There are people who see the Sundance Film Festival as an exotic five-star restaurant — a rarefied place that trades heavily on taste and style and puts strong emphasis on sophistication.

The truth is, the festival is a buffet. Chances are everyone can find a little something to their liking. Gawkers can always find preening celebrities there. Hawkers can always pitch their wares. Just as thugs tend to find other thugs, beautiful people will always find each other. But the real pleasures of Sundance can usually be found in smaller moments — the unexpected quality of a minor film or the invigorating slap of insight that comes from actually seeing another culture through fresh eyes. (Remember, "Napoleon Dynamite" and "Bend It Like Beckham" were both showcased at Sundance.)

This year, several smaller films appear to offer bold, new flavors. "Strangers" was made far from the madding crowd, but its touching depiction of the relationship between a Palestinian woman and an Israeli man promises a new vision. Film aficionado Don Marshall also says films from Jordan ("Captain Abu Raed"), Russia ("Mermaid") and Denmark ("Just Another Story") will be especially noteworthy. Sometimes a film, the right film, can widen a person's world as much as travel itself.

There are Utahns who will always be torn over Sundance, of course. They see it as an economic boon to the state and enjoy — even benefit — from the positive publicity the state receives from the annual festival, but they feel some of the more provocative fare at the event is mean-spirited or culturally subversive. And, indeed, some films at Sundance over the years seemed intent on shocking and annoying — like pistol shots fired in a melodrama. But, for the most part, superficial submissions will fall away, leaving Sundance with an amazing track record for quality work and the bragging rights to say, "Remember, you saw it here first."

And this year promises to be filled with "you saw it here first" moments.