Sundance will include big stars, black filmmakers. Films featuring Natalie Portman, Courteney Cox, Kevin Bacon, Naomi Watts, and Billy Bob Thornton will compete at the indie fest in January

By Gary Susman
December 02, 2003 at 05:00 AM EST
Natalie Portman: Paul Fenton-KPA/KEYSTONE Pictures/NewsCom

The 20th annual Sundance Film Festival lineup, much of which was announced Monday, will be notable for mixing and matching first-time directors (who are behind 13 of the 16 films in the dramatic competition) and big-name actors, festival director Geoff Gilmore said. ”This year, we have a large number of works with major stars,” Gilmore told The Hollywood Reporter. Gilmore also said this year’s slate contains the first large group of films conceived and shot after the 9/11 attacks, and it contains 11 movies by African-American filmmakers, a festival record.

Among the films in the dramatic competition: ”Garden State,” a comedy about a young man returning home for a funeral, stars Natalie Portman and ”Scrubs”’ Zach Braff, who also marks his directing debut. Courteney Cox stars in ”November,” a drama about a woman whose life falls apart after her boyfriend is killed. ”Chrystal” stars Billy Bob Thornton as an ex-con returning home to his wife. ”We Don’t Live Here Anymore” is a ”Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”-like drama about two academic couples, starring Naomi Watts and Mark Ruffalo. Playing a convicted child molester trying to reintegrate into society, Kevin Bacon stars opposite wife Kyra Sedgwick, Mos Def, and Eve in ”The Woodsman.”

The documentary competition includes ”Chisholm ’72: Unbought & Unbossed,” Shola Lynch’s look at African-American Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm’s pioneering presidential bid. ”Dig,” by Ondi Timoner, contrasts the diverging career paths of indie rockers The Dandy Warhols and the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Barak Goodman’s ”The Fight” revisits the famous 1930s rematch between boxers Joe Louis and Max Schmeling. Ivy Meeropol revisits the espionage case that led to the execution of her grandparents, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, in ”Heir to an Execution.” Oscar winner Jessica Yu (”Breathing Lessons”) looks at underground writer Henry Darger in ”In the Realms of the Unreal.” Alison Maclean (”Jesus’ Son”) and Tobias Perse direct ”Persons of Interest,” about the detention of Muslim-Americans as part of the war on terrorism. Julian Petrillo’s ”Word Wars” is about competitive Scrabble.

The American Spectrum section, which mixes fiction features and documentaries, includes Kevin Wilmott’s ”CSA: Confederate States of America,” a mockumentary about the Civil War as produced in an alternate reality where the South won. Rory Culkin (”Signs”) stars in ”Mean Creek,” a ”River’s Edge”-like drama about kids who lash out at a bully. ”Paradise Lost” directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky turn their attention to famous heavy metal musicians in therapy in ”Metallica: Some Kind of Monster.” Eric Weber’s ”Second Best” follows middle-aged guys in New Jersey and reunites ”Bound” stars Joe Pantoliano and Jennifer Tilly. Internet prankster Christian Johnston went to Afghanistan after 9/11 to hunt for Osama bin Laden, and the ”Roger & Me”-like result is ”September Tapes.”

More Sundance selections will be announced on Tuesday. The festival runs Jan. 15-25 in Park City, Utah.