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More stars than the heavens . . .

. . . or at least more than Park City usually has

SHARE More stars than the heavens . . .

PARK CITY — Sundance: The Cannes of the West.

Sundance Film Festival organizers have been doing their best this year to place the festival's emphasis on movies rather than stars. And there's no question that they have their work cut out for them.

As with the Cannes Film Festival held each May in France — unarguably the most famous film festival in the world — the general public cares less about what's playing in Park City than who's playing in Park City.

The 2003 festival has already seen more than its share of star-related peculiarities, to wit:

The Ben & J-Lo Show. Actor Ben Affleck and his equally famous fiancee Jennifer Lopez, cruised down Park City's Main Street in an SUV, with the windows down — at least until passers-by finally recognized the two of them. (Affleck was in town over the weekend to announce the winners of the second "Project Greenlight" contest.)

They're movie buffs, not music buffs. Normally quiet and subdued Sean Penn, co-star of "It's All About Love," was nearly mobbed by autograph seekers — but his even quieter brother, songwriter and performer Michael (who was hanging out with comedian Bob Odenkirk), went virtually unnoticed.

Hey, Holly Hunter and Morgan Freeman Ain't Exactly Chopped Liver! Despite the opening-night hoopla for the movie "Levity," there seemed to be a certain level of disappointment that two of the film's stars, Billy Bob Thornton and Kirsten Dunst, were not in town. He was bedridden with bronchitis; she's working on the film "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," opposite Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet.

I Want to Be Alone. Hunter, who received the festival's Tribute to Independent Vision award, was, naturally, swamped with interview requests. But on Friday morning she was seen in a publicity suite as she adamantly begged off doing any further interviews. Had she even done any interviews yet? The festival had barely started!

Then there were the peculiar star happenings that didn't happen.

Kaufman and Friends . . . not! Troma Films producer Lloyd Kaufman, of "Toxic Avenger" infamy, staged a somewhat misleading press event in Salt Lake City Monday. A news release claimed that actors Kevin Costner and Samuel L. Jackson would appear at the Salt Lake Virgin Megastore to salute Kaufman for starting their careers. Needless to say, neither star showed. Kaufman was there, apparently impersonating the Maytag repairman.

Redford, Lies and Videotape. Contrary to popular misconception, the "Sundance Kid" was not pelted by videotapes as he had his photo taken by Associated Press on Saturday. Instead, he said that several aspiring filmmakers "nicely handed" their works to him for consideration in future festivals.

The hordes of those seeking attention even extends to the non-famous. A waitress at a local coffee stop has been wearing a T-shirt that bears the slogan: "Do you have any idea who I am?"

Park City's Main Street sidewalks have, of course, been packed with cell-phone users and stargazers, prompting some to stay away during peak hours. Sundance pundit and author Kevin Murphy ("A Year at the Movies") said he prowls Main Street in the wee hours of the morning: "It's nice out here right now. There's actually some normal people out here for a change."

E-mail: jeff@desnews.com