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Copyright Jed Cowley

PARK CITY — Jedediah Cowley isn't very "Hollywood."

It's not his style.

With a beat-up backpack and a beard the size of Noah's, this first-time Sundance director seems more like a local than a man in the middle of one of the biggest film festivals in the country.

That could be because Cowley graduated from Brigham Young University and filmed his short flick, "The Loss of a Wrestling Match," in Orem with a high school student who had never before acted. Or it could be because Cowley is still a little insecure — like the character in his film who is obsessed with winning, who cries when he loses.

Or maybe it's because Cowley is so far from jaded that he's excited, even for a high-school English class to watch his first and only film. Whatever the reason, Cowley is different.

He's talented. He's normal — and his normality makes attending the Sundance Film Festival for the first time, with all the parties and press junkets and screenings and publicists, pretty normal, too.

"I think I make films because I like people and I like to think about life and our situation here as human beings and how crazy it is to live on this earth," Cowley says. "It's been kind of hard to associate myself with all of these other filmmakers (at the Sundance Film Festival). It's been hard to be confident about my film and pass out fliers and say, 'Come see my film,' but once I got past that and realized they're just people who are trying to tell stories, it's been easier to be comfortable."

Cowley, who's now a student at Columbia University, got a $1,000 donation from BYU to pay for the thousands of fliers he's been passing out that promote the film and point to a Web site, www.lossofawrestlingmatch.com. Despite being slightly intimidated, Cowley even gave one of the fliers to actor Bill Pullman at a party.

In 2006, as a senior at BYU, Cowley paid $3,000 to fund his 11-minute film. "I haven't made any money as of yet," he says.

That's why Cowley is trying to enjoy his festival experience on a budget, staying with family in Utah County and commuting to Park City every day for his appointments and screenings.

It's a stark contrast to the number of A-list Hollywood celebrities who bunk in multimillion-dollar condos and are smothered in free gifts for the duration of the festival. When Cowley's presentation at Treasure Mountain Middle School ended, he was simply looking for something to eat.

"I wonder if there are any places where filmmakers can get free food," Cowley said lightheartedly.

He had to settle for a free Balance bar and bottle of juice, but Cowley wasn't bothered. Later, there would be a wine party, and Cowley, who doesn't drink alcohol, thought he might find some morsels of food there.

"Maybe there will be some free cheese," he said.

On the surface, Cowley's film takes a heart-wrenching look at the inside of a high school wrestler's experience when he loses a match that he badly wanted to win. Cowley was a wrestler in high school, and the flick is a semi-autobiographical re-enactment of the time he wrestled the best match of his life but then lost in the last 15 seconds.

On a deeper level, Cowley says his movie embodies his fears. As a teenager, he worried what his teammates would think of him. He carried some of that fear with him as a fledgling film student at BYU and it got in his way, Cowley said.

"Sometimes our desire to be perfect hinders our ability to do our best," he says. "As a filmmaker at BYU, I was so worried about what the other students thought of me that I didn't just do what I wanted to do. Making this film let me do what I wanted to do, and through that, my film got into Sundance because I just went for it and tried my best."

Cowley says he's not thinking about whether he'll win an award for his film, he's just happy to be here, mingling with other filmmakers, watching movies and making connections. No matter what happens now, Cowley has taken the plunge and says he's going to be in the film business for the long haul.

"I would always want more exposure," Cowley said. "But even if I didn't get it, I can still say my film went to Sundance, and that's something everybody knows."

E-mail: achoate@desnews.com