If you’ve ever sat there in the middle of the summer despairing at the latest sub-par blockbuster that looks exactly like the previous five, uses the same plot and features indistinguishably attractive (and wooden) actors, the Sundance film festival is the antidote to this malaise, proof that America still produces a wide range of daring and brilliant films.
But for all us Brits that might have found a trip to Utah to be a little bit of a stretch, Robert Redford has kindly taken the show to us. Now in its third year, Sundance London is fast becoming a highlight of the cinematic year in the UK. Housed in the O2 in London, it features a choice selection of the very best efforts to grace its larger parent festival, a combination of feature films, documentaries, shorts, musical extravaganzas and fascinating talks.
Over the next few days I’ll be covering as many films as I can possibly manage to fit into the day, and then some more, but here’s a little taster of what’s to come – and what I’m most looking forward to.
Fruitvale Station (Sat 26th – 6:00pm/Sun 27th 2:45pm)
It’s been a long time getting here, first showing at Sundance and Cannes in 2013, but Ryan Coogler’s debut feature has finally arrived in the UK. Picking up rave reviews wherever it goes, it follows the life of 22 year old Oscar Grant III on the last day of his life before being fatally shot by the local police.
Frank (Fri 25th – 6:30pm/Sun 27th – 11:45am)
Offbeat comedies can sometimes be a miserable affair, too caught up in their own desire to be “wacky”. Frank avoids all the pitfalls besetting lesser films to tell the delightfully weird tale of a band of eccentric pop musicians led by the papier-mâché head wearing Frank (Michael Fassbender). It’s weird, unsettling, very funny and full of beautifully niche music.
Hits (Sat 26th – 8:30pm/Sun 27th – 5:45pm)
Fame in the internet age is a fickle and often baseless thing. In Hits, municipal worker Dave finds himself something of an internet sensation when his city hall rants end up going viral. It’s written and directed by David Cross, perhaps best known to UK audiences as Tobias from Arrested Development, so settle in for what promises to be a wry and witty experience.
Blue Ruin (Fri 25th – 9:15pm/Sun 27th – 12:15pm)
If you’re looking for something a little darker, make sure to check out Blue Ruin. When a vagrant receives terrible news, he sets out to commit a horrific act of revenge. Twisted humour and a series of unexpected moments combine to create a film wallowing in almost unbearable levels of tension.
The Trip to Italy (Fri 25th – 9:30pm)
Ok, so Michael Winterbottom’s follow-up to The Trip, the wonderful comedy that saw Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon head off to review restaurants in the north of England, is currently showing in its TV form on BBC, but if you fancy the condensed cinematic version, Sundance is the place to be. This time, our intrepid heroes have decamped to Italy for picture book surroundings and a barrage of impersonation-offs. Expect laughs. Expect a lot of them.
If that hasn’t whetted your appetite, I don’t know what will. Check back here for the latest over the next few days but what you should really do is get down to the O2 in London and join in yourself. And if you’re there, why not say hi because there’s no other place I’ll be this weekend.