Sundance London Impresses In Its Third Year At The O2

Sundance London Impresses In Its Third Year At The O2

As written for Londonist

While London prepares itself for a tranche of new film festivals (Kinoteka Polish Film Festival topping the must-see list), Londonist takes one final look at last weekend’s Sundance London.

From sold-out screenings to a profusion of A-list talent in attendance, it’s assured that the Park City-based festival wrapped its third year at the O2 with success. Even those that grumble at the mere thought of entering the North Greenwich arena seemed to find a small oasis within Cineworld, that boasted a bustling bar each of the three evenings.

For those wanting more of the O2’s usual offerings – the Gibson pop-up stage hosted indie vocalists like Natalie Shay (winner of The Mayor of London’s Big Busking contest) among twinkling lights and a haven of food and wine trucks, while the newly opened Brooklyn Bowl gave bigger acts, including London favourites Axiom and Goldheart Assembly, a space to jam.

The festival’s biggest crowds lined up for Lenny Abrahamson’s Frank, starring Domhnall Gleeson, son to Brendan, and Hackney heartthrob Michael Fassbender. The Frank Sidebottom-inspired film had the audience in wonderment — was the papier-mâché head-wearing rock star really Fassbender?

While he insisted to press he had no musical aspirations other than singing in the shower, Gleeson had different thoughts: “Michael would put on the head for rehearsals and he was brilliant — he really was Frank. What a way (for me) to go to work: ‘Goodbye, I am going to band practice with Michael.’”

Comic duo Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan spoke to a packed house after their feature film version of The Trip to Italy. Running something like a stand-up comedy session, Steve Coogan insisted they did not sleep with any of the film’s actresses and suggested their actual dinners in Italy were more in line with a scene from On Golden Pond. Rob Brydon, meanwhile, continuously quipped, “If there are no more questions, then we can all go home.”

Saturday’s schedule was packed with typical Sundance indies such as the surreal marriage drama The One I Love starring Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss and pregnant comedy The Obvious Child with ex-Saturday Night Live regular Jenny Slate. But the stand-outs were the morning short film programme that included a wealth of talented British filmmakers, along with Charmed TV actress Rose McGowan’s unsettling directorial debut set in the 1950s deep south.

Persepolis director Marjane Satrapi’s insanely wacky and twisted The Voices starring Gemma Arterton and baby-faced Ryan Reynolds also wowed audiences. The London-based actress said it was “refreshing to work on a film that didn’t involve a woman kicking a guy, then running away and managing to stay alive.” Reynolds furthered this by saying, “Movies like this are blacklisted in Hollywood, so in a way there’s no risk. Worst case no one sees it. But this is genre-bending in every way, shape and form.”

Sunday concluded with tears and inspiration. Beginning with the panel When Music, Art and Documentary Collide, Jarvis Cocker shed light on how they brought 52 live musicians on stage for the premiere of his archive doc The Big Melt, and Edwyn Collins candidly discussed his road to recovery following his stroke in 2005 (documented in the film The Possibilities are Endless). Together, the Scottish rocker and his wife brought a torrent of sniffs from the cinema.

If tissue boxes had been on offer, Oakland native Ryan Coogler would have had the edge-up on Edwyn for his film Fruitvale Station. Reminiscent of London’s existing case with Mark Duggan, Coogler looks at the final day of 22-year-old Oscar Grant’s life before he was shot and killed by police on New Year’s Eve 2009.

Giving a nod to his favourite British filmmaker — Paul Greengrass — Coogler wanted to make a film that captured what it’s like to spend 24 hours with someone, where you “just hang with the dude”, yet where there is a continuing sense of underlying tension. “He wasn’t just a guy that got shot,” said Coogler. “He faced ordinary issues like money, like looking after his daughter, like getting a present for his mom’s birthday.”

Luckily the fest ended on a high note (literally) with the documentary Finding Fela, showcasing Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s  life that was doused in women, marijuana and, most notably, the creation of the Afrobeat movement and his fight against Nigerian dictatorship.

Immediately following the screening, Dele Sosimi and his Afrobeat Orchestra performed in the Brooklyn Bowl where filmmakers, festival heads, bubbly volunteers and ticket-goers grooved until the late hours, or at least until public transportation allowed.

It’s evident cinephiles are still at the heart of this festival, yet strangely AEG’s influence felt welcome. Without batting an eyelid, we’re looking forward to seeing next year’s slate. Perhaps a few events in the centre of London?