Sundance festival opens with ‘Chicago 10’ 

The 26th annual Sundance Film Festival opened Thursday afternoon with a news conference featuring founder Robert Redford, program director Geoffrey Gilmore and Brett Morgen, director of the opening night film, "Chicago 10."

Morgen said he was "blown away by the courage, the ability that people had, to get their voices heard" during the particularly troubled political time in which "Chicago 10" takes place. Setting a historic tone for the festival, "Chicago 10," which mixes animation and archival material, chronicles the Chicago Seven conspiracy trial that followed the protests and violence of the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

"I hope audiences are inspired by [watching] their acts," Morgen said.

Redford, a patron saint of the independent filmmaker, agreed, saying, "How can people get a grip on what’s going on? I think documentaries fill that role."

Some 82 world premieres are on Sundance’s roster of 122 feature titles from 25 countries. Many films deal with political issues, both historic and contemporary.

Rory Kennedy (daughter of slain leader Robert F. Kennedy) entered her "Ghosts of Abu Ghraib" in the documentary competition; the film offers an inside look at the abuses at the infamous Iraqi prison in the fall of 2003, and includes personal narratives of perpetrators, witnesses and victims.

John Cusack appears in "Grace is Gone" as a young, newly-widowed father facing telling his children of their mother’s death in Iraq.

Lindsay Lohan (along with former squeeze Jared Leto) appears in "Chapter 27," a dark look into the last days of Mark David Chapman.

"King of California," directed by San Francisco-born Michael Cahill, stars Michael Douglas as an unstable dadwho tries to convince his daughter (19-year-old Evan Rachel Wood of "Thirteen" and "Once and Again") that there’s buried treasure in suburbia.

As usual, Sundance is percolating with Hollywood royalty, although with growing indie credentials. Buzz surrounds "Hounddog," directed by Deborah Kampmeier and starring Dakota Fanning, and its grown-up subject matter: child rape.

On a lighter note, there’s "My Kid Could Paint That" by Berkeley-born director Amir Bar-Lev, who questions if an extremely talented 4-year-old girl painter is a genius or a child exploited by her parents who hunger for media attention.

In "Dark Matter," Meryl Streep appears as a wealthy university patron of a young Chinese student (Liu Ye) who joins a select cosmology group working to create a model of the origins of the universe.

"Adrift in Manhattan," directed by Alfredo de Villa ("Washington Heights") and written by Nat Moss and de Villa, stars Heather Graham as a grieving doctor who aids an aging artist who has lost his eyesight.

"Broken English," directed and written by Zoe Cassavetes in her dramatic feature bow, has a thirty-something woman (Parker Posey) entering in a friendship with an offbeat Frenchman while her friends are preoccupied with family life.

Actor Justin Theroux ("Six Feet Under") turns director with "Dedication." Also in the director’s chair is Canadian favorite Sarah Polley with "Away From Her," featuring delectable elder screen goddesses Julie Christie and Olympia Dukakis.

In a first for the festival, Apple iTunes earlier this month announced a deal under which some of festival’s short films may be downloaded by the public for $1.99 each. Filmmakers would receive most of the proceeds — the Sundance Institute and cable television’s Sundance Channel get the remainder.

Other free streaming panel discussions, including interviews with filmmakers, are on the SundanceWeb site. The festival ends Jan. 28 with the film "Life Support," a chronicle of a Brooklyn AIDS outreach group.

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