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Sundance lineup for 40th edition features Kristen Stewart, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Steven Soderbergh

AP Film Writer

Kristen Stewart and Steven Yeun co-star in a love story about a satellite and a buoy, Chiwetel Ejiofor directs a film about the life of Rob Peace and Will Ferrell takes a road trip with his best friend who is transitioning in three of the films premiering at the Sundance Film Festival in January.

Organizers announced on Wednesday a diverse and robust lineup of 82 feature-length films from 24 countries for the 40th edition of the festival, which includes the return of one of Sundance’s original prodigies, Steven Soderbergh.

In 1989, Soderbergh helped put Sundance on the map with “Sex, Lies, and Videotape.” This year he’ll premiere his new genre film “Presence,” about a family who suspects they’re not alone in their suburban home, starring Lucy Liu and Julia Fox.

“That was one of the exciting discoveries of this year,” said Kim Yutani, the festival’s director of programming. “It’s funny to say discovery around Steven Soderbergh because he is such an independent film and now studio film stalwart…’Presence’ is a really wildly creative film.”

Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, who launched “Mississippi Grind” at Sundance and went on to direct “Captain Marvel,” are also back with “Freaky Tales,” set in 1987 Oakland and following four interconnected tales. It stars Pedro Pascal, Jay Ellis and Ben Mendelsohn.

Festival organizers are looking forward to looking back, to celebrate 40 years, with an opening night event that honors another Sundance alum, Christopher Nolan, whose breakthrough “Memento” received their screenwriting award in 2001. “Past Lives” filmmaker Celine Song, the big breakout of the 39th festival, is also being honored.

“It’s not really an anniversary, it’s the 40th edition,” said Sundance Institute CEO Joana Vicente. “Really it gives you an opportunity to reflect on the legacy, but also be excited about the possibilities and the new talent that we will be launching this year.”

It’s the synthesis of having the veterans standing next to the first and second timers, the discoveries that the festival is famous for, that is most exciting, Yutani added.

Programmers culled through over 17,000 submissions (a record) from more than 150 countries and territories to select the feature films, shorts and episodic series that will be featured across the 10-day festival, which will kick off in Park City, Utah, on Jan. 18 and run through Jan. 28.

“There is such boldness and adventurousness and risk taking and such big swings happening in the lineup this year,” said festival and public programming director Eugene Hernandez. “These films, they’re entertaining, they’re moving, they’re provocative.”

Films selected will bring various White Lotus alums to the mountains, including Aubrey Plaza (“My Old Ass”), Murray Bartlett (“Ponyboi”), Will Sharpe (“A Real Pain”) and Meghann Fahy (“Your Monster”), and see “The Worst Person in the World” stars Renate Reinsve and Anders Danielsen Lie together again in “Handling the Undead.” Reinsve will also appear with Sebastian Stan in “A Different Man,” about an actor who dramatically transforms his appearance.

Kristen Stewart, no stranger to Sundance, has two films: The buoy/satellite love story “Love Me” and “Love Lies Bleeding,” which Yutani called two of the most surprising films of the festival.

“I think both of these films just show what an eye Kristen Stewart has for choosing roles and working with directors who are completely bold, wild geniuses,” Yutani said.

Jesse Eisenberg also has two: “A Real Pain,” which he wrote and directed and stars in with Keirnan Culkin, and David and Nathan Zellner’s “Sasquatch Sunset,” alongside Riley Keough.

“Jesse is continuing to use his creative connections and curiosities and power to illuminate some really fun and creative and moving stories,” Hernandez said. “He’s such a unique, distinctive American artist.”

Justice Smith is another with a double bill. The “Dungeons & Dragons” actor will be in “The American Society of Magical Negroes,” a debut feature, and the midnight film “I Saw the TV Glow,” with Fred Durst and Danielle Deadwyler, that Yutani said shows “a real range.”

Other performances that could have people talking are Alicia Silverstone in a midnight film called “Krazy House,” Carol Kane in Nathan Silver’s “Between the Temples,” and 93-year-old June Squibb playing opposite the late Richard Roundtree in “Thelma,” a thriller in which she takes to the streets after getting duped by a phone scammer.

In addition to the very familiar names on the lineup, Sundance will also feature up and comers and other artists diving into new areas. Painter Titus Kaphar is making his feature debut with “Exhibiting Forgiveness,” starring André Holland, Andra Day and Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor, and Lucy Lawless directs “Never Look Away” about CNN camerawoman Margaret Moth. Ejiofor also directs Jay Will, Mary J. Blige and Camila Cabello in “Rob Peace,” based on Jeff Hobbs’ biography.

Sundance has many buzzy nonfiction offerings too, including one about WNBA star Sue Bird, another about Christopher Reeve and one diving into the music festival Lollapalooza.

A documentary that Yutani thinks is going to make a lot of waves at the festival is “Will & Harper” about Will Ferrell and his friend of 30 years who has transitioned.

“They take this really beautiful road trip across the country and it is enlightening on so many levels,” Yutani said.

In the episodic section, Debra Granik has “Conbody vs Everybody,” about a former convict who starts a gym, and Richard Linklater has a three-part documentary series “God Save Texas.”

Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss also return with their “Boys State” follow-up “Girls State,” an opening day film that Yutani said “sets the tone for how we want our festival to be seen.”

“It’s such a rich, rich combination of films that I think exhibit some really wild and adventurous creativity,” Hernandez said. “To have that same level of creativity and ingenuity happening, the same creativity and ingenuity that drew us all to the festival when we started going back in the 90s…it’s really exciting.”

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