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Live From Sundance 2011: Day 1

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On Thursday, the opening day of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, my actual Sundance day began and ended with the opening night screening of Susan Rostock's documentary about American icon Harry Belafonte, Sing Your Song in Park City.

But the 2011 Sundance experience -- at least for those of us who have been doing this for a while -- began a week or so ago. I plan for Sundance the same way I do for Toronto -- in an organized frenzy, usually figuring out a tentative schedule the weekend before, followed by last-minute changes and switches once I'm actually on the ground in Park City.

No one has time to see everything, so how do you choose? You can focus on the films with major-league independent credentials -- like small budgets with big movie stars or directors -- or follow-up films by directors who have had past Sundance success.

Or you can focus solely on the more truly independent: made by unknowns with no money, no stars but bringing a vision that was judged to be uniquely that filmmaker's.

The reality is that, while I'd love to be the one to suss out the next deadpan-existential-comedy hit from Iceland, I tend to focus on films that I think have a chance of being released, in New York if not all over the U.S.

The other reality, of course, is that, given a limited amount of time, the movies you are most interested in simply aren't available when you are. You sometimes take a flyer on a film because it fits an empty time slot in your schedule.

How do you choose when the choice is less obvious? I look at who's involved: actors I know are interesting, or writers, or directors. What's the story about? Or, if it's a documentary, what's the subject?

You choose, you guess, you hope. Some years, the choices are more exciting than others. Yet even in those years, there are discoveries to be made - movies you end up seeing almost by accident that wind up as your most exciting experience of the festival. (Last year, for me, it was Catfish.)

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