For the thousands of press, industry officials and civilians heading to Park City, Utah, this week, the experience will be like going to the prom. Or summer camp. Or an "American Idol" audition where all your dreams come true, or someone buzzes you back to oblivion.
The Sundance Film Festival, which kicks off Thursday, is the offspring of Robert Redford's Sundance Institute; it has been culling the herd of independent filmmakers for well over two decades and is under a media spotlight that just seems to get hotter.
But while Sundance theoretically is about emerging talent and "discovery," the focus of the outside world will likely be on the celebs strolling Park City's Main Street and, this year at least, stars impersonating other stars: Ashton Kutcher as Steve Jobs ("Jobs"); Amanda Seyfried as "Deep Throat's" Linda Lovelace ("Lovelace"); Steve Coogan as British publisher Paul Raymond ("The Look of Love"); Jean-Marc Barr and Josh Lucas as the Beat era's Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassaday ("Big Sur"), and Daniel Radcliffe as Allen Ginsberg ("Kill Your Darlings").
Over 10 days, the character of the festival -- and the rest of the year in indie film -- will reveal itself. If the lineup is any indication, it will be a weighty year in movies. "Fruitvale," from Sundance Lab grad Ryan Coogler (and produced by Forest Whitaker) is a drama based on a real-life police shooting in Oakland; "Pussy Riot -- a Punk Prayer" is about the notorious anti-Putin protesters in Moscow (directors Mike Lerner, Maxim Pozdorovkin). "The Square" by Jehane Noujaim ("Control Room") takes viewers into the center of the Egyptian revolution, just as "99%: The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film" takes them into the maelstrom of Manhattan street politics. On the lighter side, there's "Muscle Shoals," directed by Greg Camalier, which celebrates the famous Alabama recording studio, with Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Gregg Allman, Aretha Franklin, Alicia Keys and Bono.
One thing is always certain, though: Up in the mountains, worlds collide, the oxygen is thin, and anything is possible.