PARK CITY — The Sundance Film Festival helped jump-start the careers of directors Kevin Smith ("Clerks"), Quentin Tarantino ("Reservoir Dogs"), Robert Rodriguez ("El Mariachi"), Bryan Singer ("The Usual Suspects"), Christopher Nolan ("Memento") and others.

Those "others" just happen to include "Napoleon Dynamite" filmmaker Jared Hess and "In the Company of Men" director Neil LaBute, both of whom attended Brigham Young University.

So, local filmmakers are mindful of lasting effects Sundance success can have on a career. There are a half-dozen films this year — four features and two short films — with connections to Utah.

They not only include "The Guitar," from former Ogden resident Amy Redford (and daughter of Sundance Institute head honcho Robert Redford), but also Jed Cowley, a BYU graduate who is showing his short film, "The Loss of a Wrestling Match," at Sundance this year.

Cowley, who's now in a master's program at Columbia University, was ecstatic when he found out his film had been accepted into the festival.

"I couldn't believe it. I couldn't sit down or do anything else I was so excited and amazed," he recalled.

"Wrestling Match" was shot in Utah County in 2006, and with its strong Utah County ties, the film is reminiscent of Hess' short film "Peluca," which he later expanded as "Napoleon Dynamite." (Cowley has no illusions about experiencing that sort of success, however.)

One filmmaker who comes to Park City with previous festival experience is Oren Peli, who lived in Salt Lake City for four years after emigrating from Israel in the early '90s. The competing Slamdance festival is screening his "Paranormal Activity," a supernatural thriller about a couple that believes their home may be haunted.

"Paranormal Activity" has already played in a couple of horror-related film festivals and has been building strong word of mouth. "Hopefully, we'll keep building an audience and scaring people along the way. That's the goal," he said by telephone from San Diego.

Peli is aware that both Hess and Nolan actually had films in Slamdance before they arrived at Sundance, saying that "it is an honor to have my film play at Slamdance."

And Peli is excited to see some old friends during his weeklong Utah stay, "especially since it's expensive to stay in Park City during the festival. I'm hoping to crash with a few people," he said, with a laugh.

Utah itself is featured in the Sundance selection "Adventures of Power." The air-drumming comedy was shot in Salt Lake City and Helper, and there are several recognizable landmarks, such as a power plant that was "crucial," according to the film's writer, director and star, Ari Gold.

"You wouldn't believe how much work we had to do just to find one plant that would let us shoot there," Gold said from Burbank, Calif.

Fortunately for Gold, "Utah really stepped up to the plate. They even let us shoot at the plant with a cast of protesters. All the others shied away from that."

He said he and his cast had a "great time" shooting there, "though it does seem a bit crazy to be returning to Utah so soon. Now the pressure's on to deliver a product that we can all be proud of."

Gold was in post-production on the film while he was being interviewed, and he said he may have to deliver a "wet print" of the film to Sundance to be in time for the movie's festival debut.

Like Gold, Cowley made sure to credit Utah and the locals who participated in the making of "The Loss of a Wrestling Match."

"(The short movie) was worked on by many different BYU students who volunteered their time and talents," he said. "It couldn't have been done without the great crew that worked on this film."

Films with local connections

• "Adventures of Power" (Sundance feature film)

Shot in Helper and Salt Lake City

• "The Deep" (Sundance feature film)

Shot in Salt Lake City, directed by local filmmaker Alex Haworth

• "Force 1 TD" (Sundance short film)

Directed by former Utah resident Randy Krallman

• "The Guitar" (Sundance feature film)

Directed by former Utah resident Amy Redford

• "The Loss of a High School Wrestling Match" (Sundance short film)

Shot in Utah County, directed by BYU graduate Jed Cowley

• "Paranormal Activity" (Slamdance feature film)

Directed by former Utah resident Oren Peli

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

If you go ...

What: Slamdance Film Festival 2008

Where: Treasure Mountain Inn, 255 Main Street, Park City

When: Jan. 17-25

How much: $11 ($8.50 for Utah residents)

Phone: 435-649-9071

Web: www.slamdance.com


E-mail: [email protected]