Julianne Moore: John Bernstein/WireImage
Liane Bonin
January 24, 2001 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Sundance Film Festival is just a few days old, but a dark horse has already emerged in Park City. ”Dirty Dancing” hoofer Patrick Swayze, whose career sank into obscurity in the mid ’90s, is getting buzz from his roles in two fest entries: the edgy time travel tale ”Donnie Darko” and the refugee camp melodrama ”Green Dragon.”

Though ”Darko” has received mixed reviews, audiences are responding to Swayze’s performance as a cheesy inspirational speaker with a taste for kiddie porn, a role 25 year old director/ writer Richard Kelly was sure the ”Ghost” heartthrob would reject. ”He kept saying, ‘God, you’re so courageous to take this role,’ and after the fifth time he said that, I thought, one more time and I’m not doing it,” the 48 year old Swayze tells EW.com. ”But it was when he said it was typecasting that I really got worried.”

In a display of affection rarely seen at the über cool fest, a stampede of fans surrounded Swayze (and ”Green Dragon” costar Forest Whitaker) outside the Egyptian Theater on Saturday when a photo shoot featuring the two actors caught the attention of passing crowds. The swarm of fans (or maybe they were ticket buyers demanding their money back for ”Road House”) caused traffic to be blocked in both directions on Main Street until local police stepped in to clear the way.

Too bad distributors aren’t showing the same enthusiasm for this year’s festival films. Though past Sundance movies such as ”The Blair Witch Project” and ”Happy, Texas” ignited pricey bidding wars, at press time just one narrative feature had nabbed a multimillion dollar distribution deal (Fox Searchlight reportedly snapped up ”Super Trooper” for $2 to $3 million). ”The Business of Strangers,” in contrast, has yet to score a stateside theatrical release deal despite strong performances by ”The West Wing”’s Stockard Channing and ”Save the Last Dance”’s Julia Stiles.

”I think the distributors are being very cautious of not getting into a bidding war, so there’s this wait and see attitude,” says ”Business” director Patrick Stettner. ”They want to see all the films and then figure out what people are talking about.” So far what people are saying about ”Business” is disappointing, with audiences placing the blame on a trite plot. But if the film is ultimately shelved, Channing says she won’t regret investing her time in a project no one will see. ”It’s a month out of my life,” she shrugs. ”It’s not like I’m going off for six months and doing it for no money. That would be a sacrifice. But if you can fit it in, doing an independent film is a good idea — it freshens things up.”

The ho hum sales situation is surprising given that many studios were expected to stock up on festival films now that they’re facing an expected actors’ strike. But so far, the only people at Sundance who are fretting about the industry shutdown are actors, many of whom work for far less than their usual paycheck to appear in independent films. ”I mean, I’m not independently wealthy,” says ”Darko” star Mary McDonnell (”Dances with Wolves”). ”I talked to my husband on the phone today, and he said, ‘I’m having a bad day. We have to have a meeting when you come home.’ I asked him, ‘Are you thinking about the strike?’ And he said, ‘Yeah.’ And I said, ‘Uh uh, I don’t want to hear about it right now! I’m at Sundance and I’m having a good time!”’

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