PARK CITY -- When experienced filmmakers refer to their less-experienced counterparts as "young punks," it's doubtful this is what they mean. Two of the most talked-about selections at this year's Sundance Film Festival concentrate on punk-rock and Utah -- James Merendino's comedy-drama "SLC Punk!" and Alex Beckstead's documentary short film "sXe."

"Believe it or not, there's punk-rock in Utah," Beckstead said. "And we seem to be the poster boys."To tell you the truth, it's pretty funny that there are two movies dealing with some of the same issues, even if they're coming at them from completely different perspectives."

Merendino agrees. In a separate interview, he said he drew on his own experiences as an outcast at Judge Memorial High School for his semi-autobiographical film, which revolves around the

mid-'80s punk-rock scene in Salt Lake City.

"It's not meant to be a completely realistic movie," he explained. "I took a whole lot of liberties with the story.

"But there are definitely some characters and situations that are drawn from real-life experiences, as well as my own, very faulty memory. You have to write what you know, and I lived through a lot of this."

The film is seen from the perspective of two recent high school graduates, Stevo (Matthew Lillard) and Bob (Michael Goorjian), who regard the outside world as an enemy and anarchy as their "religion."

Eventually, though, the two best friends are forced to confront the inherent contradictions in their lifestyle.

"You can't become a non-conformist by conforming to something else, especially with styles of dress and haircuts," he said. "They get a really painful lesson in this."

Also, Merendino said that his movie isn't meant to be critical of Utah's conservative nature or of the LDS Church, though there are some jabs at both.

"I think my movie is a love letter to the city, although it's also very ironic," he said. "Utah is a place I love very much, and I hope that shows."

Although Merendino now lives in Los Angeles, he returned to Utah in 1997 for principal photography on the film. "It seemed kind of dishonest to make a movie about Utah and not film it out here. Besides, I had a wonderful time making the film. Everybody was great to us."

Where "SLC Punk!" is somewhat flippant, Beckstead's 18-minute film is much more straightforward. It examines Utah's "straight-edge" movement, an outgrowth of the hard-core punk-rock scene.

"Straight-edge" adherents vow not to take drugs, drink alcohol or have sex.

"(It) began as a movement for punk kids who wanted to keep their noses clean," Beckstead explained, noting that like many philosophies, "straight-edge" has become somewhat corrupted.

"For some kids in Salt Lake City's hard-core music scene, the movement is still a way to unify against self-destruction," he said. "For others, it's a platform for extremism."

Beckstead interviewed people on both sides for his film, including Cindi Robinson, a talented young artist who promotes her lifestyle through her work; Sean McClaugherty, a musician who struggles to keep violence out of local "straight-edge" concerts; and Josh Ellerman, a member of the militant Animal Liberation Front, who is serving a seven-year sentence for bombing the Fur Breeders Agricultural Co-op in 1997.

"It's important for people to see that not all of these kids are violent," he said. "There's been a pretty unfair portrayal of them as gang members, and there are quite a few (who do belong to gangs). But there are at least as many straight-edgers who go about their business quietly."

And even though his documentary was rejected by both the Telluride and Chicago film festivals, Beckstead said he's glad to have the last laugh locally. In addition to the Sundance screenings, "sXe" also won the Best Documentary Film Award from the 1998 Utah Short Film and Video Festival.

With all the attention he's gotten at Sundance, Beckstead is hoping he'll be able to finance his next project, a documentary about a retiree trailer park located near Phoenix.

The 1999 Sundance Film Festival continues through Sunday in a variety of locations in Park City; the Tower Theatre and the Loews Cineplex Trolley Square Mall Cinemas, both in Salt Lake City; Peery's Egyptian Theater in Ogden and the Sundance resort in Provo Canyon.

For information on screening times for films showing at the festival, call 1-801-328-3456. For ticket prices or information on ticket availability, call either 1-801-521-2525 or 1-435-645-4333.