By Bob Tourtellotte
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Sundance Film festival, the top U.S. gathering for independent cinema, on Wednesday unveiled its competitive lineup for 2012, some of which will become the most talked-about movies of the upcoming year.
The 58 movies, both narrative features and documentaries, cover a range of topics, but festival organizers said at least one theme emerged among the 16 U.S. features in competition: characters are searching for deeper meaning to their lives in an often confusing and troubling world.
"(Filmmakers) seem to be questioning the idea of marriage and family, the whole notion of what family is. I found that a lot -- questioning ideas of the American Dream," festival director John Cooper told Reuters.
Overall, 4,042 features films from around the world were submitted for the festival that is backed by Robert Redford's Sundance Institute for filmmaking and is the premiere U.S. event for movies made outside Hollywood's major studios.
Each year, many movies that screen at Sundance will become the darlings of critics in art houses, and some will compete for honors in Hollywood's awards season. Big successes from previous Sundance festival's include comedy "Little Miss Sunshine" and documentary "An Inconvenient Truth."
Cooper said weak economies around the world have challenged filmmakers to search wider and dig deeper for funding to make movies, and that fact has led to more creative thinking and greater focus in the stories heading to silver screens.
"In times of economic crisis, art tends to thrive. I'm not sure why that is, but it seems it just happens," he said. "A creative bar is set by each year as filmmakers see the films that are successful commercially and with critics, and filmmakers are aware they have to be a little bit better."
DAY ONE, AND BEYOND
The upcoming 2012 Sundance kicks off on January 19 with a series of "Day One" screenings comprised of one feature and one documentary from each of the U.S. films and world cinema sections -- movies made outside the United States.
The U.S. first day feature is director Todd Louiso's "Hello I Must Be Going," which tells of a 35-year-old woman who moves back into the home of her parents. The Day One U.S. documentary is "The Queen of Versailles," which tells of a wealthy couple building the biggest house in America -- 90,000 square feet -- until it is foreclosed upon.
Other feature film titles in the U.S. competition include "The End of Love," which looks at one young father whose life unravels at the death of his wife, and "Middle of Nowhere" about a woman who struggles to maintain her marriage and sense of self after her husband lands in jail.
U.S. documentaries include "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry" about the Chinese artist and political activist and "ME at the ZOO," which tells of video blogger Chris Crocker.
The feature films in the world cinema competition are a wide-ranging bunch that include the title "L," a Greek movie about a man who lives in his car and is troubled by motorcycle riders, and "The Last Elvis" ("El Ultimo Elvis"), which tells of an Elvis impersonator in Buenos Aires.
Cooper said many of world cinema documentaries take on big topics, especially among documentaries where titles include "1/2 Revolution" about this year's overthrow of the Egyptian government, and "China Heavyweight" which uses boxing to look at changing lifestyles in that fast-growing country.
They are "saying here's solutions and telling us what we can do," said Cooper. "I think that's the optimistic part. There are a lot of calls to action, which is exciting."
The competition movies earn much of the attention at Sundance, but there are sections for world premieres that will include major stars, as well as ultra low-budget movies, short films and other movies whose selection will be named in coming days.
Overall, this year's festival will feature 110 movies from 31 countries and 46 first-time filmmakers. The festival begins on January 19, 2012 and runs through January 29.
(Editing by Jill Serjeant)