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Sundance list suggests a return to fest's roots

LOS ANGELES -- Ashley Judd, Robert Downey Jr., Rosario Dawson, Paul Giamatti, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and singer Tom Waits are among the stars appearing in movies vying for top honors at January's Sundance Film Festival.

Festival organizers announced 64 films that will play at the Park City, Utah, event that runs Jan. 19-29, including ''A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints," starring Downey, Dawson, Chazz Palmintieri, and Dianne Wiest in a drama set on the tough 1980s New York City streets.

That film is among 16 showing in Sundance's US dramatic competition, whose highlights in recent fests have included ''In the Bedroom," ''American Splendor," ''Napoleon Dynamite," and ''Garden State."

The dramatic competition also features ''Come Early Morning," with actress Joey Lauren Adams making her directing debut with a drama about a self-destructive Southern woman that stars Judd, Tim Blake Nelson, Diane Ladd, and Stacey Keach; ''SherryBaby," with Gyllenhaal in the story of a woman adjusting to life after prison; Giamatti, Michael Pitt, and Michelle Williams in ''Hawk Is Dying," about an auto upholsterer spicing up his life by training a red-tailed hawk; and ''Wristcutters -- A Love Story," with Waits and Patrick Fugit in an afterlife fantasy about people who have committed suicide.

Overseen by Robert Redford's Sundance Institute, the festival is the nation's top showcase for independent film. About 120 films will screen at the festival, about the same as previous years. But the number of submissions has shot up. There were 3,148 submissions -- 1,764 US features and 1,384 international features.

Sundance has produced a number of populist hits in recent years, but festival director Geoffrey Gilmore said the range of competition films this time has a more daring, idiosyncratic quality akin to Sundance's early days.

''I don't know how broadly these films will play," Gilmore said. ''What I'm not worried about, though, is the quality of the films or the excitement this return to our roots will produce. I want people to take a step back when it's over and say, 'God, what a great class of directors this is.' "

Among 16 films contending for the top US documentary prize will be ''American Blackout," director Ian Inaba's examination of voting troubles for blacks in Florida and Ohio in recent presidential elections; ''The World According to Sesame Street," Linda Goldstein Knowlton and Linda Hawkins Costigan's chronicle of the venerable children's show; ''Thin," Lauren Greenfield's portrait of four women battling anorexia and bulimia; and ''Wide Awake," Alan Berliner's account of his struggle with insomnia.

Sundance was to announce its star-studded premiere lineup and other films later this week.

Material from the Hollywood Reporter was used in this report.

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