You want to know about Ross McElwee?

Don't read this story.Instead, simply go out and rent "Sherman's March" or "Time Indefinite" - or go see his latest film, "Six O'Clock News," at the Sundance Film Festival.

McElwee's life is an open book . . . er . . . movie.

"Sherman's March," his first feature film - a 21/2-hour documentary! - started out as a modern-day retracing of the Civil War trek of the title. But McElwee kept getting sidetracked with romantic entanglements, as his friends and family fixed him up with doomed dates and he talked directly to the camera about his concerns.

The result was a hilarious and very personal documentary film that was compared in many corners to the Woody Allen's romantic comedies.

Critics loved it. Audiences loved it. But McElwee was completely unprepared for the reception it received at the 1987 Sundance Film Festival. He walked off with the Grand Jury Prize.

"I had no expectation of winning the prize," McElwee recalls. "At the time, we were all trying to figure out what an independent film was. That year, in 1987, there were 65 submissions. And a couple of years ago, when I was (on a Sundance competition jury), there were 755 submissions.

"Now `independent film' is much more embedded into the con-scious-ness of the press, but back in '87 we were still trying to figure it out."

At the time, "Sherman's March" was quite a bold step for documentary filmmaking, and it gave McElwee a sense of confidence about his unique approach. "It reinforced my tendency to experiment with this first-person, autobiographical, very subjective approach to documentary filmmaking. It told me it was OK in a way for documentaries to have the shape of a narrative film.

"It was also very helpful in making it easier to raise funding. At least there was something to build with."

Something else it did was open the door for other documentarians to broaden the scope of what non-fiction filmmaking is all about.

"I think there is a lot more experimenting in the form now," McElwee says, "and `Sherman's March' had a little to do with that. Michael Moore's `Roger & Me' had a lot to do with it. And Errol Morris' `The Thin Blue Line' took it off in another direction.

"There have been some remarkably personal films experimenting in style as well as concept - and not just in festivals, but in theaters.

"It's not a golden age or easy to finance, and it's still not easy to get people into theaters. But somehow, they are getting made and get-ting distributed, and that's really encouraging and exciting."

"Six O'Clock News," which will be screened Monday and Wednesday in Park City as part of the festival's American Spectrum sidebar, kicks off with an introduction to McElwee's family - he now has a wife and son. Specifically, he explores his personal angst about raising a child in a world racked with violence and natural disasters, which are reinforced and made more immediate and frightening by nightly television newscasts.

To illustrate his concerns, McElwee shows a number of news clips of "disaster and danger," then goes a step further by tracking down some of the victims to see how they're coping with personal tragedy. "Finding tragedy isn't exactly difficult to do. It was really random. I simply checked into a motel in a city and started watching TV and recording it all with a VCR, pretty much as described in the film.

"Then something struck me and I pursued it, followed up on it. There was no careful, methodical indexing of news stories. It would have been a totally different film if I'd gone a week earlier or a week later, or a month later. It was a roll of the dice, to say the least."

Fortunately, he hasn't lost his wry wit, and the proceedings are laced with quirky personal observations. "It's necessary to have a sense of humor about the things I've confronted in my films, otherwise life would be impossible."

"Six O'Clock News" will also be shown on PBS's "Frontline" series on Tuesday, Jan. 21 (locally at 8 p.m. on KUED, Ch. 7).

"The films I make are still hardly standard PBS fare, so there's always a bit of a stretch and and a squeeze going on. But PBS has been very good about showing my work, even though the films aren't about particular topics or critical issues or portraits of famous people."

Still, he had to trim 15 minutes to make it fit a 90-minute slot, so Sundance audiences will be getting a bit more than will TV audiences.

For festival information, call 328-FILM (3456). To purchase tickets by phone, call 645-7280. Tickets may also be purchased in person at the Main Box Office in Park City, located in the Gateway Building, 136 Heber Ave.; the Sundance General Store, at the Sundance Resort in Provo Canyon; and the Crossroads Plaza, in downtown Salt Lake City. All theaters and auditoriums are in Park City, except the Tower Theater and Cineplex Odeon Trolley Square Cinemas, both in Salt Lake City; Peery's Egyptian Theater in Ogden; and the Sundance Screening Room, at the Sundance Resort in Provo Canyon.

SATURDAY, JAN. 18

Egyptian Theater: "Finished," 9 a.m.; "Love Walked In," 11:30 a.m.; "Gallivant," 2 p.m.; Piper-Heidsieck Tribute to Tim Robbins, 7 p.m.; "GRIDLOCK'd," 10 p.m.; "Love God," 12:30 a.m.

Holiday Village Cinema I: "Girls Like Us," 9:30 a.m.; "My America . . . or, Honk if You Love Buddha," noon; "Family Name," 2:30 p.m.; "Poverty Outlaw," 5:30 p.m.; "Shorts Program IV," 8 p.m.; "Licensed to Kill," 10:30 p.m.

