Sundance Fest Kicks Off with Drama

01/11/2002 AT 03:25 PM EST

Hollywood and Wyoming came to Park City, Utah, Thursday night, with the Sundance Film Festival premiere of "The Laramie Project," a documentary-like drama based on the case of Matthew Shepard, the college student who in October1998 was brutally beaten and left to die because he was gay. The film deals with how the townspeople of Laramie, Wyo., dealt with the murder. Robert Redford, whose Sundance Institute sponsors the festival, told the opening night crowd that he sees Americans searching for a new sensitivity and social consciousness after Sept. 11. Furthermore, reports Reuters, he said that "indie" films -- which Sundance has spotlighted for the past 20 years -- provide a means by which Americans can explore their lives more deeply. "Here comes independent film and, I think, it provides a nice vehicle for that search," said Redford, 64. Despite the realistic style of the film, it does, in fact, feature some stars as the citizens of Laramie, including Steve Buscemi, Christina Ricci, Janeane Garofalo, Laura Linney and Peter Fonda. In real life, two young Laramie natives, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, were convicted of murdering Shepard; both are now serving life sentences in prison.

For more details from Sundance, check out CNN.com's special report.

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