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Sundance Film Festival returns in person this week after streaming online for 2 years

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Some of the most celebrated and unusual movies of the last several decades have all played one place in particular, Park City, Utah.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SEX, LIES, AND VIDEOTAPE")

JAMES SPADER: (As Graham) Can I tell you something personal?

ANDIE MACDOWELL: (As Ann) Yeah. Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE")

GREG KINNEAR: (As Richard Hoover) You know, actually, there is a message from Cindy on the machine. Something about Little Misses Sunshine. Sunshine?

ABIGAIL BRESLIN: (As Olive) What? Little Miss Sunshine?

KINNEAR: (As Richard Hoover) Yeah.

BRESLIN: (As Olive) What?

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GET OUT")

LAKEITH STANFIELD: (As Andre Logan King) Get out.

DANIEL KALUUYA: (As Chris Washington) Sorry, man.

STANFIELD: (As Andre Logan King) Get out.

SIMON: "Sex, Lies, and Videotape," "Little Miss Sunshine," "Get Out" - just three of the movies that made big debuts at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City over the years. And Sundance is back in person next week after pandemic disruptions. Kim Yutani is director of programming for the festival. She joins us now.

Thanks so much for being with us.

KIM YUTANI: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: What makes a Sundance movie?

YUTANI: Ooh, that's such a tricky question to answer. You played the clip from "Little Miss Sunshine," and I think that is considered to be one of the quintessential Sundance films. But what I think is kind of the current that runs through all of our films is that there is a kind of freshness to each of these projects. There will be something distinctive about that work that kind of shines through.

SIMON: I'm told there are 16,000 submissions for this year's festival. How do you choose? I mean, can you even see 16,000 submissions?

YUTANI: Obviously, 16,000 submissions is an incredible number. But we have a team of programmers who watch every single film that we consider, and we get to the point where, you know, we end up with 110 feature films, 65 short films. The competition is incredibly tough.

SIMON: What should we watch for this year, in your judgment?

YUTANI: I would start with some of our documentaries about people who you know, but maybe you haven't seen them quite in this light. I'm thinking about films like "Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie," "Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields." We have a documentary about Steph Curry, and this takes us into the home life, into, you know, the inner workings of Steph Curry.

SIMON: Steph Curry, the basketball player.

YUTANI: Exactly.

SIMON: When you say inner workings, you don't just mean his great three-point shot.

YUTANI: Yes. That really dimensionalizes him in an exciting way.

SIMON: What feature films should we be on the lookout for?

YUTANI: Oh, there's so much to choose from. One of the films that is going to really affect people is a film called "Magazine Dreams." It is a deep character study of a character we - I have never seen on screen before. This is a character played by Jonathan Majors. He's an aspiring bodybuilder dealing with some mental health issues. It's just one of these internal performances, but also a very physical performance, too. Sundance is known for dramas. But I also think that we have a lot of lighter fare, too, that we're excited about. We're showing a film called "Past Lives" by Celine Song. It's just this finely calibrated relationship drama. I think people are going to be very impressed by this one.

SIMON: I can see why almost everybody would want to go to Sundance. But do you have any thoughts about whether cinema as a collective experience, a bunch of people in the same theater watching some - a story unfold on a big screen - with the exception this year of, let's say, "Avatar" and "Top Gun," too - is that experience dwindling, disappearing from our lives?

YUTANI: I certainly hope not. I mean, this is why I think it's so important that we are having an in-person festival this year. And the thing that I hear most from everybody I talk to in anticipation of the festival is everybody's excited to be in theaters again, to see movies on big screens. It's just magical. And so I'm hoping that this year's Sundance is going to really revitalize the hope in theatrical moviegoing.

SIMON: Kim Yutani's director of programming at the Sundance Film Festival. It starts next week.

Thank you. A good time seems to be in store.

YUTANI: I hope so. Thank you so much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF JASON COLLETT SONG, "SONG AND DANCE MAN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.