Holiday Village Cinema II: "Aristotle's Plot," 10 a.m.; "Kolya," 12:30 p.m.; "Kissed," 3 p.m.; "All Over Me," 6 p.m.; "Oedipus Mayor," 8:30 p.m.; "Joe's So Mean to Josephine," 11 p.m.

Holiday Village Cinema III: "Sweet Power," 10:30 a.m.; "Moebius," 1 p.m.; "George B.," 3:30 p.m.; "Strays," 6:30 p.m.; "Snakes & Ladders," 9 p.m.; "Paul Monette," 11:30 p.m.

Prospector Square Theatre: "SubUrbia," 9 a.m.; "Landscapes of Memory," 11:30 a.m.; "Santa Fe," 2 p.m.; "Colin Fitz," 5 p.m.; "35 Miles From Normal," 7:30 p.m.; "Slaves to the Underground," 10 p.m.

Park City Library Center: "Farewell, My Darling," 9 a.m.; "Shorts Program V," 11:30 a.m.; "Mimi," 2 p.m.; "Hurricane," 4:30 p.m.; "The House of Yes," 7 p.m.; "Prefontaine," 9:30 p.m.

The Yarrow: "Native American Program II," 3 p.m.

Yarrow I: "Focus," 9:30 a.m.; "Two People Talking," noon; "Mr. Vincent," 2:30 p.m.; Panel: "Doing More With Less,"; 5:30 p.m.; "His & Hers," 8 p.m.; "Dream With the Fishes," 10:30 p.m.

Yarrow II: "East Side Story," 10 a.m.; "The Last Time I Committed Suicide," 12:30 p.m.; "Shorts Program I," 3 p.m.; "Waco," 5:30 p.m.; "A True Story," 8:30 p.m.; "Puddle Cruiser," 11 p.m.

The Inn at Prospector Square: Digital Video Camera Demonstration, 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m., 5:30 p.m.

Tower Theatre: "Green Chimneys," noon; "Fear and Learning at Hoover Elementary," 3 p.m.; "In the Company of Men," 6 p.m.; "Brassed Off," 9 p.m.; "Killers," midnight

Trolley Square Cinemas: "The Myth of Fingerprints," 7 p.m.

Sundance Screening Room: "The Clockwatchers," 4:30 p.m.

SUNDAY, JAN. 19

Egyptian Theater: "Poverty Outlaw," 9 a.m.; "Prefontaine," 11:30 a.m.; "Fear and Learning at Hoover Elementary," 2 p.m.; "The Fight in the Fields," 4:30 p.m.; "Fast, Cheap & Out of Control," 7 p.m.; "Lilies," 10 p.m.

Holiday Village Cinema I: "Family Name," 9:30 a.m.; "A Healthy Baby Girl," noon; "Divinity Gratis," 2:30 p.m.; "Riding the Rails," 5:30 p.m.; "Hide and Seek," 8 p.m.; "The Rainbow Man," 10:30 p.m.

Holiday Village Cinema II: "In the Company of Men," 10 a.m.; "love jones," 12:30 p.m.; "Children of the Revolution," 3 p.m.; "Shorts Program III," 6 p.m.; "Eye of God," 8:30 p.m.; "House of America," 11 p.m.

Holiday Village Cinema III: "Black & White & Red All Over," 10:30 a.m.; "Going All the Way," 1 p.m.; "Licensed to Kill," 3:30 p.m.; "Sick," 6:30 p.m.; "Love and Other Catastrophes," 9 p.m.; "An Act of Conscience," 11:30 p.m.

Prospector Square Theatre: "Shorts Program II," 9 a.m.; "GRIDLOCK'd," 11:30 a.m.; "The Myth of Fingerprints," 2 p.m.; "Arresting Gena," 5 p.m.; "Power," 7:30 p.m.; "I Love You . . . Don't Touch Me!" 10 p.m.

Park City Library Center: "SubUrbia," 9 a.m.; "Shorts Program I," 11:30 a.m.; "Prisoner of the Mountains," 2 p.m.; "Shall We Dance?," 4:30 p.m.; "Deep Crimson," 7 p.m.; "Black Circle Boys," 9:30 p.m.

Yarrow I: "The Marriage of Maria Braun," 9:30 a.m.; Panel: "Working With R.W. Fassbinder," noon; "Colin Fitz," 2:30 p.m.; "Green Chimneys," 5:30 p.m.; "Rhinoceros Hunting in Budapest," 8 p.m.; "The Twilight of the Golds," 10:30 p.m.

Yarrow II: "Santa Fe," 10 a.m.; "Native American Program I," 12:30 p.m.; "Love God," 3 p.m.; "Slaves to the Underground," 6 p.m.; "Temptress Moon," 8:30 p.m.; "Sunday," 11 p.m.

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Kimball Art Center Main Gallery: Native American Reading, 3 p.m.

Tower Theatre: "The Long Way Home," noon; "Running Against," 3 p.m.; "Santa Fe," 6 p.m.; "Hurricane," 9 p.m.

Trolley Square Cinemas: "SubUrbia," 7 p.m.

Sundance Screening Room: "Waco," 4:30 p.m.; "Lewis & Clark & George," 8 p.m.

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