January 15, 2004 11:15 AM

The nation’s showcase for independent movies, the 11-day Sundance Film Festival, opens for business Thursday night and will be offering a couple of firsts, reports the Associated Press.

First of the firsts is that the premiere will take place in the Utah ski resort of Park City, and not in the nearby traditional venue of Salt Lake City. And the second first is that rather than a feature film, the opening attraction will be a documentary, the surfing chronicle “Riding Giants.”

Another first: Robert Redford, 66 (whose Sundance Institute oversees the fest), will star in a movie being shown at Sundance. He plays a kidnapped businessman in “The Clearing,” which also features Helen Mirren and Willem Dafoe.

Not that Redford wasn’t reluctant about the entry. Says Geoffrey Gilmore, Sundance festival director: “What he did with ‘The Clearing’ was act in a small, low-budget film for the first time in many years. … I got a chance to see it, thought it was absolutely right for Sundance, then had to convince him it was something good for the film, good for him and good for the festival.”

Other notable entries among Sundance’s 137 feature films are Julianne Moore and Matthew Broderick’s “Marie and Bruce,” a tale of a disintegrating relationship; “The Butterfly Effect,” with Ashton Kutcher as a man who learns he can undo the past; HBO’s “Iron Jawed Angels,” starring Hilary Swank and Frances O’Connor as leaders of the women’s suffrage movement in 1912; DMX and David Arquette’s “Never Die Alone,” about a drug dealer’s return to his home turf; “The Woodsman,” with Kevin Bacon as a child molester trying to rebuild his life after prison; and the Martin Luther King Jr. documentary “Citizen King.”

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