The 411 on Park City, Sundance

Two recent snowstorms and temperatures in the 20s signal the yearly event is about to begin.

No, it's not the Freestyle International World Cup event that was held in neighboring Deer Valley this past weekend. It's the Sundance Film Festival with aerial events of its own and moguls of another variety.

The stars will be out in this mountain town, and the big studios are eager to monitor audience reaction to no fewer than 120 independent films that will be screened here.

Sixty-four films will compete in the dramatic, documentary, World Cinema, and World Cinema Documentary categories. The finalists were selected from 3,148 entries -- 535 more than were submitted for the 2005 festival. It's a big event.

But before listing a few of the movies, and the names of the famous and not so famous who will be ogled on Main Street, a little primer is in order to help debunk a few Sundance myths.

Where Exactly Is 'Sundance'?

Sundance is not held in a town called "Sundance." It's staged in Park City, a 19th-century silver-mining town that is now home to three world-class ski resorts.

If it looks familiar, there's a reason. It was the venue of the 2002 Winter Olympic Nordic events. It has been featured in numerous TV shows and movies, including "Dumb and Dumber" (it was not really Aspen) and "Touched By An Angel" (the long-running TV show).

"Sundance" is around the mountain in Provo canyon. It's a small ski resort developed by actor Robert Redford who also holds film seminars and workshops there during the summer.

Here's the other myth that should be put to rest. Redford, known to locals as "Bob," didn't create the Sundance Film Festival. He was involved from the beginning and has certainly nurtured it over the years, but the festival was the brainchild of Brigham Young University film-school graduate Sterling van Wagenen and Utah State Film Commissioner John Earle.

They were originally going to call the event, "US Film," then "US Film Festival," then "Utah/US Film Festival." Redford, a longtime Utah resident who was then married to van Wagenen's cousin Lola, was named inaugural chairman. And so, "Sundance" ultimately emerged as the title. A vast improvement.

Fete Lineup Includes Jennifer Aniston and Bruce Willis

One of the original missions of Sundance was to hold a competition for films made outside the Hollywood system. The idea was to showcase the movies, get publicity, and bring them to a wider audience. It has paid off in a big way. Some say too big a way. A look at this year's lineup may explain why.

The festival, which runs today through Jan. 29, opens with a screening of "Friends With Money." It's a drama that focuses on three married women, their husbands, and their one single friend. And the cast is straight out of Hollywood, including Jennifer Aniston, Scott Caan, Joan Cusack, Jason Isaacs, Catherine Keener and Frances McDormand. That's a pretty heady group. Think your next-door neighbor who just graduated from film school could round up that group?

The festival's closing film is "Alpha Dog," a crime story about a young, notorious drug dealer who became one of the youngest offenders ever to appear on the FBI's Most Wanted list. Once again, the screen credits read like a Who's Who of Hollywood. Justin Timberlake, Bruce Willis and Sharon Stone are among the all-star cast.

Other films in the running this year feature the acting talents of John Malkovich, Sam Shepard, Jessica Lange, Eva Saint Marie, Ed Norton, Greg Kinnear, Steve Carell, Forest Whitaker, Ben Kingsley, Morgan Freeman, Lucy Liu and Tim Robbins. Mind you the films may be written, directed and produced outside the Hollywood system, but it must be nearly impossible for some independent filmmakers to land that sort of talent.

Still, there are dozens of films this year that do not boast big names or big budgets. The subject matters are diverse and decidedly non-Hollywood. Cancer, crosswords, local elections, disease and drugs, and the war in Iraq are among the themes.

And for fledgling filmmakers who may be discouraged by all the star power, there is this to remember. Of all the films entered in last year's Sundance, including such critically acclaimed movies as "Hustle and Flow," "Murderball," and "New York Doll," it was a little nature documentary that slammed them all.

"March of the Penguins" was the big box-office champ. Sometimes, you get lucky. Sometimes you don't need all those stars -- just a good, well-executed idea. Redford ("Bob" to the locals) must have been proud.