Hollywood is bundling up and descending on Park City, Utah to kick off the 2019 Sundance Film Festival Thursday.
Although the first films of the two-week long festival won’t premiere until Thursday evening, the ski town is already bustling with activity as brands and sponsors rush to finish plastering Main Street with logos and installations before the thousands of film fans and filmmakers touch down. But although the temptations in town are many — from flashy virtual reality set-ups and performances from the likes of Arcade Fire, to cozy lounges and filmmaker panels — the films themselves remain the main event for Sundance attendees. The opening night selections are long sold out.
The festival officially starts Thursday evening with the premieres of “After The Wedding,” an adaptation of Susanne Bier’s Oscar-nominated Danish film starring Michelle Williams and Julianne Moore, and “The Inventor: Out For Blood in Silicon Valley,” Alex Gibney’s documentary about Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes.
“I hope (audiences) get a deep dive into the psychology of fraud and the psychology of capitalism,” Gibney said. “That’s what’s really interesting to me about this, that journey of why we believe certain stories and why certain storytellers are effective.”
Also debuting Thursday night are “Native Son,” a contemporary reimaging of the Richard Wright novel, “Memory: The Origins of Alien,” about the Ridley Scott film, and “Apollo 11,” which has never-before-seen or heard footage from the mission. Opening night films have tended to run the gamut from excellent (“Whiplash”) to forgettable (“The Bronze”).
The Robert Redford-founded film festival is host this year to 117 feature films, 105 world premieres and even some retrospectives, including a 20th anniversary screening of “The Blair Witch Project.”
Recent hits that debuted at Sundance include “The Big Sick,” ”Get Out,” ”Eighth Grade,” ”Sorry to Bother You,” ”RBG” and “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?.” Even with competition from Netflix and Hulu there are still some indies that break out. But lately some of the pricier acquisition deals have not panned out, like last year’s “Assassination Nation,” which was purchased for $10 million and went on to gross only $2.5 million at the box office.
This year programmers have promised a return to the discovery aspect that Sundance made its name with. With a new director of programming in place in Kim Yutani, the festival also has a diverse lineup of filmmakers behind the camera too: 39 percent of the projects were directed by women and 35 percent by people of color.
“What attracted me to Sundance in the first place was my love of independent film and the types of stories that they’ve showed over the years: Stories about outsiders, people on the margins, things that exist outside of the mainstream,” Yutani said. “Part of (my goal) is keeping up that legacy and making sure our program is as diverse as possible.”
The festival runs through Feb. 3.