"Whiplash," an intense drama about a young drummer in the pursuit of perfection in his craft, will represent the U.S. drama competition and ushers in a plethora of movies spanning all of Sundance's competition, premiers and spotlight categories.
In the world drama competition, "Lilting, a film by Cambodian-born British filmmaker Hong Khaou, represents another significant theme running through numerous films this year - death and humanity.
"Lilting" is the story of an aging Chinese mother who loses her son and thus her connection to the foreign world she lives in as she is unable to speak English. But her late son's boyfriend finds a way to connect with her beyond the lingual barrier as they bond over grieving the same man.
Khaou, who moved to England at a young age with his family as political refugees, said he mined deeply personal experiences, from his own mother not speaking English and his father passing away at a young age, to explore the unifying nature of death.
"I wanted to explore how (the mother's) life would be if her lifeline to the outside world was gone, how would she cope. And that is such a rich, fertile ground to explore, because it's all about communication, it's all about language," Khaou told Reuters.
Other films that use death to explore existential crises include "Jamie Marks is Dead," about a boy who dies and returns as a ghost to visit his former classmate, and "Life After Beth," in which a young man must deal with his dead girlfriend returning as a zombie.
One notable film exploring the topic of death through comedy is actor-director Zach Braff's "Wish I was Here," in which a 35-year-old father suffers an existential crisis after his father dies.
The film has already gained publicity after Braff used crowd-sourced financing platform Kickstarter to fund the film, something that Redford said Sundance reflects as digital platforms become more prevalent in day-to-day life.
"Look at all the films in this festival that were financed by Kickstarter. As these (platforms) come, I just want people to know that we go with it and incorporate that into how we see film," he said.