Ruby (Tatiana Maslany) and Ray (Shawn Doyle) have a fraught father-daughter relationship in Grown Up Movie Star. ((Mongrel Media))

Young Newfoundland filmmaker Adriana Maggs was thrilled to have her first feature film included in this year's Sundance Film Festival, which opens in Park City, Utah, Thursday.

But the writer, director and producer of Grown Up Movie Star isn't quite sure what to expect from the high-profile festival of independent film.

"What it's going to mean is that people are actually going to see the film, and that's fantastic for me, because I was the point where you just pour your heart and soul into something that is just going to end up [ignored]," she said.

Maggs, who produced and wrote the Gemini award winning Country Music Television series  Three Chords From the Truth, was discouraged after being turned down for the Toronto International Film Festival last September. At Sundance, she'll have five screenings of Grown Up Movie Star, which was finalized just days ago.

She'll appear at the festival with her cast, including Big Love's Shawn Doyle and Regina-born Tatiana Maslany, and rub shoulders with Hollywood heavyweights such as Philip Seymour Hoffman, Mark Ruffalo and Ben Affleck.


First-time director Adriana Maggs is getting interest from other festivals because her film was accepted into Sundance. ((Mongrel Media) )

The festival opens Thursday with two films in competition, Howl with James Franco in the role of U.S. beat poet Allen Ginsberg, and Restrepo, a documentary on Afghanistan. Sundance programmers have promised to return the focus to independent moviemaking for this year's festival, which runs until Jan. 31.

Grown Up Movie Star  falls squarely in that category — shot quickly in Flat Rock, N.L.,  last winter with a cast and crew that Maggs said showed amazing collaboration.

Maggs, who hails from Corner Brook, N.L., hadn't intended to direct the film until her producers convinced her to do it. She also hadn't intended to shoot it in the winter, though it resulted in "a beautiful bleakness" that shows Newfoundland to great effect.

YouTube at Sundance

YouTube will help promote films that will be shown at the upcoming Sundance Film Festival by offering them for rent online.

It's a pilot project that the popular video-sharing website hopes will lead to movie rental deals with Hollywood studios.

Google Inc.-owned YouTube will compete with more established vendors such as Apple Inc.'s iTunes store, Inc., Netflix Inc. and Blockbuster Inc. to provide films for rent.

YouTube rentals will cost $3.99 US.

Sexual awakening a key theme of film

The film revolves around an adolescent girl, Ruby, played by Maslany, whose mother has run off, and whose father, played by Newfoundland actor Doyle, is beginning to come out of the closet as a homosexual after years in an unhappy marriage.

The father, a former hockey player, isn't quite sure how to handle his two daughters, especially Ruby, who becomes fixed on the idea of becoming a movie star, just as her mother always told her she could be.

"It was a first feature and kind of a lot in me that I wanted to explore — sexual awakening of a young girl and also how adults have sexual awakenings at different points in their lives," Maggs said. "I like the idea of a father and daughter having these kind of sexual awakenings at the same time."

A first-time director, Maggs was helped along by Doyle, who also produced the film, and by Maslany, a 24-year-old actress who's convincing in the role of a young adolescent. Maslany, who has appeared in the CBC TVC series Heartland and Being Erica,  was chosen over a score of teen actors who tested for the role.

"She was unbelievable," Maggs said. "The first take would be enough, and so, [for] the second take, they would do it in a different way … more angry, more happy, more loving.

"So, in the edit, we had a choice. We had all those possibilities because they were just so amazing together."

The family, though dysfunctional, loves each other, and audiences picked up on that, despite some gritty scenes.

"In Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, people were able to laugh where it was funny and go through the upsetting moments," Maggs said of earlier screenings at the Atlantic Film Festival and Women's Film Festival in St. John's.

She did get feedback about a scene showing abuse involving Ruby's uncle, which she said is meant to make people uncomfortable.

"I get uncomfortable when I see it," she said. "People go, 'Why did you make that movie?' I think about one in four women go through sexual abuse, but people don't actually talk about it."

As she prepares to head to Sundance, Maggs isn't dreaming of U.S. film deals so much as wondering what kinds of questions filmgoers in Park City, Utah, will pose.

Mongrel Media has picked the film up for distribution in Canada and is hoping Sundance buzz will build audiences. Grown Up Movie Star opens Jan. 29 in Toronto and St. John's.

With files from The Associated Press