Park City, Utah
Where do you begin to describe an elephant? Do you start with the leathery ears, the tree-trunk legs, the snake-like snout? It's equally difficult to describe that film festival pachyderm known as Sundance, which selects 200 diverse films for exhibition from nearly 12,000 submissions.
While there's no clear theme to this year's offerings, there are some interesting trends. You might dub this the year of the Internet film, with a noticeable upsurge in dramas and documentaries examining how easily the lines between real life and virtual reality can blur.
Some filmmakers view our new social networks with serious concern. The nonfiction "Web Junkie" explores China's decision to classify overuse of the Internet as a form of mental illness, visiting government psychological treatment facilities created to cure young obsessive gamers of their addictions to online life. It digs deep, examining the reasons teenage boys feel more connected to disembodied voices in cyberspace than to their families.
The documentary "Love Child" considers the way that South Korea’s place as the world leader of Internet infrastructure has eroded its communal society. The focus is the horrific 2010 case of a neglected South Korean baby named Sarang who died of malnutrition because of her parents' Internet addiction. They were so absorbed in playing games online that their child Sarang became a secondary concern.
The U.S. Documentary "The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz" concerns another scandalous early death. Swartz, a gifted hacker, became an anti-censorship Internet icon by his mid-twenties. In 2011 he faced an array of federal charges for his actions, casting a light on society's ambivalent view of open-access activists who crack computer systems and share data not for personal gain, but to inform others. Facing a series of indictments that could have imprisoned for 35 years, the 26-year-old, Swartz took his own life.
Horror filmmakers see the Internet as a forum where our darkest desires are destructively expressed. The pan-Asian thriller "Killers" follows a stylish, sociopathic Japanese serial killer and a conscience-stricken Indonesian vigilante who post videos of their violent sprees online, igniting a brutal duel. Their bloody exploits force viewers to consider their complicity with the violence portrayed onscreen.
Other filmmakers skewer our online lives with social satire. Actor David Cross makes his directorial debut with "Hits,