By Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Comedies, dramas, thrillers and documentaries exploring notable individuals will lead the 2014 Sundance Film Festival non-competitive premieres program, the annual independent film festival said on Monday.
The coveted premieres slot, usually reserved for more seasoned directors, will showcase 17 feature films, several of which are by directors who have gained prior success at Sundance.
Filmmaker Mike Cahill, who garnered critical praise in 2011 at Sundance as the writer-director of "Another Earth," returns in 2014 with "I Origins," a film about scientists who make a life-changing discovery starring Brit Marling and Michael Pitt.
Writer-director Ira Sachs, who won the annual festival's grand jury drama prize in 2005 with "Forty Shades of Blue," will premiere his latest film, "Love Is Strange," starring John Lithgow and Alfred Molina.
"Discovering the talent ... is a big part of what the festival does and is about, and to help them with their careers as they make their features," said Trevor Groth, the director of programming for the Sundance Film Festival. "It's great to have them back."
The Sundance Film Festival, backed by actor and director Robert Redford's Sundance Institute, is the top U.S. festival for independent cinema, and often selects films that go on to become strong contenders in Hollywood's annual awards race.
Previous selections include 2006's "Little Miss Sunshine," which won two Oscars, and 2012's "Beasts of the Southern Wild," which was nominated for four Oscars.
Eleven documentaries also will be shown in the premieres category, many of which focus on the journey of notable individuals. Highlights include "Mitt" by Greg Whiteley, which followed Governor Mitt Romney on his failed 2012 U.S. presidential campaign.
Oscar-winning documentary director Alex Gibney returns with "Finding Fela," based on the life of Nigerian musician and activist Fela Anikulapo Kuti, while "To Be Takei" by Jennifer Kroot documents the life of "Star Trek" actor George Takei.
The festival, now in its 30th year, is held in snow-covered ski resort town of Park City, Utah, from January 16-26.
The premieres category spotlights feature films and documentaries that often draw bigger names among the acting and directing talent. British actress Keira Knightley stars as a young woman with arrested development in Lynn Shelton's "Laggies" alongside Sam Rockwell and Chloe Grace Moretz.
Dutch director Anton Corbijn will bring his adaptation of John le Carre's best-selling thriller novel "A Most Wanted Man," with an all-star cast featuring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams and Willem Dafoe.
"It's refreshing and exciting to think of (these actors) all in this realm and lending their talent, because talent makes for good films," said John Cooper, director of Sundance.
The theme of genre-bending films, which dominated the previously announced slate of competition features for the 2014 festival, continues within the premieres category, as directors blur the lines between conventional genres.
Oscar-nominated actor William H. Macy makes his directorial debut with "Rudderless," a story of a grieving father who forms a rock and roll band to perform his late son's songs, starring Billy Crudup and Anton Yelchin that will close out Sundance.
"Arrested Development" star David Cross also makes his directorial debut with dark comedy "Hits," described as exploring the nature of fame in today's society and the YouTube generation.
On the lighter-hearted side of the festival premieres, British director Michael Winterbottom, who premiered "The Look of Love" at the 2013 festival, will return to Sundance with his latest, "The Trip to Italy," a follow-up to 2010's "The Trip" which saw actors Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan travel around Britain in search for the best restaurants.
Comedian Nick Offerman will debut his one-man show "American Ham," which will see the mustachioed actor dole out anecdotes and advice from woodworking to sex techniques.
(Editing by Eric Kelsey and Lisa Shumaker)