michael Cera, Jason Ritter, Amanda Seyfried, Frankie Shaw.

"Filly Brown": A hip-hop-driven drama about a Mexican girl who rises to fame and consciousness as she copes with the incarceration of her mother through music. Directors: Youssef Delara, Michael D. Olmos. Screenwriter: Youssef Delara. Cast: Lou Diamond Phillips, Gina Rodriguez, Jenni Rivera, Edward James Olmos.

"The First Time": Two high-schoolers meet at a party. Over the course of a weekend, things turn magical, romantic, complicated and funny, as they discover what it's like to fall in love for the first time. Director and screenwriter: Jonathan Kasdan. Cast: Brittany Robertson, Dylan O'Brien, Craig Roberts, James Frecheville, Victoria Justice.

"For Ellen": A struggling musician takes an overnight long-distance drive in order to fight his estranged wife for custody of their young daughter. Director and screenwriter: So Yong Kim. Cast: Paul Dano, Jon Heder, Jena Malone, Margarita Levieva, Shay Mandigo.

"Hello I Must Be Going": Divorced, childless, demoralized and condemned to move back in with her parents at the age of 35, Amy Minsky's prospects look bleak -- until the unexpected attention of a teenage boy changes everything. Director: Todd Louiso. Screenwriter: Sarah Koskoff. Cast: Melanie Lynskey, Blythe Danner, Christopher Abbott, John Rubinstein, Julie White. 

"Keep the Lights On": An autobiographically inspired story of a passionate long-term relationship between two men driven by addiction and secrets but bound by love and hopefulness. Director: Ira Sachs. Screenwriters: Ira Sachs, Mauricio Zacharias. Cast: Thure Lindhardt, Zachary Booth, Julianne Nicholson, Souleymane Sy Savane, Paprika Steen.

"Luv": An orphaned 11-year-old boy is forced to face the unpleasant truth about his beloved uncle during one harrowing day on the streets of Baltimore. Director: Sheldon Candis. Screenwriters: Sheldon Candis, Justin Wilson. Cast: Common, Michael Rainey Jr., Dennis Haysbert, Danny Glover, Charles S. Dutton.

"Middle of Nowhere": When her husband is incarcerated, an African American woman struggles to maintain her marriage and her identity. Director and screenwriter: Ava DuVernay. Cast: Emayatzy Corinealdi, David Oyelowo, Omari Hardwick, Lorraine Touissant, Edwina Findley.

"Nobody Walks": Martine, a young artist from New York, is invited into the home of a hip, liberal L.A. family for a week. Her presence unravels the family’s carefully maintained status quo, and a mess of sexual and emotional entanglements ensues. Director: Ry Russo-Young. Screenwriters: Lena Dunham, Ry Russo-Young. Cast: John Krasinski, Olivia Thirlby, Rosemarie DeWitt, India Ennenga, Justin Kirk.

"Safety Not Guaranteed": A trio of magazine employees investigate a classified ad seeking a partner for time travel. One employee develops feelings for the paranoid but compelling loner behind the ad and seeks to discover what he’s really up to. Director: Colin Trevorrow. Screenwriter: Derek Connolly. Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake Johnson, Karan Soni.

"Save the Date": As her sister gears up to get married, Sarah finds herself engrossed in an intense post-breakup rebound. The two fumble through the redefined emotional landscape of modern-day relationships, forced to relearn how to love and be loved. Director: Michael Mohan. Screenwriters: Jeffrey Brown, Egan Reich, Michael Mohan. Cast: Lizzy Caplan, Alison Brie, Martin Starr, Geoffrey Arend, Mark Webber.

"Simon Killer": A recent college graduate goes to Paris after breaking up with his girlfriend of five years. Once there, he falls in love with a young prostitute and their fateful journey begins. Director and screenwriter: Antonio Campos. Cast: Brady Corbet, Mati Diop, Constance Rousseau, Michael Abiteboul, Solo.

"Smashed": Kate and Charlie are a young married couple whose bond is built on a mutual love of music, laughter and ... drinking. When Kate decides to get sober, her new lifestyle brings troubling issues to the surface and calls into question her relationship with Charlie. Director: James Ponsoldt. Screenwriter: Susan Burke, James Ponsoldt. Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aaron Paul, Octavia Spencer, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally.

