Its highly-regarded American version is responsible for launching independent films, directors and actors into the big time, and later this month Sundance Film Festival returns to Greenwich for the third time.
Sundance London again takes up residence at the O2 from April 25 to 27, with a programme of film, music and panel discussions.
Speaking to News Shopper, Sundance’s director of programming Trevor Groth said: “What I’m most excited about is to see the evolution of it.
“It has been very rewarding in the first two years to bring these American independents and documentaries and musicians to Sundance London and to feel the reaction and engagement from the audience. It has been building.”
London is an important destination, Trevor said, with only a certain number of people able to make it to Sundance’s Park City festival in Utah every January.
He said: “There is an audience for these films but I still think they can use all the help they can get outside the US to get the kind of attention I think they deserve.
“We have had a long history and relationship with the UK film industry. We have premiered some great British films over the years. It felt to us like a natural area to bring the film we showcase in Park City outside the US borders.”
This year, Sundance London will show 21 feature films and 18 shorts and diversity is key for Trevor when choosing a programme.
He said: “We always wanted it to be a cross section of different types of films. You look for a balance of documentaries and narrative films, you want comedies and dramas and, since it is a film and music festival, we look specifically for films that have a music connection too.”
Over the years, Sundance has been responsible for raising the profile of such hits as The Blair Witch Project, American Psycho, Little Miss Sunshine, Supersize Me and Saw, and its heritage is recognised with the screening of a trio of its previous hits: Memento, which brought the world Christopher Nolan; Reservoir Dogs, Quentin Tarantino’s first movie; and Winter’s Bone, which introduced us to actress Jennifer Lawrence.
In the lucky position of seeing many of the films before anyone else, Trevor feels a strong link to some of his favourites.
He said: “Sometimes the ones that tend to stick as a favourite are the ones that I found in the submissions before anyone else had seen it.
“One of the first ones that comes to mind is the film Pi by Darren Aronofsky.
“It was submitted on a VHS tape.
“I had actually met him briefly at a party and he said ‘I’m making this little black and white film in my apartment on 16mm’.
“He sent it to me, I put it in and it blew me away. It was not what I was expecting.
“It really just took me on such an amazing ride.”
“Napoleon Dynamite, which we’re coming up on the 10th anniversary of, was a film that again I knew nothing about. I saw the title and I thought that’s a funny title.
“Right from the opening scene, there’s a pan of this small town in Idaho called Preston.
“I had family there so I instantly recognised the barren vista and was like ‘woah, where’s this film going to go?’
“It was so funny and such a smart look at that small town life that it was really a highlight of my many years programming the festival.
“Talk about a breakout hit commercially. If anyone would have bet that this tiny little film out of Preston, Idaho, made by this mormon guy from Utah, would reach the audience that it did, you would have said they were crazy.
“The beauty of film is the way they can connect. I do think good stories are universal.”
WOMEN IN CHARGE
Women take centre stage at Sundance this year, Trevor said, with strong female characters and directors in the selections. He singled out two films in particular.
Little Accidents. Picture by Rachel Morrison.
Written and directed by Sarah Colangelo, it stars Elizabeth Banks. Trevor said: “She is a woman in a small town and there’s a mining accident and you see the ripple effect of how it takes over these people’s lives. She gives an amazing performance.”
Jenny Slate in Obvious Child. Picture by Chris Teague
A comedy, written and directed by Gillian Robespierre, Trevor thinks it will raise the profile of its star, comedian Jenny Slate.
He said: “It is one of the most sharply observed comedies about some heavy issues but also it’s a romantic comedy for a new age. It’s so fresh and so funny.”
BEST OF BRITISH
UK film has had a big influence at Sundance’s Utah festivals for years, so it is only right it gets a spotlight in London. Among the Brit offerings are the Jon Ronson-penned Frank and The Trip to Italy.
Author of The Psychopath Test and The Men Who Stare at Goats, Jon Ronson, has written a fictionalised tale of when he somehow wound up touring with the eccentric Frank Sidebottom’s band. It’s directed by Lenny Abrahamson and stars Maggie Gyllenhaal and, inside a giant papier mache head, Michael Fassbender.
Trevor said: “It’s such a wonderfully strange film and ultimately is exploring the reasons why musicians and artists create.
“It is so relatable to so many of the other films we show at the festival.
“It is Michael Fassbender as people have never seen him before.
“It is such a quirky film but it is so smart and so funny and so accessible. People are going to be really charmed in so many ways by this film.”
The Trip to Italy
Michael Winterbottom directs Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as they return as versions of themselves touring Italy to write restaurant reviews.
Trevor said: “I was a huge fan of The Trip and the work that Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon do together.
“Their chemistry is something to behold. You take that and you put it in the beautiful Italian locations and the food they’re eating, it is so sensual and so funny and so fun for us to be able to show it.”
Sundance London is at the O2 in Greenwich from April 25 to 27. Go to sundance-london.com