01/23/2012 11:14 am ET Updated Mar 24, 2012

Day One at Sundance

"The Sundance Film Festival is increasingly becoming a place where the creative work of African-American filmmakers can make a difference." - Entertainment attorney, Nina Shaw

Nestled on the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains, (about a half hour drive from Salt Lake City), Sundance is the largest independent film festival in the United States, and it is also considered one of the most prestigious film events in the world. Each year, the festival provides a premium showcase opportunity for an international array of filmmakers who venture into the snow paradise that is Park City this time a year, looking to find a home for their work in the big leagues with film marketers and distributors.

Over the years, many famous independent filmmakers have received their big break at Sundance, including Kevin Smith, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino, Steven Soderbergh, Darren Aronofsky, and Edward Burns among others. In recent years, the festival has also served as an incubator from which African-American film titles such as Precious, Pariah and Gun Hill Road landed big studio contracts. The 2012 event is already looking to duplicate those past success stories, with heavy buzz around Park City about feature films like Ava DuVernay's Middle of Nowhere, Sheldon Candis' Luv and the Sam Pollard directed documentary, Slavery by Another Name.

For a Sundance veteran like Ava Duvernay, the opportunity to have only her second film selected as part of the festival's US Dramatic Competition has been a truly special experience. "It was a quiet, slow motion kind of moment," she says, recalling her reaction to finding out that her film had made the festival. "I certainly wanted my film to make it into the festival, but thought it was a long-shot. So to receive that call brought me an unexpectant joy."

Drawing a packed house for its Opening Day screening, Middle of Nowhere tells the story of a woman who puts her own dreams on hold when her husband Derek is sentenced to eight years in prison. During the course of the film Ruby must also deal with the disapproval of her mother and financial stress as she tries to support Derek emotionally and make long trips to his prison to maintain their union. The film stars Emayatzy Corinealdi as Ruby; Omari Hardwick as her Derek; Lorraine Toussaint and David Oyelowo.

"It's a real challenge to find African American characters with depth," comments Oyelowo, who currently stars in Red Tails. "But when I read this script, it was just like Do the Right Thing, or She's Gotta Have It, the characters just lept off the page... Ava is transcending what is called 'black cinema.'"

Next up: A peak at the Blackhouse. A place where African Americans can network and meet new friends at Sundance.