01/22/2015 03:31 EST | Updated 03/24/2015 05:59 EDT

Sundance Film Festival kicks off with record number of Canadian films

Sundance opens today with a record-breaking number of Canadian films crashing the cozy ski resort town in Park City, Utah.

Over the next 10 days, the influential showcase for independent cinema—founded 31 years ago by actor Robert Redford—will screen 10 Canadian feature films, including:

- Chorus - a heart-felt Quebec drama, directed by François Delisle, which tells the story of a woman seeking solace in music after the death of her young son. 

- The Amina Profile - a documentary exploring the mystery around a lesbian Syrian blogger who goes missing, directed by Sophie Deraspe.

- The Forbidden Room - an experimental ode to silent movies, directed by Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson.

- Hellions - a horror film about real demons disguised as trick-or-treaters on Hallowe'en night, screening in the Park City at Midnight program, directed by Bruce McDonald

At the indie forefront

Carolle Brabant, executive director of Telefilm Canada, attributes the record turnout of Canadian films at the festival to the nation's distinct voice and style.

"The Canadian selection includes narrative features, documentaries, genre films and children’s films," Brabant said in a statement.

"[The line-up] stands out for its abundance, quality and diversity, confirming that our country is at the forefront of indie filmmaking."

A Canadian documentary has even been selected as one of the opening night films.

​How to Change the World looks back at the rag-tag group of Vancouver neighbours who would go on to found the environmental activism group Greenpeace.

Thrilling premiere

The world premiere of Bruce McDonald's new horror movie Hellions marks the Ontario-born director's first return to the festival since his second feature, Highway 61, screened there in 1992.

The 55-year-old industry veteran says he's still surprised by the reaction he gets when he tells colleagues he's screening at Sundance.

"It's very impressive to all my friends and industry people," McDonald told CBC News. "I can't tell you how many emails and [messages I get, saying] 'Oh my god, you're in Sundance? That's awesome.'"

- On mobile? Watch the clip here

McDonald, who helmed such films as the mockumentary Hard Core Logo and the Ontario-set thriller Pontypool, argues that Canada's cinematic originality is partly a reaction to the Hollywood movie machine.  

"There is an inventiveness to how we make films," ​said McDonald. 

"There is a tendency among Canadian films not to compete on the star or budget power level but in a more inventive, fresh, hopefully original kind of storytelling."

Seeds planted at Sundance 

​With the multiple Oscar nominations for Boyhood and Whiplash, both of which bowed at last year's Sundance, this year's awards season is feeding the festival's reputation as a place to discover smart indie films with big box office potential. 

More than 12,000 submissions from around the globe were culled to the 118 feature-length documentary and narrative films featured during the festival.

Among the highlights: James Franco, in his first appearances since The Interview-Sony hack scandal, has three films in Park City — two at Sundance and one at the concurrent, even-more-indie festival, Slamdance. Funny folks Jack Black and Sarah Silverman take dramatic turns in feature films; Bobcat Goldthwait premieres a documentary about comic Barry Crimmins; and comedian Tig Notaro stars in her own documentary, Tig.

Other starry offerings include: Z for Zachariah, in which Margot Robbie believes she's the last woman on Earth, until she discovers Chris Pine and Chiwetel Ejiofor; Sleeping With Other People, starring Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie; the gambling drama Mississippi Grind, starring Vancouver-born actor Ryan Reynolds, Alison Brie and Alfre Woodard; Lila & Eve with Jennifer Lopez and Viola Davis; Slow West with Michael Fassbender; and the closing-night film, Grandma, starring Lily Tomlin.

The Sundance Film Festival continues through Feb. 1.