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Sundance Stars Defend Sexually Charged Movies

Scarlett Johansson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Don Jon's Addiction (Thomas Kloss/Sundance)(PARK CITY, Utah) -- If there’s a touchstone for this year’s Sundance Film Festival, it’s sex.

The Sutherland Institute, a conservative group in Utah, has proposed that state funding for the almost 30-year-old film festival be cut on the grounds that its content is at odds with Utah’s family values. Irking the institute: Two Mothers, about mothers who have affairs with each other’s teenage sons; Lovelace, the biopic about porn star Linda Lovelace; and Don Jon’s Addiction, a romantic comedy about a porn addict.

“What would you call a film festival airing movies that explore the lives of porn stars, adulterous relationships between mothers and their friends’ children, and teenagers competing to lose their virginity?” Derek Monson, director of public policy for Sutherland, wrote in a blog post. “Many Utahans’ values would lead them to call this ‘obscenity’ or ‘pornography,’ but to the state of Utah, evidently it is simply ‘economic activity.’”

At a press conference Thursday, Sundance founder Robert Redford said the annual film festival brings in about $80 million for the local economy. “Sometimes the narrowest mind barks the loudest, and we’ve over time come to ignore it,” he said. “It’s a free country and maybe they should look at the Constitution.”

Many of the stars of the films being debated agree. Naomi Watts, who stars in Two Mothers with Robin Wright, said what drew her to the film was not the salacious nature of her character’s relationship — though sex scenes are a big part of the movie — but the fact that the movie centers on two strong women who aren’t at each other’s throats, something you don’t see often in Hollywood.

“I was drawn to this material right away because of the complex women,” she told ABC News Now’s Popcorn With Peter Travers. “They’re still bonded and united and they forgive each other. If two women are in a movie together, they’re usually against each other. I loved that we got to explore these two women that are beautiful.”

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who directed and stars in Don Jon’s Addiction, said he used porn addiction as a vehicle to talk about intimacy. His character watches online porn because he struggles to connect with real women, namely his latest crush, played by Scarlett Johansson.

“I thought a love story with a guy who watches too much porn and a girl who watches too many romantic comedies would make a funny movie,” he said. “That’s the case in a lot of relationships. People aren’t on the same page with each other. It’s a problem. It’s no way to live life. It’s a recipe for unhappiness.”

Tony Danza, who plays Gordon-Levitt’s father in the film, said porn is why parents should want their kids to watch this movie.

“I think it’s a picture that a lot of fathers and mothers might want their kids to see,” he said. “Being the father of daughters, I worry about who’s going to be marrying my daughter? And are they trying to live up to something?”

And if morality’s an issue, Gordon-Levitt said he thinks traditional Hollywood rom-coms should be reexamined.

“If you want to talk about an immoral movie, those are the movies that are just blindly reinforcing these cliches of love at first sight, first kiss … get married and ride off together into the sunset,” he said. “It’s systematically ruining people’s lives.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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