Sundance competitor 'Sepideh' gets iTunes release

Associated Press
This photo provided by the Sundance Institute shows Hadi, left, and mother, in the documentary film, "Sepideh," an official selection of the 2014 World Documentary Competition section of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. (AP Photo/Sundance Institute, Mohammad Reza, Jahan Panah)
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PARK CITY, Utah (AP) — An international documentary in competition at the Sundance Film Festival can already be seen throughout the United States and Canada.

Apple's iTunes made "Sepideh: Reaching for the Stars" available for rent or purchase on Tuesday, marking the first time the company has distributed a film while it is still playing at the independent film showcase.

"I'm just so thrilled that so many people get access to this story about a young Iranian girl living far away from our world," said Danish director Berit Madsen of her first documentary feature reaching North American audiences. "People who are not right here at Sundance actually can follow the festival from a distance, and get invited in the world of my character in the film 'Sepideh.'"

The film tells the story of an Iranian teenager who dreams of being an astronaut despite the limitations of her culture and gender. Madsen spent nearly five years with the young astronomer after meeting her by chance at an astronomy festival outside of Tehran.

"I was driven by curiosity," Madsen said of attending the astronomy event. "And then one dark night, I met her, under the starry sky. It's almost like a love story."

She described the film as both particular and universal: While it explores the challenges Sepideh faces in pursuit of her dreams in Iran, it's also a coming-of-age story about a girl becoming a woman.

Many films playing at Sundance can only be seen at the festival — at least until distributors decide to pick them up and make them available to wider audiences. "Sepideh" will also reach moviegoers in Australia, Slovenia and Iran, thanks to Danish distributor LevelK. The Sundance Film Festival continues through Sunday. Competition winners will be announced Saturday.

The film will also compete in Tehran's most prominent film festival, Madsen said, though scenes of a female astronaut wearing shorts inside the International Space Station and images of young Iranians dancing may be cut by censors for its screenings there.

Madsen said Sepideh's story delves into "the soul of Iran," showing the passion of its people rather than the politics that generally dominate the news.

She also thinks the story can inspire viewers everywhere.

"I hope and maybe even trust that it's going to be an inspirational film for other young people," she said. "That if you dare to take life in your own hands and have big dreams, you might go further than you would have thought of. That's a nice message to send out."

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Follow AP Entertainment Writer Sandy Cohen at www.twitter.com/APSandy

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