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Arnhem Land doco in competition at Sundance

Extract from Australian Broadcasting Corporation - ABC Online, on 30 November 2004

The Sundance Film Festival, the premier US showcase for independent cinema, has named the films that will compete at its 2005 festival in January, including an Australian documentary.

Festival director Geoffrey Gilmore said the program contained some of the best films Sundance had ever shown and added that for the first time the festival would feature contests for best foreign dramas and documentaries.

Australia's "Dhakiyarr vs The King" tells the story of an Aboriginal family's fight for justice after the controversial murder trial of the Arnhem Land's Yolngu leader Dhakiyarr Wirrpanda and his subsequent disappearance 70 years ago.

The documentary, which the ABC screened earlier this year, was produced by Graeme Isaac and written by Tom Murray.

Films in the best dramatic film competition include "How the Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer", about three generations of Mexican-American women, "Loggerheads" about estranged families in North Carolina and "Forty Shades of Blue", which tells of a Russian woman living in Memphis, Tennessee.

Documentaries include "Enron: Rise and Fall" about the scandal that rocked the global energy giant, "The Fall of Fujimori", about the Peruvian president who beat a terrorist movement only to become a fugitive himself, and "Murderball" about quadriplegics who play full-contact rugby.

As usual, Sundance films include the truly unusual. This year has "Thumbsucker", about a boy who "attempts to break free of his addiction to his thumb".

The 16 films in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition include works from Germany, South Korea, Angola, China, Denmark and Australia.

Mr Gilmore said that for many years the festival had screened foreign films, but never held a competition for them. Organisers hope that by doing so, they will bring the same level of recognition to international artists that they have to US independent film-makers, he added.

Mr Gilmore called 2005's films some of the best of the gathering's 21 years for artistic and innovative stories.

He said he was particularly impressed with the quality of work from outside Los Angeles and New York and said the movies showed US independent cinema continued to improve.

"It's as good as I've ever seen in 15 years of running this festival," he said.

Backed by actor Robert Redford, Sundance takes place from January 20 to 30 in Park City, Utah, east of Salt Lake City.

Celebrities and media turn out in droves, and about 20,000 people hit town to see films that, generally speaking, are made on low budgets by little-known directors and film-makers.

Since its beginning, Sundance has championed documentaries, despite the fact few of the films succeed at box offices. That has changed in recent years, with Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" raking in more than $100 million in ticket sales.

Documentary makers say Sundance deserves much of the credit for the rise of the "doc" to a commercially viable art form.

"For years people would tell us, you're never going to win this battle," Gilmore said.

"Lo and behold, over the last couple of years, there have begun to be breakthroughs."

Sundance now aims to bring similar sparks of recognition to foreign films, too, with their new competitions.

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