By Christine Kearney
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Sundance Film Festival, the top U.S. film festival for independent cinema, on Wednesday unveiled its lineup for 2013, with films centered on female characters dominating the American fiction film competition.
The 113 feature length movies, including both narrative films and documentaries, cover a range of topics, but more than half of those chosen for the U.S. dramatic competition focus on stories about women, including several about females exploring sexual relationships.
That includes "May In The Summer," director Cherien Dabis's new film about a bride-to-be forced to re-evaluate her life when she reunites with her family in Jordan that is one of 16 films in the U.S. dramatic competition.
It will kick off Sundance on January 17 as one of four first-night screenings that will comprise of one feature and one documentary from each of the U.S. films and world cinema sections - movies made outside the United States.
Overall, 4,044 feature 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.
Indie films from Sundance festivals that have gone on to critical success include last year's winner, "Beasts of the Southern Wild," as well as "The Sessions," and "Little Miss Sunshine" and "An Inconvenient Truth".
Other features about female journeys include writer director Lynn Shelton's "Touchy Feely," about a massage therapist unable to do her job when she suddenly has an aversion to bodily contact.
"There are a lot of women's stories, and interestingly enough, a lot of those stories exploring sexual relationships," the festival's program director Trevor Groth said in an interview, noting it was a natural extension of an increase in female directors.
"We have had some over the years that have been from a male gaze looking at sexual politics and sexual relationships, but this year we have got a wave of films doing that from a female perspective, which is intriguing and exciting."
Those include "Afternoon Delight", a dark comedy about a lost L.A. housewife who takes in a young stripper, "Concussion", about a woman in a lesbian relationship who becomes a call girl, and "The Lifeguard", about a reporter who quits her job in New York and moves back home to Connecticut.
Stories from the male perspective include "C.O.G.", the first film adaptation of comic writer David Sedaris. Adapted from a short story from Sedaris' best-selling 1997 essay collection, "Naked", Sedaris has co-written the screenplay about a cocky man traveling to Oregon to work on an apple farm.
Other "Day One" screenings include "Crystal Fairy", about two strangers on a road trip in Chile, and the documentaries "Twenty Feet From Stardom", about backup singers for some of the biggest bands in pop music and "Who Is Dayani Cristal?", about the search for an anonymous body in the Arizona desert.
Nonfiction films from the world documentary section tackle subjects ranging from Russian punk protest band Pussy Riot in "Pussy Riot -- A Punk Prayer", to the 2008 Sichuan earthquake "Fallen City" to Google's quest to build a giant digital library "Google and the World Brain".
And returning to the United States, among American documentaries are an examination of the occupy Wall Street movement "99% - The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film", "Dirty Wars" about America's covert wars and "Manhunt" that looks inside the CIA's conflict against Al Qaeda.
Festival director John Cooper noted the strength and "immediacy" of the documentary lineup and "the way these films explain and expose the issues of our time, like economic inequality, corporate corruption and greed, the problems and sometimes the solutions of living in this information age".
Movies in the Premieres section, which unlike the competition sections feature more established directors, will be announced December 3.
Overall, this year's festival will feature movies from 32 countries and 51 first-time filmmakers. The festival begins on January 17, 2012 and runs through January 27.
(Reporting By Christine Kearney, editing by Patricia Reaney)