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MOVIES: Sundance Announces First Wave of 2015 Festival Films

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"The D Train" starring Jack Black & James Marsden. Photo credit: Hilary Bronwyn Gayle. 

The long list of stars promoting movies at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival will include Nicole Kidman, Jack Black, James Marsden, Kristin Wiig, Toni Collette, Michael Fassbender, Chris Pine and “Orange is the New Black” actress Taylor Schilling.

The Sundance Film Festival this afternoon announced 66 of its feature films selected for the festival – over half of the chosen feature selections. The remainder of the films will be announced by early next week.

The movies announced today span five categories: U.S. Dramatic, U.S. Documentary, World Dramatic, World Documentary and NEXT – a category featuring innovative storytelling meant to introduce the next wave of American cinema. The films in the four U.S. and World categories will be competing for prizes at the festival.

This year Sundance received 12,166 film submissions, including 4,105 feature-length film entries. The remainder are short films, which also screen at the festival. Of the features, the submission team chose 118 to premiere at the festival. Those films represent 45 first-time filmmakers. But many of the actors are veterans, continuing a trend that’s become more prevalent at the festival in recent years. Other recognizable actors in Sundance 2015 films include Sarah Silverman, Molly Shannon, Brooklyn Decker, Jason Schwartzman, Billy Crudup, Margot Robbie, John C. Reilly, Joseph Fiennes and “12 Years a Slave’s” Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Chris Pine, Margot Robbie & Chiwetel Ejiofor star in "Z for Zachariah."

In addition to the film veterans, many TV actors will be gracing the Sundance screens. Beyond Schilling, Sundance audiences will also see “True Blood’s” Alexander Skarsgard, “Nashville’s” Connie Britton, “How I Met Your Mother’s” Cobie Smulders, “Sex and the City’s” Cynthia Nixon and “Parks and Recreation’s” Nick Offerman in various films. And on the opposite side of the camera, “American Horror Story” director and executive producer Alfonso Gomez-Rejon will be directing Sundance flick “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.”

Of the film casts announced so far, three actresses will appear in two separate Sundance movies: Cobie Smulders, Cynthia Nixon and Kristen Wiig. And four of the films feature screenwriters who are also acting in their pictures.

Saoirse Ronan & Cynthia Nixon star in "Stockholm, Pennsylvania." Photo credit: Aaron Epstein.

This year the U.S. Dramatic category is comprised of sixteen films, with topics ranging from a washed-up award-winning gymnast stuck in the past to the true story of a Stanford professor who studied the psychological effects of being a prisoner to a supernatural witch film. In the comedy “The D Train,” Jack Black’s character tries to prove he’s changed since high school and rekindles a friendship with a popular classmate (played by James Marsden). In “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” Connie Britton plays a mother who forces her high-school aged loner son to befriend a classmate with leukemia. Chris Pine, Margot Robbie and Chiwetel Ejiofor star as rare survivors in a post-apocalyptic world in "Z for Zachariah," where the two men compete for one woman's affections. And in “Stockholm, Pennsylvania,” Saoirse Ronan (“Atonement,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel”) plays a young woman returned home to her parents after living with an abductor for 17 years. (Cynthia Nixon also stars.)

In the World Dramatic competition, Sundance veteran Toni Collette stars in Irish film “Glassland,” based on a young taxi driver who becomes entangled in the criminal underworld. And Nicole Kidman and Joseph Fiennes play parents pushed to the brink in “Strangerland” after their two teenage kids disappear into the remote Australian desert. In the NEXT category, John C. Reilly stars in “Entertainment,” about an aging comedian who plays a string of dead-end shows in the Mojave Desert.

Nicole Kidman & Joseph Fiennes play distraught parents in "Strangerland." Photo credit: Ross McDonnell

The documentaries are not to be forgotten – they’re an integral part of the Sundance Film Festival. This year the U.S. Documentary category includes a wide variety of films: an exploration of the shooting aftermath of an unarmed 17-year-old at a gas station (“3½ Minutes”), a portrait of Evel Knievel (“Being Evel”), a character-driven documentary about fighting the Mexican drug cartels (“Cartel Land”) and a group of young adults with autism preparing for a spring formal in Ohio (“How to Dance in Ohio”).

In the World Documentary competition, films include a look at how Western movies smashed through the Iron Curtain in Romania (“Chuck Norris vs Communism”), the story of a former teenage prostitute who becomes a powerful advocate for change (“Dreamcatcher”), a Marlon Brandon documentary (“Listen to Me Marlon”) and a documentary about charting scientific alien visitation (“The Visit”).

"Listen to Me Marlon" will debut in the World Documentary competition at Sundance.

The team behind the Sundance Film Festival is excited about this year’s lineup. The director of the Sundance Film Festival, John Cooper, said, “The selections for our 2015 festival will take audiences on a wild ride of emotional extremes. Independent filmmakers are bravely illuminating new opportunities for understanding and empathy.”

Robert Redford, president and founder of the Sundance Institute, adds, “The work of independent artists inevitably reflects the state of our culture. Their stories are often irreverent, challenging, compelling and unexpected, and not only possess the power to move and hopefully inspire audiences, but also to speak to our shared humanity.”

The 2015 Sundance Film Festival runs from January 22-February 1 in Park City, Utah.

About the Author - Tonya Papanikolas
Tonya Papanikolas is an entertainment journalist who loves covering the Sundance Film Festival. She spent more than 10 years as a broadcast news anchor/reporter and now does everything from hosting to writing. She covers television, movies and entertainment news for SpoilerTV. She also writes SpoilerTV reviews.

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