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Every year during the Sundance Film Festival, event photographers nominate one celebrity to pose with them for a group shot. It’s a strange sort of tradition, the photographers’ way of adding levity at the tail end of the over-weeklong circuit of screenings and parties. This year’s winner was James Franco, who hopped on the other side of the red carpet to pose with shutterbugs at the premiere of his film “I Am Michael” on Thursday night. Franco, nailing the casual ski look in a pair of snow boots and a Moncler Fair Isle sweater, then obliged autograph-seekers after the 20-minute Q&A following the film, in which he plays Michael Glatze, a former gay rights activist who renounced his homosexuality to become a minister.

“I’ve played a lot of characters based on real people,” said Franco, who starred in another film that opened earlier in the fest, “True Story,” alongside Jonah Hill. “What is primary here is his experience, his beliefs and how those change. To get that down in a genuine and authentic way is the primary thing with this performance.” Added Franco, a producer on the film, “We’re not telling the story to make Michael happy. We are telling the story to tell both sides.”

Sundance newbie and first-time feature director Justin Kelly, who was hand-picked by executive producer Gus Van Sant, said, “Some people had a hard time at first picturing James as Michael, but it’s such a perfect fit. They both are very charismatic. They’re handsome. They’re really smart.”

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