"The Surrogate": Mark O'Brien, a 36-year-old poet and journalist with an iron lung, decides he no longer wishes to be a virgin. With the help of his therapist and the guidance of his priest, he contacts a professional sex surrogate to take him on a journey to manhood. Director and screenwriter: Ben Lewin. Cast: John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, William H. Macy.

U.S. Documentary Competition: The world premieres of 16 American documentary films.

"Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry": Renowned Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei has garnered international attention as much for his ambitious artwork as his political provocations and increasingly public clashes with the Chinese government. Director: Alison Klayman.

"The Atomic States of America": In 2010, the United States announced construction of the first new nuclear power plant in more than 32 years. A year later, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck the Fukushima power plant in Japan, sparking a fierce debate in the U.S. over the safety and viability of nuclear power. Directors: Don Argott, Sheena M. Joyce.

"Chasing Ice": Science, spectacle and human passion mix in this stunningly cinematic portrait as National Geographic photographer James Balog captures time-lapse photography of glaciers over several years, providing tangible visual evidence of climate change. Director: Jeff Orlowski.

"Detropia": The woes of Detroit are emblematic of the collapse of the U.S. manufacturing base. This is the dramatic story of a city and its people who refuse to leave the building, even as the flames are rising. Directors: Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady.

"Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare": What can be done to save our broken medical system? Powerful forces are trying to maintain the status quo in a profit-driven medical industry, but a movement to bring innovative methods of prevention and healing is finally gaining ground -- potentially saving the health of a nation. Directors: Matthew Heineman, Susan Froemke.

"Finding North":  A crisis of hunger looms in America and is not limited to the poverty stricken and uneducated. Can a return to policies of the 1970s save our future? Director: Lori Silverbush, Kristi Jacobson.

"The House I Live In": For over 40 years, the War on Drugs has accounted for 45 million arrests, made America the world's largest jailer and damaged poor communities at home and abroad. Yet, drugs are cheaper, purer and more available today than ever. Where did we go wrong, and what is the path toward healing? Director: Eugene Jarecki.

"How to Survive a Plague": The untold story of the intensive efforts that turned AIDS into a manageable condition -- and the improbable group of (mostly HIV-positive) young men and women whose amazing resilience broke through a time of rampant death and political indifference. Director: David France.  

"The Invisible War":  An investigative and powerfully emotional examination of the epidemic of rape of soldiers within the U.S. military, the institutions that cover up its existence and the profound personal and social consequences that arise from it. Director: Kirby Dick.

"Marina Abramović The Artist Is Present": Marina Abramović prepares for a major retrospective of her work at The Museum of Modern Art in New York, hoping to finally silence four decades of skeptics who proclaim: 'But why is this art?' Director: Matthew Akers.

"Me at the Zoo": With 270 million hits to date, Chris Crocker, an uncanny young video blogger from small-town Tennessee, is considered the Internet's first rebel folk hero and at the same time one of its most controversial personalities. Director: Chris Moukarbel, Valerie Veatch.

"The Other Dream Team": The 1992 Lithuanian national basketball team went from the clutches of communism to the Summer Olympics in Barcelona -- a testament to the powerful role of sports as a catalyst for cultural identity. Director: Marius Markevicius.

"The Queen of Versailles": Jackie and David were triumphantly constructing the biggest house in America – a sprawling, 90,000-square-foot palace inspired by Versailles – when their timeshare empire falters due to the economic crisis.  Their rags-to-riches-to-rags story reveals the innate virtues and flaws of the American Dream. Director: Lauren Greenfield.

"Slavery by Another Name": As slavery came to an end with Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, a new system of involuntary servitude took its place with shocking force, brutalizing, terrorizing and ultimately circumscribing the lives of hundreds of thousands of African Americans well into the 20th century. Director: Sam Pollard.

"Love Free or Die: How the Bishop of New Hampshire is Changing the World": One man whose two defining passions are in conflict: An openly gay bishop refuses to leave the church or the man he loves. Director: Macky Alston.

"We're Not Broke": As American lawmakers slash budgets and lay off employees, leaving many people scrambling to survive, multibillion-dollar corporations are concealing colossal profits overseas to avoid paying U.S. income tax. Fed-up Americans are taking their frustration to the streets. Directors: Karin Hayes, Victoria Bruce.


World Cinema Dramatic Competition: 14 films from emerging filmmaking talents.

