VERA FARMIGA scored a career breakthrough with an acting prize at the SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL seven years ago. She returns to SUNDANCE with her directing debut, which will compete for top honours at the nation’s best showcase for independent cinema.

Ms. Farmiga’s HIGHER GROUND, in which she stars as a woman coping with a crisis of faith, is one of 16 entries in the U.S. dramatic competition at ROBERT REDFORD’S SUNDANCE FESTIVAL, running JANUARY 20 – 30 in Park City, Utah.

Other U.S. drama contenders announced Wednesday include director SAM LEVINSON’S family wedding story THE REASONABLE BUNCH, featuring DEMI MOORE, ELLEN BARKIN and KATE BOSWORTH; MATTHEW CHAPMAN’S thriller THE LEDGE, starring CHARLIE HUNNAM, TERRENCE HOWARD and LIV TYLER; DRAKE DOREMUS’ long distance romance LIKE CRAZY, with ANTON YELCHIN and FELICITY JONES along with the teen tales HOMEWORK, directed by GAVIN WIESEN and starring EMMA ROBERTS and FREDDIE HIGHMORE and TERRI, directed by AZAZEL JACOBS and featuring JOHN C. REILLY and JACOB WYSOCKI.

At the 2004 festival, VERA FARMIGA won a special jury prize for her performance as a wife and mother with a hardcore drug addiction in DOWN TO THE BONE. Her career took off with roles in THE DEPARTED and UP IN THE AIR, for which she earned a SUPPORTING ACTRESS nomination at last season’s ACADEMY AWARDS.

Ms. Farmiga’s HIGHER GROUND reflects a theme that runs among some of the 125 feature films at SUNDANCE next month, said festival director JOHN COOPER.

“The whole idea of religion and faith in films is sort of shocking this year for me, both with the films in the festival and even in films that we didn’t pick. It’s in the artists’ psyche right now,” Mr. Cooper said.

Several SUNDANCE competition entries and high profile non competition premieres to be announced Thursday deal with religious extremism, including SEAN DURKIN’S MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE, about a woman trying to reconnect with family after she flees a cult.

Among the 16 films in the U.S. documentary competition are CONSTANCE MARKS’ BEING ELMO: A PUPPETEER’S JOURNEY, a look at the man behind the beloved Sesame Street character; PETER D. RICHARDSON’S HOW TO DIE IN OREGON, examining the state’s legalization of doctor assisted suicide; SUSANNE ROSTOCK’S SING YOUR SONG, a portrait of singer HARRY BELAFONTE’S role in the civil rights movement; MORGAN NEVILLE’S TROUBADOURS, tracing the careers of singers JAMES TAYLOR and CAROLE KING and ANDREW ROSSI’S PAGE ONE: A YEAR INSIDE THE NEW YORK TIMES.

Festival organizers also announced 16 films each in SUNDANCE’S world cinema dramatic and documentary competitions.

World drama contenders include JOHN MICHAEL McDONAGH’S Irish drug smuggling romp THE GUARD, starring DON CHEADLE and BRENDAN GLEESON; AMOR HAKKAR’S A FEW DAYS OF RESPITE, about two gay Iranian men who find refuge in a small French village and GERARDO CHIJONA VALDES’ TICKET TO PARADISE, centering on a teenage runaway who escapes her father’s sexual harassment in 1990s Cuba.


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