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Sundance 2019: The Rock, Zac Efron, Demi Moore among stars on fest screen

Heavyweight documentaries on Harvey Weinstein and Michael Jackson are among the highlights of this year's film festival.

Sundance

Penetrating documentaries, horror chillers and A-list stars will be some of the hallmarks of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.

The festival kicks off on Friday as Hollywood hitmakers and indie creators turn up in Park City, Utah, to watch movies and make deals in the snow. Read on for a preview of the films set to make waves this year. 

Mostly known for indie and up-and-coming filmmakers, Sundance always sees major stars stepping away from the mainstream to flex their quirkier acting muscles. Jeff Goldblum, Emma Thompson, Zac Efron, David Oyelowo, Demi Moore, Shia LaBeouf and The Rock are among the big names appearing this year.

Rene Russo and Jake Gyllenhaal are among the stars heading for Sundance 2019.

Claudette Barius

Olivia Colman, currently enjoying universal acclaim and an Oscar nomination for her performance in The Favourite, returns with religious drama Them That Follow. And after the edgy Nightcrawler, Jake Gyllenhaal re-teams with writer and director Dan Gilroy for Velvet Buzzsaw, a thriller set in the art world. Velvet Buzzsaw will stream on Netflix in February.

Netflix and Amazon

Amazon has already won an Oscar. Netflix is nominated for best picture this year. It's safe to say the streaming services are power players in the movie industry, and several Sundance films will show up to stream soon. That includes Paddleton, produced by mumblecore veterans the Duplass brothers. In this Netflix black comedy, Mark Duplass and Ray Romano play misfit neighbours shaken up when one of them gets cancer.

Netflix brings Paddleton to Sundance 2019.

Sundance

Amazon has Indian drama Photograph and quirky comedy Troop Zero at the festival. The latter sees directing duo Bert & Bertie direct Viola Davis and Allison Janney in a comedy about 1970s girl scouts trying to get themselves on NASA's Golden Record.

What's up docs?

Heavyweight documentaries dominate the festival. The movie industry takes a long hard look at itself in Untouchable, an examination of the rise and fall of movie mogul and accused sexual abuser Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein's run of indie hits was inextricably interlinked with the history of Sundance, which could make this uncomfortable viewing for some festival-goers.

Another documentary, Leaving Neverland, talks to people claiming to have been sexually abused by Michael Jackson. The late pop star's estate and fans have denounced HBO and Channel 4 who produced the two-part, four-hour film.

Knock Down The House explores a recent wave of political upsets.

Sundance

Political firebrands and best-selling writers are profiled in Raise Hell: The Life & Times of Molly Ivins, Where's My Roy Cohn? and Stieg Larsson: The Man Who Played With Fire. Steve Bannon is profiled in The Brink, while Knock Down the House casts a vote for a new era as it follows new political candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Technology is also under the microscope in Park City. The Great Hack exposes the inner workings of the Cambridge Analytica scandal that sucked in Facebook users across the globe. And another scandal is uncovered in The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley, which looks into the fraud behind blood-testing company Theranos and its founder Elizabeth Holmes.

Silicon Valley is under the microscope in The Inventor, which documents the Theranos scandal.

Sundance

On a lighter note, at Sundance no one can hear you scream about how much you love the Alien movies. Memory: The Origins of Alien is a behind-the-scenes look at the inspiration and influences behind Ridley Scott's classic sci-fi shocker, drawing on Greek and Egyptian mythologies, the art of Francis Bacon and the twisted vision of artist H.R. Giger.

Fact from fiction

True stories will also be big in fictional form, with not one but two films highlighting political whistleblowers of recent years. The Report stars Adam Driver and delves into the revelation of CIA interrogation methods, while Official Secrets sees Keira Knightley headline dirty dealings leading up to the 2003 Iraq invasion. 

Keira Knightley plays real-life whistleblower Katharine Gunn in Official Secrets.

Sundance

Another Netflix entry is The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. Written, directed by and starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, it's based on the life of William Kamkwamba, a teenager in Malawi who cobbled together a solution to save his family and village from famine.

Horror highlights

Last year Hereditary was a standout of the festival, and there's plenty of horrifying horror movies in the 2019 lineup. 

Kiersey Clemons is a castaway menaced by a malevolent force on a solitary island in Sweetheart. It's produced by Jason Blum, the producer behind hits like Get OutGlass and the Purge movies. He also produced Relive, in which David Oyelowo gets a phone call from his murdered family. Spooky!

I Am Mother stars Rose Byrne and Hilary Swank in a dystopian sci-fi chiller following a teenage girl raised by robots. Another teenage girl is in trouble in Share, expanded from a short film by director and screenwriter Pippa Bianco. The teenager at the centre of the story discovers a disturbing video from a night she doesn't remember, with chilling results.

School's out for the undead in Little Monsters.

Sundance

Little Monsters is a zombie movie with a touch of class -- a school class, that is, as teacher Lupita Nyong'o tries to protect her junior charges from the undead. In Wounds, Armie Hammer and Dakota Johnson unravel after finding a phone left behind at a bar.

The festival also includes storytelling in all kinds of multimedia form, including new TV shows and virtual reality experiences. We'll being you reviews and features from Park City, so keep it CNET.

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