While much of the attention will focus on Hollywood vehicles such as Lovelace, starring Amanda Seyfried as porn star Linda Lovelace, and jOBS, with Ashton Kutcher as technology giant Steve Jobs, the Sundance Film Festival is opening Thursday with a slate of lesser-known films.

The Park City, Utah, festival devoted to independent filmmaking ditched its opening night premiere three years ago and has decided on a format that gives patrons a taste of the upcoming festival.

The films to screen Thursday:

  • From the U.S. dramatic competition, May in the Summer: Cherien Dabis, who created the film Amreeka, directs and stars in film about a woman reuniting with family in Jordan to plan her wedding.  
  • From the U.S. documentary competition, Twenty Feet from Stardom: documentary maker Morgan Neville looks at the stagehands and backup singers who work with music superstars.
  • From the world drama competition, Crystal Fairy: Canadian actor Michael Cera plays a judgmental man who changes his outlook after embarking on a mescaline quest through the Chilean desert with a free-spirited woman.
  • From the world documentary competition, Who is Dayani Cristal: First-time director Marc Silver and producer Gael Garcia Bernal probe the mystery of a body found rotting in the Arizona desert along the dangerous route Mexicans use to enter the U.S.

Festival director John Cooper has programmed an 11-day lineup that puts the focus on female directors. The U.S. dramatic feature lineup is split evenly between male and female directors, a rarity in the film business, where men are more likely to sit in the director's chair.

Dave Grohl directing debut

Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl is to make his directing debut with Sound City, chronicling the story of Sound City Studios, the Van Nuys, Calif., recording studio that has hosted musical greats from Fleetwood Mac to Rage Against the Machine.

Grohl centres in on the studio’s analog recording device, which requires people to be in a room together making live music – and rock history.

Among the competitors are Lynn Shelton with Touchy Feely, starring Rosemarie DeWitt as a massage therapist with an aversion to body contact, and Liz Garcia bringing The Lifeguard, starring Kristen Bell as a journalist who quits her job in New York and returns to her childhood home to work as a lifeguard.

"I’m hoping this, the female directors of 2013, are a vanguard class. I hope this one’ll be remembered as the year the gates opened and equality in indie film became the norm," Garcia said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly.

Also scheduled for a special screening Friday is Stories We Tell, Canadian director Sarah Polley’s personal documentary that unravels the secrets of her own conception. Stories We Tell was a hit at the Toronto Film Festival and has earned a nomination for best documentary at the Canadian Screen Awards.

Other Canadian films at Sundance:

  • The Meteor (New Frontier): written and directed by Quebec’s François Delisle.
  • S-VHS (Park City at Midnight): a new horror film from Halifax-based Jason Eisener and Simon Barrett. • The Near Future, (shorts competition) by Quebec’s Sophie Goyette.
  • When I Walk (Doc Premieres), directed by Jason Dasilva.
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Ellen Page and Scoot McNairy star in Touchy Feely, directed by Lynne Shelton. (Benjamin Kasulke/Sundance)

When I Walk, a documentary about living with multiple sclerosis by New York-based Dasilva was shot in part in Vancouver, where he studied film.

"This documentary is really a fascinating look at his experiences....he just decided to pick up a camera and document what was happening to him," Cari Green, a Vancouver filmmaker who is executive producer of the film, told CBC News.

Green believes watching Dasilva will be inspiring for audiences..

"Living and creating and being inspired to do whatever they dream of doing, that nothing should stop them," she said.

Hollywood will be out in full force, with stars such as James Franco, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ethan Hawke, Nicole Kidman and Holly Hunt expected to attend.

The Sundance Film Festival runs Jan. 17-27 in Park City, Utah.

 

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