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The Sundance Film Festival opens in Utah Thursday, promising to set the agenda for independent cinema and starting the 2018 Oscars buzz a month before this year's statuettes are awarded.
The annual gathering, founded in 1985 by iconic screen outlaw Robert Redford, turns the lens on 118 independent features, as Hollywood descends on the ski resort of Park City for the 33rd edition.
"From the passion and chaos of creativity, independent filmmakers make decisions to harness that energy, break new ground and tell their stories," Redford, 80, said in a statement.
"This year's festival reflects every step of that journey and shows how art can engage, provoke and connect people all over the world."
Kicking off in 1985 as a counterweight to the dominance of major Hollywood studios, Sundance nurtures new talent and provides a showcase for filmmakers working outside the studio system.
In 2016, it drew 46,600 attendees, generating $143.3 million for Utah and supporting 1,400 local jobs, according to organizers.
Highlights this year include the usual spread of drama, thriller, horror and comedy movies and one truly undefinable work called "Manifesto," in which Cate Blanchett plays 13 different characters reciting famous art manifestos.
David Lowery's "A Ghost Story," starring recent Golden Globe winner Casey Affleck and double Oscar nominee Rooney Mara, should turn heads while John Turturro and Edie Falco are also sure to be draws in comedy "Landline."
Sundance also features documentaries and, for the first time, is shining a light on a specific theme — climate change —with 14 films and virtual reality projects in its "The New Climate" slate.
Among the films attracting the most pre-festival attention is "An Inconvenient Sequel," a follow-up to vice-president Al Gore's watershed environmental documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" (2006).
Directed by Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk, the movie follows Gore as he continues his campaign to build a more sustainable future for the planet.
Into the future
Redford has always insisted the festival stays free of politics, but that has proved unavoidable with the festival opening the day before climate denier Donald Trump enters the White House.
"Trumped: Inside the Greatest Political Upset of All Time," offers a behind-the-scenes look at the Republican president-elect's shock victory against Hillary Clinton.
Elsewhere there are documentaries on the unsolved death of six-year-old American beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey, the death of online tabloid Gawker and the crisis in Syria.
Sundance received 13,782 submissions including 4,068 feature-length films — more than half from overseas — and 8,985 shorts.
In past years, films that have premiered at the festival — there are more than 100 this year — have earned rave reviews, and many directors, including Quentin Tarantino and Steven Soderbergh, built their reputations there.
Recent films that have gone on to prove huge critical hits include "Beasts of the Southern Wild," "Swiss Army Man," "The Diary of A Teenage Girl" and "Whiplash."
Last year, the crop of movies shown at the festival yielded "Manchester by the Sea," the film which earned Affleck his Globe and which is expected to pick up several Oscar nominations.
"The films in this year's festival show the human sides of issues, people and places we don't often see," said festival director John Cooper.
"Independent filmmakers, with their fearless, bold perspectives, are challenging us to witness our world's whole story. These artists, armed with their films, will lead us into the future."
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