I recently attended the first ever Sundance London (you can read my Movie Farm article on the festival here). Out of the fourteen films that were screened, I saw ten - here are my quick capsule reviews of the films I saw, along with some photos I took of the O2 during the festival.
(Lots of women at Sundance this year - I guess that's the answer to the Cannes question; they're not in Competition in France because half of them are in the US making indie flicks - which Cannes doesn't really cater for).
An Oversimplification of Her Beauty (Terence Nance)
A short film extended into a feature length documentary (with some cool animation) in the form of a deep and meticulous self-examination. Nance explores his own romantic relationships (one in particular) in an experimental, fragmentary, and slightly pretentious way. A bit heavy-going, but quite intriguing - almost stream-of-consciousness cinema.
Finding North (Kristi Jacobson, Lori Silverbush)
Revealing documentary about the issue of hunger/the poverty line in the USA (the world's richest country). Considering the sheer amount of cheap food there is in America, it seems impossible to believe that there are millions of people living there who don't have enough to eat. This documentary examines the problems inherent in the US social system in detail - interesting stuff, and well made.
The Queen of Versailles (Lauren Greenfield)
The was the opener for the Sundance Festival in Utah earlier this year (Greenfield also won the best director award). Gripping doc about billionaire couple Jackie and David Siegel, who attempt to build a 90,000 square foot mansion in the style of the palace of Versailles, only to fall foul of the recession. A lot of the appeal of this film is just the opportunity to gawk at these super-rich weirdos, but beneath that is an undercurrent of doom concerning the current financial crisis.
Safety Not Guaranteed (Colin Trevollow)
This was probably the best dramatic film I saw at the festival (although For Ellen was hard on its heels). Three journalists track down a man who placed a classfied ad for people to go time-travelling with him (based on a real advert, would you believe!). A charming, heartwarming comedy which is also delightfully deadpan, with a perfectly executed denouement. Will leave you grinning for hours, if not days.
Nobody Walks (Ry Russo-Young)
A family takes a young female filmmaker into their home, only for her to inadvertantly become a spanner in the works. Honestly, I was quite bored by this film - it's clearly supposed to be a stark portrait of human interaction, as well the East Coast US lifestyle, but it doesn't have much depth in either characters or plot, nor is it that interesting visually - the use of sound is pretty good (one of the characters is a sound/foley artist), but that's about it.
For Ellen (So Yong Kim)
Paul Dano stars as a struggling musician on a road trip to fight his estranged wife for custody of their daughter (whom he has never met). The film concentrates almost solely on Dano's character, making him the focal point through which the audience experiences the story. He is a truly great actor, with more than enough skill to carry this off. Sparse, subtle, and moving - this one was brilliant.
The House I Live In (Eugene Jarecki)
Jarecki explores the devastating effect that the so-called 'war on drugs' has had on the US in this important and fascinating doc. The startling facts are set out clearly and uncompromisingly, illustrating how the US judicial system has in fact worsened America's drug problems to an insane degree.
Chasing Ice (Jeff Orlowski)
This was the best of the documentaries I saw (and it had some pretty stiff competition). The film follows photographer James Balog and his project Extreme Ice Survey, which has documented the melting of glaciers through time-lapse photography. The images are amazing, and so is the science - anyone who is still sceptical about climate change will have to strongly resist the urge to take themselves out of the gene pool after seeing this film.
LUV (Sheldon Candis)
A simple, emotional film about a young boy's relationship with his criminal uncle. This film promised more than it could deliver - unlike For Ellen, which causes the viewer to connect emotionally through charged and understated scenes, LUV takes your emotional response for granted, and so doesn't bother to truly get you involved. Quite a ripping story, with some good performances, but nothing special.
Filly Brown (Youssef Delara, Michael D. Olmos)
Female LA street poet Majo gets into trouble when she starts making it big in the music world. Some good performances in this one too, especially from Gina Rodriguez (who learned to rap for the film), but again the emotional side of it was out of whack. It was pretty mawkish throughout, and by the end it was a sticky puddle of soppiness on the floor of the Sky Superscreen.
To finish off, here are my own personal KINOLENS Jury Awards:
Best Overall Film: For Ellen, Chasing Ice (Tie)
Best Documentary: Chasing Ice
Best Dramatic film: Safety Not Guaranteed
Best Performance: Paul Dano
Best Director: Eugene Jarecki