'Everything changed" for Toronto-based Métis/Algonquin filmmaker Michelle Latimer's career after her award-winning short film Choke won a jury prize at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, opening the door to more projects.
"I think that's what Sundance can offer, a platform not only for stories to get out, but also [for] filmmakers to have a future career," Latimer said. "It's kind of amazing."
Now heading into its 33rd year, Sundance was started by actor-director Robert Redford to showcase independent film and over time, the festival developed a reputation for highlighting breakout movies that go on to bigger things, such as Oscar-touted Manchester by the Sea, which premiered there a year ago. Whiplash, Beasts of the Southern Wild and Little Miss Sunshine also showed first at Sundance.
This year's festival in the mountain town of Park City, Utah, not far from Salt Lake City, kicks off Thursday and runs through Jan. 29.
Nine Canadian works are on the Sundance slate and three are from indigenous producers: music documentary Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World from Montreal's Rezolution Pictures (written and directed by Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana); Heather Condo's short film My Father's Tools; and Latimer's Rise, a nine-part documentary series for Rogers Media's Viceland TV about native-American environmental activism.
Latimer is anxious to share stories about "global indigenous resistance," including protests at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation over the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline. She points out the themes are universal.
"A lot of the issues that indigenous people are leading the charge on are actually issues that affect all of us."
Toronto's Mark Palansky was putting the finishing touches on his near-future set "noir mystery" Rememory in the days leading up to its Sundance world bow, where it competes in the prestigious Premieres slate.
Directed and co-written by Palansky, the Canada-U.S. co-production centres on the mysterious death of a psychologist (Martin Donovan) who invents a machine that can record memories. It stars Game of Thrones star Peter Dinklage and Julia Ormond, along with Anton Yelchin in one of the actor's final performances prior to his accidental death this past June.
Palansky praised Yelchin's "phenomenal" portrayal of an "unhinged, mentally disturbed patient" in the drama.
He said seeing Yelchin's face daily as he finalized the film has been "very surreal."
"Now the film is starting to be unveiled in its way, I'm gonna have to start understanding the reality of it," Palansky said.
Also premiering at Sundance is Japanese director Kyoko Miyake's British/Canadian documentary Tokyo Idols, about obsessions with increasingly younger female pop performers in Japan.
And Toronto's Jovanka Vuckovic is one of four directors in an all-female-helmed horror anthology, XX, which screens in the edgy Midnight program.
Notable about the timing of this year's Sundance – a traditionally liberal-minded, inclusive festival – is it opens the day before Donald Trump is sworn in as the United States' 45th president. There is a growing mood of protest in Park City, including a Women's March being led by comedian Chelsea Handler on Saturday.
Although not taking an official stance on political matters, Sundance is premiering An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power on its opening day. It's former U.S. vice-president Al Gore's followup to his Oscar-winning climate-change documentary that hit Sundance in 2006.
"I think this movie is going to be very powerful and a great tool as a voice for bringing people together," said Sundance festival director John Cooper, adding it chronicles the results of global warming in the years since An Inconvenient Truth, including the plight of "climate refugees."
The documentary is part of the New Climate slate, the first time Sundance programmers have compiled films around a single cause.
Canada's David Suzuki will be adding his voice to the debate during a panel discussion about the making of An Inconvenient Sequel. He'll be joined by panelists including Gore and Canadian Internet entrepreneur and philanthropist Jeff Skoll, who co-produced the film with his company, Participant Media.
"I consider him a buddy," Suzuki said of Gore. "He's supported me in a lot of things."
Meanwhile, Canadians appearing onscreen at Sundance include Michael Cera (Person to Person), Victor Garber (Rebel in the Rye) and Kiefer Sutherland (Where is Kyra?), along with transgender YouTube beauty vlogger and model Gigi Lazzarato, subject of the new documentary This is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous from Oscar winner Barbara Kopple.
There are also eight Canadian films screening across town at the rival film festival Slamdance, which launches Friday and runs until Jan. 26.