The festival will include many films shot in New York City as well. New York-based publicist Jeremy Walker said the quality of this group is particularly high this year, perhaps because viewers are seeing them from a different perspective.

"The movies were made before Sept. 11, and they all reflect a sense of community here," Walker said, citing such films he's representing as "Love in the Time of Money," "On-Line" and "Manito."

"It's something we've always known about ourselves, but somehow after Sept. 11 when you see these movies, it means a lot more. There's something about people being drawn together that has a lot of resonance."

The impact of the country's shaky economy is evident in the downturn of festival ticket package sales as well as the number of film submissions.

Gilmore said 750 dramatic features were submitted for consideration this year, compared with 850 last year, though the number of documentaries rose.

"You don't have that excess capital flowing out of Wall Street," Gilmore said.

Where goeth the dot-coms?

The dot-com companies, which were throwing lavish festival parties two years ago, have disappeared, and Bowles said he expects distributors to continue the recent trend of being more conservative in what they pay to acquire films.

"I don't anticipate people getting into absurd bidding wars," he said. At the same time, even though low-budget films continue to struggle to stand out from the crowd, companies big and small still plan to buy and release them. Bowles' former company, The Shooting Gallery, bit the dust last year, but he's back with Magnolia.

The ever-growing Lions Gate shed much of its original staff, which promptly formed ThinkFilm. Former October Films co-president Bingham Ray now is running United Artists as an indie-minded company, and producers Ed Pressman and John Schmidt have launched ContentFilm.

So much for the theory that the studio-connected indies such as Miramax and Sony Pictures Classics are putting the little guys out of business.

"Yes, the economy is not in the most sound shape, but that is the economy of the billions, and we don't inhabit that world," said Mark Urman, ThinkFilm's head of distribution. "I'm only concerned with individual ticket-buyers who have to spend $10, and a lot of people go to the movies."

So once again film biz types from New York, Los Angeles and cities in-between will leave behind their urban environments to visit one of the country's most scenic areas, where they'll file into dark rooms often to witness America's ugly underbelly exposed on screen.

"I don't think we're going to feel like a film that's upsetting is out of sync with what's going on in the country," Urman said. "We want to see movies that disturb us. Otherwise, why is it Sundance?"