Sundance Opens Without Bob

For the first time in years, Sundance Institute founder and president Robert Redford will not attend any part of the film festival he helped make famous. (He's apparently off in Morocco shooting The Spy Game with Brad Pitt for director Tony Scott.)

In his place were nude members of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, who marched through Park City, Utah, in the altogether to protest the wearing of furs and leather — "Human Skin in, Animal Skin Out," read one banner.

Redford's absence was not lost on actress-director Christine Lahti, whose new movie, My First Mister, opened the 2001 festival Thursday night. "This is my third time at the festival," Lahti told the assembled masses in Salt Lake City, adding that her sole goal in coming to Sundance in previous years was to meet Redford.

"And now I'm here with my film on opening night," Lahti said hopefully, looking to festival director Geoff Gillmore for a sign that perhaps her wish would come true, as the crowd began to chuckle. "No Bob? OK, I'll be back again."

A Kinder, Gentler Opening Night Opening night at Sundance is a decidedly middle-of-the-road affair. It's held every year in Salt Lake City, where the society crowd comes out to mingle with filmmakers, members of the press, and celebrity seekers. To prevent offending the sensibilities of SLC's citizens, the opening night film is usually a feel-good comedy.

But as the opening credits rolled on Lahti's My First Mister — with the punkish strains of "Disconnected Child" by Tin Star playing as drops of blood splattered onto the pages of star Leelee Sobieski's journal — it appeared that things were going to be a little bolder this year. Never fear: By the time the film ended, we'd laughed, we'd cried, we'd even winced. And Frank Sinatra took us out over the end credits.

The Buzz Begins The festival hadn't even officially kicked off yet when early buzz began building around certain films, such as Memento, starring Guy Pearce (L.A. Confidential) and Carrie-Anne Moss (Chocolat, The Matrix), which was produced by sisterly duo Suzanne and Jennifer Todd (two of the producers behind Austin Powers). Also on people's minds was Southern Comfort, a documentary that stirs emotion and spirit with its story of transsexualism deep in the heart of rural Georgia.

Swag Alert Our first piece of promotional material as we got off the plane Thursday was a plastic Tongue Cleaner from the folks promoting the digital film Some Body, which, while ostensibly about the travails of a 20-something woman, features a character named Tony Tongue.

The Sundance Music Festival Visitors to the sleepy little ski town of Park City (where the festival itself is held) witness an oxymoron in action each year as the parties get more exclusive while the relative stature of imported musical talent continues to grow.

We've seen some pretty amazing shows in previous years, from Brian Wilson to Sheryl Crow, from the Fastbacks with Eddie Vedder to Air performing its score to The Virgin Suicides. But this year, it appears that Park City might get the biggest rock band to play its environs in a long time if Radiohead takes the stage, as was reported via the rumor mill late this week.

And that's not all. Everclear, The Roots, Spearhead, the Dandy Warhols, P.O.D., Semisonic, and 3 Doors Down are all on tap for various concerts during the festival, while DJs Paul Sevigny, Paul Oakenfold, Ming & FS, WishFM, and Q-Bert will keep the masses dancing into the wee morning hours. Expect our list to continue growing, as the party patrol here at Mr. Showbiz brings it all to you, night by sordid night.