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Mike Terry, Deseret Morning News
Actor Tom Arnold applauds the directors and cast of the film "The Great Buck Howard" at the Salt Lake screening as part of the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.

The skies around Salt Lake City were overcast and gloomy Friday, but the stars were still out — at least in time for the Sundance Film Festival.

The capital city hosted the star-studded premiere of the comedy "The Great Buck Howard" at the Rose Wagner Center. The guest list for this Salt Lake Gala included arguably the biggest celebrity at Sundance this year: Tom Hanks.

He produced and co-stars in the film. He also introduced the film, as well as its screenwriter/director, Sean McGinly. Hanks appeared to be in a jovial mood, jokingly asking, "Isn't Sundance great? It's like an extra week or two added to your holiday season."

He also talked with reporters before the movie and shared a few hurried impressions about Utah — since he just arrived in the state: "The airport was fantastic, the car I was in was great and I just can't say enough positive things about my hotel room."

On a more serious note, Hanks commended the festival for its "fiercely" independent films based on human experience.

"That's one of the reasons why I like to go to movies, for that independent spirit," he said.

Other stars of the film who attended the premiere were Hanks' son, Colin, John Malkovich, Emily Blunt, Adam Scott and former "Happy Days" cast member Donnie Most.

The younger Hanks said he was "nervous" and "ecstatic" about having a film at the festival. He plays the personal assistant to a disgraced magician, played by Malkovich.

Malkovich is a Sundance veteran, having had "The Dancer Upstairs" and "Art School Confidential" in previous festivals.

He seemed interested in exploring Salt Lake City, saying "I might have to sneak out to see if I can go to the (Utah Jazz-Los Angeles Clippers game)."

In recent years, Salt Lake events for the festival have been less than star-studded. But Friday's Salt Lake City Gala boasted more celebrities than the official Sundance kickoff in Park City Thursday.

But the festival is emphasizing Salt Lake programming. In fact, Sundance Institute head Robert Redford calls Salt Lake City "crucial" to any future festival expansion.

Sundance's Salt Lake City "corridor" already includes two screenings venues on 300 South (the Rose Wagner Center and the Broadway Centre Cinemas), a festival cafe (the Beehive Tea Room), something called the Temporary Museum of Permanent Change and the Tower Theatre.

And a competing festival called X-Dance, a festival showcasing action-sports documentaries, also came to Salt Lake City this year. (It runs through Wednesday at the Off-Broadway Theatre.)

The 2008 edition of the Sundance Film Festival actually opened Thursday with the debut of the comic thriller "In Bruges." It continues through Jan. 27, with screenings of movies in its independent film showcase and competitions, as well as series panel discussions, a music cafe and its annual awards ceremony.

One of this weekend's hottest tickets is the premiere of the concert film "U2 3D" tonight at Park City's Eccles Center. (That film will open locally Wednesday at the Jordan Commons Megaplex in Sandy.)

Other big-name events include premiere screenings of "Assassination of a High School President," starring Mischa Barton and Bruce Willis, and the music documentary "CSNY Deja Vu." That latter film will be featured in a "closing night" event that will be held two days before the festival's conclusion.

If you go ...

What: Sundance Film Festival '08

Where: Various venues in Park City, Salt Lake City, Ogden and the Sundance resort (Provo Canyon)

When: Jan. 17-27

How much: $15 ($10 wait-list tickets)

Phone: 435-776-7878

Web: www.sundance.org/festival

E-mail: [email protected]