PARK CITY — At Sundance, everything seems to be about the film. Even the day of the week most people choose as a day of rest — Sunday.

As part of the festival's Panels and Culture division, a cleverly titled two-person forum called "Film Church" is described by officials as "a rant ... a sermon ... something that needs to be said about film in America."

On this particular Sunday afternoon, the non-denominational lesson on indie cinema came from none other than established UK playwright and first-time feature filmmaker Martin McDonagh.

McDonagh's film, "In Bruges," was distinguished this year as the festival's opener. The film's cast includes stars Ralph Fiennes, Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, and tells the dark tale of two London hit men ordered to take a forced vacation in Bruges, Belgium, and how their subsequent time in exile goes awry.

During Sunday's Q&A styled panel, McDonagh stressed the importance of staying true to oneself, as well as being brutally honest with colleagues and, eventually, the audience. Even though he said he doesn't necessarily think of audience reaction at the outset.

"You've got to be true to character," the Irish playwright said. "I see myself as a writer ... always a storyteller.

"A story comes to you and you explore it. ... If it has violence, so be it," he added, referring to the twisted and psychotic tone of "In Bruges."

Joining McDonagh at the forum was festival director Geoffrey Gilmore. He asked the playwright-turned-filmmaker about how he felt personally as an artist in relation to the dark film.

"I'm not sure how much of myself is in this ... there are themes, guilt, despair," McDonagh said. "I wanted to explore my own attitude of guys with guns, have a gun film but be against it, that is, is it cool to have a gun, be a hitman?

"I personally think that's problematic, and that's what I wanted to explore," he said.

Was it difficult making the transition from writer to director? Gilmore asked.

"To begin with, yeah, but we're trying to get to the truth, and then you realize you don't have to know everything about everything," McDonagh replied, crediting the support of cast and crew. "There's much more you're in control of. ... Just surround yourself with great people."

McDonagh's first foray into filmmaking was with the short film "Six Shooter," which won the Academy Award for best live-action short film in 2006. He is a winner of two Olivier Awards for the plays "The Lieutenant of Inishmore" and "The Pillowman."


E-mail: mreece@desnews.com