Director John Michael McDonagh’s new film The Guard, starring award winning Irish actor Brendan Gleeson, has already received a rare distinction: it will open the 2011 Sundance film festival.

McDonagh's film is one of 16 features that will compete in Sundance’s World Cinema Dramatic Competition.

Written and directed by McDonagh, the film stars Gleeson as an unorthodox Irish policeman who joins forces with Don Cheadle, a by the book FBI agent, in a desperate bid to tackle an international drug-smuggling gang.

The film’s other Irish stars include Liam Cunningham (Hunger), Fionnula Flanagan (Lost), Pat Shortt (Garage) and David Wilmot (Intermission).

Director McDonagh told the press he was delighted with the selection of The Guard as the festival opener.

"I would like to thank the Sundance Film Festival programmers for giving The Guard the prestigious opening night slot for films in the International Competition which shows their commitment to the film," he said.

It's a high profile introduction for a film that seems certain to go the distance.