Movie Article

Shall We Sundance?

''Boxing Helena'' and ''El Mariachi'' are among the best films at the annual film festival

In last year's art-house hit The Player, true Hollywood insiders parted with, ''See you in Park City!'' in place of the passe ''Let's do lunch.'' This year, Hollywood took the advice and descended on the annual Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, like never before, doubling the old silver-mining town's population of 5,000 and boosting festival attendance by 30 percent. With enough shearling to disguise a dozen packs of wolves, the heavies came looking to acquire offbeat films, scout out talent, and even ski a little.

During the 10-day festival (partially sponsored by this magazine), they were everywhere. CAA agents pounded the snow-packed pavement. Steven Spielberg and Disney studio chief Jeffrey Katzenberg kicked back to watch Jeff Bridges' American Heart. Sam Shepard, with Jessica Lange at his side, introduced his enigmatic western, Silent Tongue, and Barton Fink's John Turturro unveiled his impressive directing debut, Mac. Actress Sally Kirkland, wearing a fur coat and little else, repeatedly announced her availability — for interviews on her Paper Hearts. Phoebe Cates, on hand to promote Bodies, Rest & Motion, brought husband Kevin Kline and 15-month-old Owen. ''I learned on Bodies what it is to be a working mom,'' she said, smiling.

Since its founding 15 years ago (Robert Redford's Sundance Institute took control in 1985), the festival has been a haven for low-budget films far from the mainstream, and Hollywood's newfound interest made some people uneasy. ''I hope Sundance stays devoted to the independent filmmaker,'' said director Rob Weiss (Amongst Friends). Redford was tolerant: ''If you want to go to Hollywood, great. We support that,'' he said. ''If you want to stay away from Hollywood, great. We support that.''

Of 80 films, here are the Sundance standouts:

AMONGST FRIENDS The story of well-off suburban kids who drift into crime out of boredom, this movie raised eyebrows by not winning anything despite being one of the most talked-about entries. Director Rob Weiss, 26, a film-school dropout, got his financing rather unconventionally. ''My dad's in the casino business,'' he says. ''He went to gamblers and convinced them to put money on me instead of the game. Now I've got to make good.''

BODIES, REST & MOTION Although it was much anticipated because of its cast (Eric Stoltz, Bridget Fonda, Phoebe Cates, Tim Roth) and its promising director (Michael Steinberg, who codirected The Waterdance), most found it long on Rest and short on Motion. At one screening, Steinberg joked that for those who were disappointed, ''we'll be handing out a couple of dollars so you can go rent Singles.''

BOXING HELENA The debut of Jennifer Lynch, 24, about a surgeon so obsessed with a woman that he amputates her limbs to keep her with him, elicited the most polarized responses at the festival. One woman called it ''a brilliant metaphor for relationships,'' while another filmgoer fled his chair, saying, ''Now, that was a reprehensible piece of soft-core MTV trash.'' Lynch herself explains earnestly that the main character ''has a need in him that exists in all of us.''

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