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Tom Smart, Deseret News
Actor Takashi Yamaguchi at the Sundance premiere of the film "Sophie and the Rising Sun" at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center on Friday, Jan. 22, 2016, in Salt Lake City.

SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert shared the red carpet Friday with actors Julianne Nicholson, Takashi Yamaguchi and Margo Martindale at the Salt Lake City gala film premiere at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center.

Director and writer Maggie Greenwald said "Sophie and the Rising Sun," based on the book by Augusta Trobaugh, "resonates very strongly with things going on in this country today."

Set in 1941 in Salty Creek, South Carolina, "Sophie and the Rising Sun" tells the story of a forbidden love between a local woman (Julianne Nicholson) and a wounded Japanese-American man who arrives in town under mysterious circumstances (Takashi Yamaguchi).

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, an ugly wave of bigotry sweeps through the town and the unlikely couple finds themselves in danger.

After 30 years of directing films, Greenwald said the winds have shifted for women and minorities in Hollywood.

"There's a new level of attention, and I'm confident that a film with four female characters — principal characters over the age of 40 — and a gorgeous Asian man are going to rock it," Greenwald said.

Japanese actor Yamaguchi makes his American debut with the movie. He said Friday that the film's premiere at Sundance felt "like a dream."

"I can't believe it," Yamaguchi said, adding that "Sophie and the Rising Sun" was the first movie he auditioned for after receiving his U.S. actor's visa.

Yamaguchi was joined by six-time Sundance veteran Nicholson, who plays his love interest in the film. Nicholson said the movie was the first time she learned about the difficulties that faced Japanese-Americans forced into internment camps.

"To me, it was an education," she said.

This is the second year that Salt Lake City has served as an alternative home base for the Sundance Film Festival, which is in Park City and draws some 46,000 attendees to Utah annually.

This year, there are 195 films showing at 16 venues in Park City, Salt Lake and Ogden.

Moviegoer Heather Nielsen has been coming to Sundance's Salt Lake City gala premiere movies for a few years, drawn by the unique opportunity to meet cast members and actors.

"I think they're hit or miss," Nielsen said of the films. "But the last few have been really good."

The Salt Lake City opening movie in 2013, "The Crash Reel," about a snowboarder who suffers a traumatic brain injury, is a particular favorite of hers.

"His message really changed my life," Nielsen said. "How he had that brain injury and had to learn to talk again — it was very inspiring. Very spiritual, too, in a way.

"It's fun," she added. "The energy and how people get excited … and to experience something new and creative."

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