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Sundance Institute photos
The zombie comedy “Life After Beth” stars Dane DeHaan, left, and Aubrey Plaza.

Comedic women to get serious at Sundance

Bill Hader, left, and Kristen Wiig star in “The Skeleton Twins,” which is in competition at Sundance.
Brooklyn music movie “Song One” stars Anne Hathaway, left, and Johnny Flynn.

– Ladies will continue to drive the feature lineup at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival as Robert Redford’s independent-cinema fair celebrates its 30th anniversary next month in Park City, Utah.

At the 2013 festival, female directors dominated the competition and for 2014, women again reign supreme – only this time, comedians eclipse the layout.

Actresses such as Amy Poehler, Kristen Wiig, Molly Shannon, Aubrey Plaza, Amy Sedaris and Jenny Slate all appear in features playing at the upcoming fest, according to a list released Wednesday. And in the case of Wiig, Shannon and Plaza, we have funny gals turning serious.

Following her dramatic turn in the upcoming “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” Wiig will play the twin sister of fellow “SNL” alum Bill Hader in “The Skeleton Twins.” In the film, which also stars Luke Wilson and Ty Burrell, the siblings coincidentally cheat death on the same day.

Shannon and Plaza will star in “Life After Beth,” which focuses on a mysterious second chance at love after death.

“Comedians are big this year, especially with what we are calling ‘funny ladies,’ ” Sundance Director John Cooper says. “A lot of these roles are setting up typical comedic actresses in roles that are a little deeper. In general a lot of actors are being drawn to independent film because of the quality of interesting roles that they can play.”

Altogether, 117 feature-length films, selected out of 12,218 titles submitted (72 more than for 2013), are scheduled for Sundance 2014. Some 37 countries and 54 first-time filmmakers will be represented.

Sundance films typically offer the ideal fabric and draw for performers who are departing from their usual Hollywood formulas.

“Girls” sitcom creator Lena Dunham, whose debut movie “Tiny Furniture” won best narrative feature when it premiered at the South by Southwest film festival in 2010, will appear in writer/director Joe Swanberg’s “Happy Christmas,” also starring Anna Kendrick.

In her first feature since “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2,” Kristen Stewart plays a guard stationed at Guantanamo Bay in budding writer/director Peter Sattler’s “Camp X-Ray.”

But this is not to say men won’t get their share of attention at Sundance, which runs Jan. 16 to 26. Sam Shepard, Michael C. Hall and Don Johnson team for the violent small-town corruption tale “Cold in July.”

Stories with music themes make up a notable portion of the list. “Song One,” starring Anne Hathaway, is centered in Brooklyn’s music scene. And the 1970s-set “Low Down” features a stellar cast, including Elle Fanning, Glenn Close, Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea and “Game of Thrones” stars Peter Dinklage and Lena Headey.

Sundance is known for launching the careers of promising new talent, like first-time writer-director Ryan Coogler, who premiered the harrowing “Fruitvale Station” at last January’s festival – a film that earned three Independent Spirit Award nominations, including best first feature. This time around, potential breakouts include first-time actor Josh Wiggins, who plays opposite Aaron Paul in a film about a reckless and displaced teen.

And in the festival’s Next category, Desiree Akhavan, who wrote, directed and stars in the Brooklyn-set coming-of-age “Appropriate Behavior,” is poised to be a fierce triple-threat. “We showed Lake Bell’s film ‘In a World ...’ last year and Akhavan’s work this year is in that Bell and Lena Dunham ilk,” Cooper says.

Sixteen American documentaries will also debut at the festival. “Many deal with very contemporary issues that are still in the headlines right now,” Sundance Director of Programming Trevor Groth says. “The ability to turn films around so quickly is really notable.”

Documentarians Ben Cotner and Ryan White took a look at the campaign to overturn California’s ban on same-sex marriage in “The Case Against 8,” while “The Overnighters,” from director Jesse Moss, examines the manpower boom in the oil fields of the Northwest.

Sundance will announce its premiere lineup Monday.

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