"4 Suns": (Czech Republic) Immature Fogi attempts to straighten up and accept his responsibilities as a new husband and father, as well as role model to his troubled son from a previous relationship, but finds himself unable to change his nature, leaving him to watch haplessly as his family begins to crumble. Director and screenwriter: Bohdan Sláma. Cast: Jaroslav Plesl, Aňa Geislerová, Karel Roden, Jiří Mádl, Klára Melíšková.

"About the Pink Sky": (Japan) A high-school girl finds a wallet full of money and tracks down its owner, leading to unexpected consequences for the girl and her friends. Director and screenwriter: Keiichi Kobayashi. Cast: Ai Ikeda, Ena Koshino, Reiko Fujiwara, Tsubasa Takayama, Hakusyu Togetsuan.

"Can": (Turkey) A young married couple live happily in Istanbul, but their decision to illegally procure a child threatens their future together. Director and screenwriter: Rasit Celikezer. Cast: Selen Ucer, Serdar Orcin, Berkan Demirbag, Erkan Avci.

"Father's Chair" (A Cadeira do Pai): (Brazil) Following the trail of his runaway teen son, Theo confronts his own identity as a son, a father and a man along the way. Director: Luciano Moura. Screenwriters: Elena Soarez, Luciano Moura. Cast: Wagner Moura, Lima Duarte, Mariana Lima.

"L": (Greece) A man who lives in his car gets caught up in the undeclared war between motorcycle riders and car drivers. Director: Babis Makridis. Screenwriters: Babis Makridis, Efthymis Filippou. Cast: Aris Servetalis, Makis Papadimitriou, Lefteris Mathaios, Nota Tserniafski, Stavros Raptis.

"The Last Elvis" (El Ultimo Elvis): (Argentina) A Buenos Aires Elvis impersonator who believes that he is the reincarnation of the King struggles to shake free from reality and live his musical dream. Director: Armando Bo. Screenwriters: Nicolás Giacobone and Armando Bo. Cast: John McInerny, Griselda Siciliani, Margarita Lopez. World premiere

"Madrid, 1987": (Spain) The balance of power and desire constantly shifts during the meeting of an older journalist and a young student, of two generations completely foreign to one another. Director and screenwriter: David Trueba. Cast: José Sacristán, María Valverde, Ramon Fontserè. 

"My Brother the Devil": (United Kingdom) A pair of British Arab brothers trying to get by in gangland London learn the extraordinary courage it takes to be yourself. Director and screenwriter: Sally El Hosaini. Cast: James Floyd, Saïd Taghmaoui, Fady Elsayed. 

"Teddy Bear": (Denmark) Dennis, a painfully shy 38-year-old bodybuilder who lives with his mother, sets off to Thailand in search of love. Director: Mads Matthiesen. Screenwriters: Mads Matthiesen, Martin Pieter Zandvliet. Cast: Kim Kold, Elsebeth Steentoft, Lamaiporn Sangmanee Hougaard, David Winters, Allan Mogensen. 

"Valley of Saints": (India/U.S.)  Gulzar plans to run away from the war and poverty surrounding his village in Kashmir with his best friend, but a beautiful young woman researching the dying lake leads him to contemplate a different future. Director and screenwriter: Musa Syeed. Cast: Gulzar Ahmad Bhat, Mohammed Afzal Sofi, Neelofar Hamid. 

"Violeta Went to Heaven" (Violeta se Fue a Los Cielos): (Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Spain) A portrait of famed Chilean singer and folklorist Violeta Parra filled with her musical work, her memories, her loves and her hopes. Director: Andrés Wood. Screenwriters: Eliseo Altunaga, Rodrigo Bazaes, Guillermo Calderón, Andrés Wood. Cast: Francisca Gavilán, Thomas Durand, Luis Machín, Gabriela Aguilera, Roberto Farías. 

"Wish You Were Here": (Australia) Four friends embark on a carefree holiday, but only three return home. Who knows what happened on that fateful night? Director: Kieran Darcy-Smith. Screenwriters: Felicity Price, Kieran Darcy-Smith. Cast: Joel Edgerton, Teresa Palmer, Felicity Price, Antony Starr. 

