Sex comes to the Sundance Festival

The indie-movie beanfeast is warming up the slopes of its ski-resort home with pornography and controversy, says Emma Jones

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The Independent Culture

Sex, apparently, is selling Sundance this year. The consequences of it, and the industry surrounding it, are all over the programme at the festival. From documentaries about abortion in countries where it's legal to dramas set where it's not; from biopics of porn-industry figures Linda Lovelace and Paul Raymond to Joseph Gordon-Levitt's directing debut on a man struggling with the sort of material Raymond produced; it's all there.

“I was surprised how many submissions there were involving sex this year,” admitted John Cooper, festival chief programmer. “And they're not necessarily explorations of relationships either.”

Of course, Young Hollywood sexed up Sundance, now in its 28th year, some time ago; since 2004 actually, when Paris Hilton and Britney Spears made their first appearance in Park City, Utah, the tiny ski resort that is home to the event.

The film industry decamps for a long weekend, haggling over movie rights by day, testing out the hot tubs by night. And, as Beasts of the Southern Wild demonstrated with four Oscar nominations, it's the only place to launch an independent film – Nicole Kidman, Daniel Radcliffe, Julianne Moore, Felicity Jones, Gordon-Levitt, Amanda Seyfried and Shia LaBeouf have all been spotted around Main Street.

Yet the most controversial movie here has no stars in it, although the participants did have, according to them, “ more security than Nicole Kidman”, who starred in Stoker with Mia Wasikowska. Discreet bodyguards and metal detectors greeted the audience at the world premiere of After Tiller, a documentary about the four US doctors who still practice legal third-trimester abortion in the USA. “Tiller” refers to Dr George Tiller, who was killed at his local church in 2009 – a grim reminder of the daily risks the doctors face in their work. By coming to Sundance, these people were taking their lives in their hands once again.

Twenty-nine-year-old directors Martha Shane and Lana Wilson had unprecedented access to doctors LeRoy Carhart, Warren Hern, Susan Robinson and Shelley Sella. They also interviewed, anonymously, many of their patients.

Whatever your stance on abortion, seeing After Tiller followed by Wajma (An Afghan Love Story) would give you pause for thought. It's a dramatic, harrowing tale of Wajma, a pregnant girl who can't get a termination in her country. She faces death if she can't.

After that, it's almost a relief to turn to the seedier side of sex; Steve Coogan plays one of Britain's richest man, the late pornography magnate Paul Raymond, in Michael Winterbottom's The Look of Love.

Amanda Seyfried casts off the dreary Cosette from Les Mis to become Linda Lovelace , one of the biggest-ever stars of the porn industry, while Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Julianne Moore were heard to be protesting repeatedly at the press line on Don Jon's Addiction – “it's not a film about porn, the hero's in love with Scarlett Johansson”.

Perhaps the most tender exploration of sexuality comes from Daniel Radcliffe in Kill Your Darlings. Radcliffe is perfect as the teenage Allen Ginsberg. If you want flourishing romance, however, Austenland is the movie to see, a laugh-out-loud send-up of Pride and Prejudice by Napoleon Dynamite's Jerusha Hess.