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Eclectic opening for Sundance with films about Mideast, Chile, U.S. Southwest

People walk past the Egyptian Theatre along Main Street before the opening day of the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, January 16,
People walk past the Egyptian Theatre along Main Street before the opening day of the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, January 16,

By Piya Sinha-Roy

PARK CITY, Utah (Reuters) - The Sundance Film Festival opens Thursday with movies and documentaries from around the world, including a feature that examines the cultural divide between the Middle East and the United States.

The 10-day Sundance Film Festival, founded by actor-director Robert Redford and now in its 35th year, will showcase 119 films from 32 countries.

"May in the Summer," the U.S. dramatic competition opener, comes from writer-director Cherien Dabis, who caught the eye of Sundance organizers in 2009 with her directorial debut "Amreeka," about a Palestinian family's experiences living in post 9/11 America.

Palestinian-American Dabis, 36, reverses the perspective on the Middle East, showing a Jordanian woman who has established a successful life in America but undergoes an identity crisis when she returns to her family in Jordan to plan her wedding.

"May in the Summer" will join U.S. documentary "Twenty Feet from Stardom" about back-up singers, Chilean drama "Crystal Fairy," "Who is Dayani Cristal," about a mysterious corpse found in the Arizona desert, and five short films as part of the opening day roster at the world's leading independent film festival.

"We want the kind of films that will really set the tone for the rest of the festival. Those four films do that perfectly. They're very different in what they are, but they collectively represent what's going to be unfolding over the next days," festival director John Cooper told Reuters.

OPENING UP TO THE WORLD

Festival organizers are making efforts this year to encourage more international stories and filmmakers to come to Sundance.

"They saw the value in the continuing changing world we live in and that even American stories are coming from all over the world," Dabis said.

"The movie is a universal story that's set in the Middle East, and we all know the Middle East is a place where we all need to expand our perceptions of what life is like there," she added.

Sundance founder Robert Redford said the festival was all about encouraging diversity in filmmaking.

"As long as we go forward and we adapt to change, we keep in touch with our original purpose which is simply to support and develop new voices to be seen and heard," Redford told reporters at a news conference on Thursday.

In addition to the usual film competition and premiere categories, festival organizers have expanded their slate of edgier films and projects, including actor James Franco's sexually explicit films "kink" and "Interior. Leather Bar."

There is also a thriving short film initiative, with more than 40 films showcased.

Outside of the films, Sundance has become a hot spot for the film industry to escape the hustle of Hollywood's awards season and relax in Sundance's more relaxed vibe.

Live music will feature prominently, with a spotlight on electronic dance music and four pop-up clubs featuring DJs such as Nero and Afrojack.

VIPs can take private snowboarding lessons or take part in the culinary event ChefDance, in a fusion of food and film.

(Reporting By Piya Sinha-Roy, editing by Jill Serjeant and Cynthia Osterman)

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