"Wrong": (France) Dolph searches for his lost dog, but through encounters with a nympho pizza-delivery girl, a jogging neighbor seeking the absolute, and a mysterious righter of wrongs, he may eventually lose his mind ... and his identity. Director and screenwriter: Quentin Dupieux. Cast: Jack Plotnick, Eric Judor, Alexis Dziena, Steve Little, William Fichtner. 

"Young & Wild": (Chile) 17-year-old Daniela, raised in the bosom of a strict Evangelical family and recently unmasked as a fornicator by her shocked parents, struggles to find her own path to spiritual harmony. Director: Marialy Rivas. Screenwriters: Marialy Rivas, Camila Gutiérrez, Pedro Peirano. Cast: Alicia Rodríguez, Aline Kuppenheim, María Gracia Omegna, Felipe Pinto. World premiere

World Cinema Documentary Competition: 12 documentaries.

"1/2 Revolution": (Denmark, Egypt) In January 2011, two filmmakers captured the reality of the Egyptian revolution as it occurred out of view from the world's media in the alleyways and streets away from the square -- and in the process were arrested by the secret police. Directors: Omar Shargawi, Karim El Hakim.

"5 Broken Cameras": (Palestine, Israel, France) A Palestinian journalist chronicles his village’s resistance to a separation barrier being erected on their land and in the process captures his young son's lens on the world. Directors: Emad Burnat, Guy Davidi. Screenwriters: Emad Burnat, Guy Davidi.

"The Ambassador": (Denmark)  What happens when a very white European man buys his way into being a diplomat in one of Central Africa's most failed nations? Welcome to the bizarre and hidden world of African diplomacy, where gin and tonics flow and diamond hustlers and corrupt politicians run free. Director: Mads Brügger.

"Big Boys Gone Bananas!": (Sweden) The behind-the-scenes story of a full-scale attack on freedom of speech. When Dole set its sights on the WG Film production Bananas!* in May 2009, confusion was the method, aggression was the tactic and media control was the story. Director: Fredrik Gertten.

"China Heavyweight": (Canada, China) In central China, where a coach recruits poor rural teenagers and turns them into Western-style boxing champions, the top students face dramatic choices as they graduate -- should they fight for the collective good or for themselves? A metaphor for the choices everyone in the New China faces now. Director: Yung Chang.

"Gypsy Davy": (Israel, U.S., Spain) How does a white boy with Alabama roots become a Flamenco guitarist in Andalusian boots? A tale of self-invention and the pursuit of happiness, regardless of the cost to others. Director: Rachel Leah Jones

"The Imposter": (United Kingdom) In 1994, a 13-year-old boy disappears from his home in San Antonio, Texas. Three and a half years later he is found alive thousands of miles away in Spain with a shocking story of kidnap and torture. But all is not what it seems in this tale that is truly stranger than fiction. Director: Bart Layton.

"Indie Game: The Movie": (Canada) Follow the dramatic journeys of indie game developers as they create games and release those works, and themselves, to the world. Directors: Lisanne Pajot, James Swirsky.

"The Law in These Parts": (Israel) Israel's 43-year military legal system in the Occupied Palestinian Territories unfolds through provocative interviews with the system’s architects and historical footage showing the enactment of these laws upon the Palestinian population. Director: Ra'anan Alexandrowicz.

"Payback": (Canada) Based on Margaret Atwood’s best-selling book, Payback explores how debt is a central organizing principle in our lives -- influencing relationships, societies, governing structures and the very fate of this planet. Director: Jennifer Baichwal.

"Putin's Kiss": (Denmark) 19-year-old Marsha is a model spokeswoman in a strongly nationalistic Russian youth movement that aims to protect the country from its enemies. When she starts recognizing the organization’s flaws, she must take a stand for or against it. Director: Lise Birk Pedersen.

"Searching for Sugar Man": (Denmark, United Kingdom) Known as Rodriguez, he was the greatest '70s U.S. rock icon who never was. Hailed as the greatest recording artist of his generation, he disappeared into oblivion -- rising again from the ashes in a completely different context many miles away. Director: Malik Bendjelloul.

[For the record, 5:30 p.m. Dec. 1: This post originally contained an inaccurate description of "The Queen of Versailles,"  provided by the festival, saying that the house had been foreclosed on. The correct description appears above.]

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--John Horn

Photo: Aubrey Plaza and Mark Duplass in "Safety Not Guaranteed." Credit: Big Beach Films


 
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