London hosts own leg of the Sundance Film Festival for the 3rd year running

The Sundance London Festival, which celebrates the best of independent films, documentaries and shorts that were first shown at the famous American festival of the same name, took place for the third time recently at the O2 Arena in Greenwich. Held over a 3-day weekend in April, visitors were greeted with a selection of films, concerts, panel discussions and special events that were all held at various venues across the indoor arena. The director of the Sundance Film Festival; John Cooper welcomed this year’s festival as ‘an opportunity to once again engage with passionate and enthusiastic UK audiences and to introduce them to the new work of independent filmmakers’.

Some of the film highlights this year included Frank; an off-beat comedy drama starring Michael Fassbender and Maggie Gyllenhaal, Blue Ruin; a dark thriller reminiscent of the best work of the Coen Brothers and Finding Fela; Alex Gibney’s latest documentary about the life and times of Africa’s legendary musician and founder of the Afro-beat movement, Fela Kuti.


Concerts were held at the Brooklyn Bowl and some of these were free-to-attend events. Acts who played over the weekend included Archive, Scott Matthews and The Dele Sosimi Afrobeat orchestra, led by the keyboard player for Nigerian Afro-beat creator, Fela Kuti and his band Egypt 80.


Another attraction of this short festival was a series of panel discussions that took place with titles such as “the art of film music”, “how to find your story”, which explored the often bumpy ride that it takes to realise a dream of getting a film made, and “hybrid vigour: when music, art and documentary collide”. One of the panelists on the “hybrid vigour” debate was Jarvis Cocker; solo artist and lead-singer of the Sheffield-based band, Pulp. This event looked at ways in which British documentaries are pushing the boundaries within the genres of music, biography and archive-film and how these genres can all successfully combine together. One of the best examples of this is an excellent new documentary by Florian Habicht about Cocker’s own band entitled; Pulp: A film about life, death and supermarkets. As well as showcasing the music of the band, the director puts the city of Sheffield at the fore-front by unveiling the deep affection its inhabitants have for Pulp, by the use of interview footage taken on streets and market stalls. Incidentally, this documentary has been chosen as the opening film for the annual Sheffield Documentary Festival being held in June.


At this year’s Sundance London festival, there were plenty of appearances from directors, actors and producers who were there to present their films and some also participated in Q&A sessions after screenings. This brought forward a more interactive feel to the festival and some of the big names who attended included Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon for a 108-minute film edit of their BBC2 comedy series; The Trip to Italy, Ryan Reynolds for his quirky new feature; The Voices and comedy legend David Cross for his directorial debut; Hits. Additionally, a film quiz was held at the Brooklyn Bowl which was open to all members of the public and great prizes were up for grabs including tickets to some of this summer’s music festivals at Hyde Park.


Although Sundance London offers a relatively small selection of films from the full programme of the American festival, it does provide a strong insight into the quality of films screened at Sundance and the work that the Institute continues to do.
Since 1981, the Sundance Institute has evolved to become an internationally-recognized non-profit organization that actively advances the work of risk-taking storytellers worldwide. Originally founded by Robert Redford, it continues to provide a space for independent artists to explore their stories free from commercial and political pressures.

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Sundance Festival, there was a special series of screenings for films first discovered there, that have since become modern classics. This film strand was entitled “from the collection” and visitors were given another opportunity to experience gems such as Reservoir Dogs, Winter’s Bone and Memento on the big screen. With such a great track record for promoting emerging talent, including its recent Oscar success with Beasts of the Southern Wild, it would be no surprise to see Sundance keep churning out more future classics and the Sundance London Festival is clearly a welcome addition to an ever burgeoning UK film calendar.