War, Bhutto Films on Show at Sundance Film Festival

LOS ANGELES ~ Films about the war in Afghanistan and the assassination of former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto were among the offerings as the 26th Sundance Film Festival got underway in Utah on Thursday.

The 10-day carnival – the world’s premier festival of independent film – will see more than 100 movies showcased as Hollywood descends on the mountain town of Park City, Utah for the annual extravaganza.

Founded with the support of movie icon Robert Redford as a counterweight to the dominance of major Hollywood studios, Sundance aims to be a shop window for independent film-makers and up-and-coming talent.

Festival director John Cooper told AFP that this year’s line-up had a distinctly more exotic flavor than in other years, noting the presence of films from Greenland, Estonia and India for the first time.

“This year we spent a great deal of time with international outreach,” he said. “We hoped to discover the most interesting work that takes cinematic risks from other countries…. Sometimes you have to infiltrate pockets of filmmakers working outside the system in these regions.”

While festival chiefs had also considered the commercial viability of films seeking selection – more than 3,700 applied for inclusion in the festival – the prime criteria had been quality and diversity.

“We believe good is commercial,” he said. “I believe there is a hunger for work that is different, more personal, than what Hollywood makes. The program this year is vibrant and diverse.”

Amongst the documentaries vying for honours in the US documentary competition are Bhutto, Jessica Hernandez and Johnny O’Hara’s depiction of the turbulent life and times of the former Pakistani leader, murdered in December 2007.

Bhutto is one of a slew of documentaries chronicling unrest in Asia, where films about Afghanistan feature heavily.

Certain to attract interest is I’m Pat Tillman, Amir Bar Lev’s look at the life of the former Arizona Cardinals American football player who gave up his sports career to join the US Army after the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Tillman died in a friendly fire incident in Afghanistan in 2004 and Lev’s film follows the slain soldier’s family as they seek out the truth surrounding their son’s death.

Other documentary highlights include Restrepo, award-winning journalist Sebastian Junger’s account of a year embedded with a platoon of US soldiers defending one of Afghanistan’s most strategically important valleys.

The World Cinema Documentary Competition meanwhile features Cambodian entry Enemies of the People, the story of a young journalist who tracks those responsible for the Khmer Rouge genocide.

The category also features Sins of My Father, a gripping account of the life of Colombian cocaine baron Pablo Escobar as told through the eyes of his son, who fled to Argentina to escape his father’s legacy.

In the dramatic feature film competition, several Hollywood stars are represented including American actor Mark Ruffalo in Sympathy for Delicious and Oscar-winner Philip Seymour Hoffman in Jack Goes Boating.

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