By Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES, (Reuters) - Movie executives and first-time directors trudging through the snow this year at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah will find tales of pornography and sex addiction awaiting them, in a trend to show more skin at Robert Redford's annual film showcase.
Showing in theaters alongside the Steve Jobs biopic "jOBS," festival goers can catch a movie about porn star Linda Lovelace, played by Amanda Seyfried in "Lovelace," and British soft porn publishing magnate Paul Raymond, played by Steve Coogan in Michael Winterbottom's "The Look of Love."
"Sexuality and sexual relationships are an area that people are naturally interested in but it has been so taboo that there haven't been a lot of films that get into the complexities of it," Trevor Groth, the festival's director of programming, told Reuters.
"Now those audiences are hungry for them," he added, "and filmmakers are feeling confident that there's an audience for those stories."
One of the hotly anticipated premieres is comedy "Don Jon's Addiction," actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt's directorial debut about a porn addict who tries to change his ways. It opens on Friday.
Gordon-Levitt, who plays the title role leads a star-studded cast including Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore, who play two women who help the porn addict become less selfish.
In its 35th year, the annual Sundance Film Festival, held in the snowy streets of Park City, Utah, has become a launch pad for low-budget films and unknown stars in films that need investors.
Co-founded in 1978 by actor-director Redford, this year's 119 films were culled from 12,000 submissions. The ten-day festival, starting on Jan. 17, showcases the films in competitions and low-key premieres that serve as an antidote to Hollywood's glittering awards season.
Sundance has also become a more star-studded affair. This year's roster is expected to bring A-listers such as Nicole Kidman and Jacki Weaver, who star in the mysterious thriller "Stoker," and Naomi Watts in the passionate drama "Two Mothers."
Even in death, Apple CEO Steve Jobs is the festival's biggest star. The biography "jOBS, starring Ashton Kutcher as the entrepreneur, claimed the coveted spot closing the festival.
It was selected in part because festival organizers wanted to take advantage of the late computer executive's enduring popularity, said Sundance director John Cooper. It didn't hurt that the film is already selling well with buyers, he added.
Gordon-Levitt, 31, is no stranger to Sundance, having featured in festival entries such as "Brick" in 2005 and more recently the indie comedy "(500) Days of Summer," which went on to become a box office hit in 2009.
"Sundance is more than a festival, or even an institution. It's a community," the actor said in an email. "Whether making films or watching them, Sundance folks have a deep love of cinema."
The festival helped catapult the former child star into mainstream movie roles such as "The Dark Knight Rises" and "Inception." His next film is the noir thriller "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For," alongside Clive Owen and Jessica Alba.
SEX SELLS AT "UPLIFTING" SUNDANCE
Gordon-Levitt's "Don Jon" leads a slate of films about pornography, adult entertainment and sexual relationships.
Actor James Franco, a co-star in "Lovelace," is bringing two sexually charged films - the documentary "kink," which will play in the festival's midnight slot, and S&M film "Interior. Leather Bar.," which will complete in the New Frontiers Films slot, which showcases underground films and multimedia projects.
The diverse roster of films appeals to buyers, said Lia Buman, executive vice president of acquisitions at independent film company FilmDistrict. She said "In A World," actress Lake Bell's directorial debut about a vocal coach's attempt to become a star, was getting "unbelievable buzz."
"Each Sundance seems to have themes and this one seems to have a more sexual coming-of-age trend ... a theme is either uplifting or challenging, and this one, it seems like they've chosen a more uplifting list," Buman told Reuters.
Sex isn't just reserved for the feature film categories, as director Freida Mock's "Anita" explores the impact of Anita Hill's allegations in 1991 of sexual harassment against then-U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.
Documentary directors will also use the Sundance platform to shine a spotlight on bigger social issues, such as economic inequality, a topic that organizers believe would resonate closely with Americans after last year's presidential debates.
The widening income gap in America is explored by economic policy expert Robert Reich in "Inequality for All," while "99% - The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film," delves into the Occupy Wall Street movement.
The documentary roster will also feature R.J. Cutler's film "The World According to Dick Cheney," which profiles the former U.S. vice president, and Alex Gibney's "We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks," about the new era of information transparency.
"All the films have a certain fearlessness to all the subjects they take on," Cooper said. "That's what we're drawn to, the originality of a story." (Reporting By Piya Sinha-Roy; Edited by Ronald Grover and Christopher Wilson)