One of my favorite films from Sundance, Phoebe in Wonderland, is set to open the 10th RiverRun International Film Festival, according to indieWIRE. The film, which stars Elle Fanning, Felecity Huffman, Patricia Clarkson and Bill Pullman, is about Phoebe (Fanning), a little girl struggling with behavioral problems and relating to others.

Phoebe finds hope through her eccentric drama teacher (Clarkson), who casts her as the lead in the school's production of Alice in Wonderland. Meanwhile her parents (Huffman and Pullman) struggle with balancing their work with their family life, and with accepting that raising their daughters to be creative and non-conformist also means accepting Phoebe as she is, and helping her navigate her way through the world.


First-time helmer Daniel Barnz did a stand-out job directing this film, and the talented cast works well together in bringing the story to life. Fanning, especially, continues to build on the excellent promise she showed in Babel. I interviewed Fanning, Clarkson and Huffman at Sundance, and was impressed with Fanning's sweetness and maturity.

I asked Fanning then what personal experiences she'd called on in playing the role of Phoebe, and, after taking a moment to consider, she told us a moving story about attending a birthday party, where she met a boy she played with all day and really liked, who seemed to like her in return. When he saw her at school a few days later wearing her (very cute) blue-rimmed glasses, he told her best friend that he'd thought she was pretty, until he saw how "ugly" she looked wearing glasses, and didn't want anything to do with her after that. She called in part on the pain of that experience, she said, when figuring out how Phoebe might react to the rejection of her schoolmates.

She's a very smart, astute young lady, and I was impressed, also, that she had a bevy of adult relatives and friends, including her mother, there with her at the fest to both keep her grounded and protect her from press and fans. Both the Fanning girls seem to have good heads on their shoulders (I never agreed with those who were up in arms about older sister Dakota's role in last year's Hounddog -- a role to which she also brought remarkable depth and maturity, even though that movie overall was not great). I look for both of the Fanning sisters to continue to take roles that challenge them, and it's going to be interesting to watch them mature and see what they do in film as they get older. They both have the potential to have solid careers as adults, and hopefully they will avoid the "child star" stigma and drug-and-alcohol meltdowns so many young actors in Hollywood succumb to.

Meanwhile, if you're in North Carolina and planning to attend RiverRun, don't miss the chance to see Phoebe in Wonderland. It's a good film, and very deserving of opening the fest, and if the cast and director are there, the Q&A should be good as well. I hope that at some point Phoebe will get picked up by someone who knows how to market it, and will see light of day outside the fest circuit.