Documentaries To Reign At Sundance

General view of signage for the 2006 Sundance Film Festival on Main Street January 18, 2006 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Actors are directing. Singers are acting. Drama directors are making concert films. Former presidential rivals Al Gore and Ralph Nader are hitting the big screen.

And Hollywood's much-maligned system of rating movies stars in its own film.

The Sundance Film Festival, the country's foremost showcase for independent cinema, gets under way Thursday with an intriguing mix of role reversals among its cast.

Gore and Nader lead what's shaping up as a powerhouse year for documentaries, always a strong suit at Sundance. Director Davis Guggenheim's "An Inconvenient Truth" chronicles former Vice President Gore's dogged campaign to convince a reluctant society of fossil-fuel profiteers and consumers about the dangers of global warming.

Nader, viewed by critics as the spoiler whose campaign kept Gore out of the White House in the 2000 election, is the subject of Henriette Mantel and Stephen Skrovan's "An Unreasonable Man," a portrait of the crusader for consumer rights and safety.

Sundance opens with writer-director Nicole Holofcener's "Friends With Money," starring Jennifer Aniston as a woman in limbo about her future after quitting her job and taking up temporary work as a housecleaner. The film centers on her relationship with three affluent friends (Frances McDormand, Catherine Keener and Joan Cusack).

It's a return engagement for Holofcener, who premiered her feature-film debut "Walking and Talking" at Sundance in 1996 after developing the story in the Sundance Institute's writing and directing labs.

Back then, Holofcener was an unknown who made a splash at Sundance. How does she feel about kicking off the festival with a star-driven flick?

"Thrilled and petrified. Equal measures of both," Holofcener said. "Thrilled because I have a history with Sundance, which made this feel special and like a real honor. Petrified, I guess, because I think it's never good to go into a film with really high expectations. That can't be in my favor. That's not to say it won't meet them, but what if it doesn't? I hope people will have goodwill toward it."

Holofcener shouldn't worry. Sundance audiences, especially on opening night, are a receptive bunch, fired up by the prospect of 11 straight days of indie film.

This year's festival presents 120 feature-length films and dozens of shorts.

Actress Joey Lauren Adams ("Chasing Amy") directs Ashley Judd in "Come Early Morning," a drama about a Southern woman struggling to turn around her self-demeaning life. Comic Bob Goldthwait directs "Stay," a romantic comedy about a relationship strained to the breaking point by a pact of absolute honesty.