Now that the dust has settled on a tightly packed weekend of film, how did Sundance London 2014 rate? On the whole, pretty highly. This year’s selection might only occasionally have scaled the highest peaks, but it was of a consistently decent standard with only a couple of dips. So what worked, what didn’t and what was the best independent film had to offer?
It would be doing a great disservice to the countless volunteers not to mention their impact. Particularly in the face of some trying problems (see below), they were polite and enthusiastic when being bombarded by questions and complaints. They were a key part of the successful atmosphere that engulfed the festival.
The rapport between the filmmakers was also a delight to watch. This was no smash and grab red carpet glamour event where they turn up for the briefest possible time before dashing back to the hotel. Not only did they all engage openly in Q&A’s, it was great to see directors turning up in the audience to watch each other’s films. David Cross in particular popped up in three consecutive films I was in asking questions in two of the Q&A’s.
If the volunteers were good, the organisation was found wanting on occasion. Opening night in particular saw scores of people unable to pick up their tickets because the queues at the O2 box office appeared to be never-ending. Nothing could be done to help them and some of the Friday night films were half empty as a result.
The ridiculous booking fee added to tickets also took the biscuit. Adding over £4 on just for box office collection really overstepped the mark. Especially as it then turned out you couldn’t get to the actual box office that had cost so much to have to collect from in the first place.
The Top 3
Now onto the important question though. What were the best films on offer this year? In reverse order, here are the top 3:
A biopic of cult musician and comedian Frank Sidebottom seemed a project fraught with danger. Credit to all involved that the end result is such a triumph then. By ignoring a blow-by-blow account of his life and instead telling the story of a unique musical visionary caught by an inability to marry free-flowing creative genius with commercial success, Frank perfectly captures the essence of his life. Universally strong performances, superb music and a number of amusingly bizarre moments combine to brilliant effect.
2. The One I Love
This one is going to be a nightmare to market. It starts off conventionally with Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass’ married couple heading up to a postcard retreat to try and salvage their marriage. Nicely drawn moments of relationship strife develop before everything goes haywire. It turns out that the guest house is not quite what anyone expected. Walking a fine line between confusion, humour and creepiness, The One I Love is continually surprising and always interesting. High concept done right.
1. Fruitvale Station
It’s taken a long time for Fruitvale to arrive in the UK. Ryan Coogler’s debut feature has been lavished with praise everywhere it’s gone since the start of 2013 and for good reason. Exploring the final day in the life of Oscar Grant, a young man shot dead by the police in San Francisco on New Year’s Day 2009, it’s emotionally powerful and deeply visceral viewing. The one true classic to emerge from Sundance London 2014, make sure you catch it.