By Bob Tourtellotte
PARK CITY, Utah (Reuters) - The Sundance Film Festival opened on Thursday proclaiming a return to rebellious and risky filmmaking by premiering Allen Ginsberg biopic "HOWL" and war documentary "Restrepo."
Backed by actor and activist Robert Redford's Sundance Institute, the festival began in the 1980s to promote movies made outside Hollywood's mainstream studios, and this year's theme is renewing the independence it first championed.
"Sometimes getting back to your roots is fresh and new," Redford told a packed house for the opening night premiere of "HOWL," which was followed by "Restrepo."
Earlier on Thursday, Redford told reporters that in recent years he has felt Sundance was "sliding" from its original vision because indie film began to mesh with studio movies.
In fact, some of the best indie films of recent years were products of divisions of Hollywood studios that worked in the arena for low-budget moviemaking. "Slumdog Millionaire," for instance, was originally backed by Warner Independent Pictures, a now defunct unit of Warner Bros.
"HOWL" has independence in its DNA, its filmmakers said. It began life as a documentary in workshops at the Sundance Institute, where it was transformed into a feature film by co-writers and directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman.
TRUTH IN STORYTELLING
"HOWL" tells how Ginsberg's classic poem of the same name, which seeks to tell the truth of the everyday lives of post World War Two young adults, was deemed indecent by some, and its publisher was tried in a California court in 1957 for distributing pornography. At the time, Ginsberg and his Beat Generation were renegades who defied convention.
The movie challenges standard biopics by blending elements of documentary and feature films and by using animation to illustrate the poem.
"The poem itself breaks so many formal rules, we felt it was appropriate for us to do the same," Friedman told Reuters.
Epstein added that the poem has statements on militarism and anti-consumerism and Ginsberg was, at his best, an artist speaking his own truth.
"That's what most spoke to me," Epstein said. "That's what you strive for -- something truthful."
In keeping with its risktaking theme, Sundance departed from past tradition with its 2010 opening night. Instead of screening one movie in a gala premiere, it screened two films and a program of short films.
After "HOWL" came "Restrepo" because Redford and Sundance have long championed documentaries.
For the film, author Sebastian Junger ("The Perfect Storm") and filmmaker Tim Hetherington spent a year with a platoon of soldiers in Afghanistan looking at the soldiers' day-to-day living, working and fighting.
Redford said that throughout 2010's Sundance, audiences would see numerous documentaries in which they "will sense the risk the filmmaker took to tell that story and how important it was to get a certain new truth out."
"That's something that we're proud of," he said.
(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)