With one eye on Sundance Film Festival: London which returns to Picturehouse Central this year, Paul Ridd – London Cinemas And Acquisitions Coordinator at Picturehouse – previews the festival in Utah which is in full swing.
High up in the mountains overlooking Park City, Utah is where the Picturehouse team will spend much of January, as the annual celebration of North American and international filmmaking, the Sundance Film Festival, launches its 2017 edition.
On the ground, the festival is always a hectic albeit extremely rewarding experience. Trudging in thick snow between screenings and the occasional sore bum from an icy slip is the small price paid to see a real cross-section of independent filmmaking right now.
Lucky festival audiences get to watch some of the most important films that will play across the coming cinematic year. At the 2016 festival, big hitters including Manchester By The Sea, then-bright new hope Birth Of A Nation, and the documentaries Life, Animated and Tickled exploded onto the scene before their international roll-out.
It’s also been a pleasure to see smaller curios such as Todd Solondz’s Wiener-Dog and James Schamus’s superb Indignation grow a critical life of their own in the year since they premiered here. Setting these films up nicely to find their audiences is what Sundance is all about.
The wild cards that catch the eye in this year’s line-up are the likes of experimental doc 78/52, which takes a long, hard look at the construction of the shower scene in Hitchcock’s Psycho; Beatriz At Dinner starring Salma Hayek, a new film by the director of the cult hit Chuck & Buck; and A Ghost Story, a delicate character study from Ain’t Them Bodies Saints helmer David Lowery, starring Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck.
In terms of obviously prominent titles, all eyes are currently on Luca Guadagnino’s follow-up to A Bigger Splash, Call Me By Your Name, an explicit gay love story starring Armie Hammer. Mudbound, a sweeping new historical epic from Pariah director Dee Rees, also looks promising, while Marjorie Prime, a sci-fi weepy starring Mad Men’s Jon Hamm, promises big emotions as a robot is created to help an elderly woman explore her past.
In the Docs section, a couple of sequels have real buzz. Lucy Walker continues a run of high-profile projects with her unofficial sequel to Wim Wenders’s Buena Vista Social Club, while Al Gore follows his acclaimed environmental doc with An Inconvenient Sequel. More controversial films are also bound to cause a stir. Casting JonBenet takes a potentially catastrophically bad-taste look at the real-life murder of a child model, while Nobody Speak is sure to grab headlines as the first in-depth look at the Hulk Hogan Gawker scandal.
At the cult, weirder end of the spectrum, the violent Brooklyn-set apocalypse thriller Bushwick sounds like it will really hit a pre-Trump nerve; portmanteau horror XX shines a light on female-driven stories by some of the most exciting women directors working today; and frequent Jeremy Saulnier collaborator Macon Blair – so excellent in Blue Ruin and Green Room – makes his directorial debut with the brilliantly odd-sounding I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore.
As usual there is all to play for when it comes to the festival itself. One of the joys of being at Sundance is making new discoveries and finding unheralded gems to champion. It’s comforting to know that this uniquely American, truly superb cultural experience is still thriving.
Keep an eye on the blog for further updates from Paul in Utah.
Bringing you the best of the annual festival to audiences across the pond, 2017 Sundance Film Festival: London will take place at Picturehouse Central between 1-4 June.
Want to ensure you see the best of the festival? Early bird prices for Festival and VIP Passes ends on 31 January. Full Details.