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Sundance London: An Introduction To The 2014 Edition

Posted on Wednesday April 23, 2014, 23:54 by Damon Wise in Words From The Wise
Sundance London: An Introduction To The 2014 Edition

Some 15 years ago, we at Empire made a terrible mistake by sharing our discovery of a wonderful Christmassy village in Utah that every January showed great independent films by terrific emerging filmmakers to enthusiastic audiences. It had been an open secret for a while before then, but sometime in the late 2000s the Sundance Film Festival simply exploded, making it not just the first appointment festival on the calendar but an event that now resounds throughout the rest of the year. Never mind its rep as the festival that discovered Quentin Tarantino, Steven Soderbergh and Kevin Smith, Sundance continues to be relevant by championing films that in recent years have launched X-Person Jennifer Lawrence, (re)discovered the elusive Sixto Rodriguez and made Benh Zeitlin a surprise Best Picture nominee for his debut Beasts Of The Southern Wild.

With Sundance London returning for its third year at London’s O2 this weekend, we thought we’d catch up with festival director John Cooper and director of programming Trevor Groth to see what the fest’s UK sibling has in store…

How is 2014’s festival looking?
John Cooper: It’s shaping up to be a great year. We’re coming off a very successful Sundance festival in Utah, so it made the process even more fun and lively. It was a great time to see what we could bring to London.
Are you more comfortable after two editions here? What have you learned?
Cooper: We’ve learned a lot from this experience. I think we’ve really come to trust the London audience to be up for anything and be a great cinephile crowd. Trevor and I do a lot of the Q&As there, so the in-theatre experience of presenting these films has been great. I don’t know if I was necessarily shocked by it, but I really liked the thirst for very American stories – those have done very well for us. Stories that are a little more out of the mainstream, about smalltown America, as well as films about the larger problems we face as a country. All of those films seem to have really interesting, lively screenings and conversations around them. So that’s something we’ve learned: to trust the audience. The other thing is music – the power of music is something we’ve continued to cultivate. I’m gonna let Trevor talk a little more about that…
Trevor Groth: From its inception, Robert Redford wanted Sundance to be a film and music festival, and it’s really great for us to officially programme that in London too. The Park City festival has always had music elements. We have the Music Café, we work with KCRW, the LA radio station, but going into London we specifically called it a film and music festival. What’s been great about that is finding those films that celebrate that notion of the power of music, and I think this year we’ve got an exceptional group – both documentaries and fiction films – that really explore that notion in a really interesting way. Everything from the political – Finding Fela, which shows how Fela Kuti used music as a tool for a political change – to a more abstract film like Frank (pictured). Frank was a real highlight in Park City for me, and to be able to host the UK premiere of that is really special. It’s about the creative process – why artists create.
Cooper:  Talking of UK premieres, I’m really excited about the UK premiere of Fruitvale Station, because it’s had such a long Sundance history. That feels really good. And there’s also the continuation  of our 30th year anniversary, with the programme we're doing with Empire – three films that tell such vivid stories of our history.
Those are Memento, Reservoir Dogs and Winter’s Bone, right? Do you have any particular memories of those three films?
Cooper: All of them. They were chosen for that reason. I was at the workshop that we do in the summer with Quentin Tarantino when he first came to Sundance. He was waiting to find out if he’d got in. He was in the parking lot yelling, “When am I gonna know???” He still has that energy that guy; he’s just really passionate about film. So I remember that, and I remember standing backstage during Winter’s Bone with Jennifer Lawrence as a very young actress, feeling the seriousness of her situation and her talent.
Groth: I remember writing the programme description for Memento. I watched it, like, THREE TIMES to try to figure out the best way of describing it without giving anything away. I appreciated the craft of storytelling more and more.
You have a good cross section from the Utah festival this year. How did you approach the programming?
Cooper: We did have our heads around this when we programmed, thinking about how comedy was such a big part of our festival this year. And high-profile actors in independent films. Even that notion of the raised quality of art in film – those elements are all in play at our festival. Comedy in particular, there’s Hits, by David Cross. Obvious Child is a film that will introduce audiences to a comedian called Jenny Slate, who’s the impetus and the centre-driver of the film. She’s so funny and so honest in her approach; she makes a great partner with the filmmaker on the story. Trevor, do you wanna talk a little about the art?
Groth: There are two films that I think are just really exquisitely made, especially on a big screen. Kumiko The Treasure Hunter and Memphis are two films that I think really expand the boundaries of cinematic storytelling. They do a lot with cinematography and composition, especially with Memphis in the way it incorporates music. They’re just beautiful films.
Any other tips?
Groth: Cooper just talked about having high-profile actors in these unconventional roles, and The Voices is a perfect example of that. You’ve got Ryan Reynolds and Anna Kendrick in this film by Marjane Satrapi, who burst on the international scene with Persepolis. This is her third feature, and I don’t think anyone going into this will have any idea what’s in store for them. It’s a wild ride, and Ryan definitely commits to it. It’s a trippy film, and he’s really fantastic in it.
Are there any advantages to Sundance London that you don’t get in Park City?
Cooper: Being under one roof, we don’t have to run around so much. [Laughs] I can spend a lot of time in the back of the theatres, tracking audiences and talking to them in the lobby. It’s really fun, and kind of reviving too.
Groth: Actually we have a new venue there at the O2 this year, called Brooklyn Bowl, which we’re gonna use as our social hub for the festival. We’re gonna have some talks there, three nights of music performances and do a little bowling with the filmmakers too.
Cooper: Trevor’s excited because he’s quiet a good bowler. I am not. It’s just a kind of therapy of failure for me.
Is it a good excuse to make the January festival last that little bit longer?
Groth: I guess, we’re just getting to the point where we’re interested in partying again.
Cooper: Yeah. What I really like is travelling with these filmmakers, having another wave of them and getting closer to them in a really fun and vibrant way. It’s a really great time for us to come to London.

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