Preview: Sundance London returns to the 02
As written for Londonist
Sundance London returns to the O2 Arena for its third year, bringing with it a handful of this past January’s Sundance Film Festival favourites, along with a mix of live music, panel discussions and a few classics to boot.
Taking place from 25-27 April, the festival is primarily a showcase for Sundance independent films and documentaries. But as AEG are organising the event, a music thread runs naturally throughout.
Beginning with London’s prolific filmmaker Michael Winterbottom and actors Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan, The Trip to Italy reunites the trio in a gastronomic spin-off from their original collaboration The Trip. The improvised film is adapted from the BBC six-part series that is now airing on BBC2, and showcases Brydon and Coogan exploring Italy’s stunning landscape and culinary delights.
Another UK (/Irish) produced film is Frank, starring Michael Fassbender as a sort-of Chris Sievey, i.e. paper maché-head-wearing musician Frank Sidebottom. Director Lenny Abrahamson douses the film with American flavour by casting Maggie Gyllenhaal as the scene-stealing synth player, and by sending the budding band members to Texas’s hipster capital for the SXSW music festival.
Further indie flicks worth checking out include 2013’s Sundance Grand Jury: Dramatic and Audience Award winner Fruitvale Station, about a 22 year-old man who was shot in the Bay Area’s transit system. It’s two years old, but still not to be missed, particularly as an official UK release date has yet to be confirmed. Sundance director alums David and Nathan Zellner bring Kumiko The Treasure Hunt to the festival, a twisted tale of a Japanese woman who travels to America to find a buried briefcase allegedly full of treasures.
Two also worth noting are last year’s Cannes Film Festival Critics Prize winner Blue Ruin, tipped to be the must-see vengeance thriller, while Obvious Child has been hailed by critics as “one of the most enjoyable films” from January’s festival line-up.
Music pops up in films like Finding Fela, a documentary detailing the development of Fela Kuti’s Afrobeat syncopations and his equally important political movements, while Memphis blends reality with fiction in a tale about musician/poet Willis Earl Beal.
Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker will head up a panel exploring British documentaries and how they are pushing the boundaries in music, biography and archive film. And on the vintage side of things, previous Sundance award-winners Memento and A Winter’s Bone will be screening.
London bands give the events a home-based feel, with south London DJ group Archive spinning tracks at the opening party, and Nigerian-born / London-based Dele Sosimi performing with his funky Afrobeat Orchestra at the Finding Fela screening.
While the schedule boasts a good assortment of Sundance’s best-of, there are a few disappointing no-shows such as Nick Cave’s highly lauded self documentary 20,000 Days on Earth that chronicles 24 hours of his day-to-day life (including driving Ray Winstone along the Brighton seafront); Gods Pocket directed by Mad Men lead John Slattery and starring the late Philip Seymour Hoffman; British produced The Green Prince that tells the story of the son of one of Hamas’s founders who becomes an Israeli informant and — most quirky of all — the well-received Iranian ‘vampire western’ A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.
Sundance’s director John Cooper looks beyond these gaps and says, “We look with great excitement to hosting the third Sundance London in April as an opportunity to once again engage with passionate and adventurous UK audiences and to introduce them to the new work of independent filmmakers.”
Buy tickets, now on sale starting at £12.50, at the Sundance London website. Special packages can also be purchased. Many films will be followed by a Question and Answer with the filmmakers. For more details, check the screening programme online.