US indie film on show as Sundance rises in the UK
It’s known as the champion of independent cinema and has helped launch films such as Reservoir Dogs and The Blair Witch Project.
But now, for the first time, the Sundance Film Festival is leaving the American state of Utah – and coming to Britain. And today the festival was opened by its president and founder, Robert Redford.
I went along to the O2 in London to meet Redford. He told me, “Because the festival has grown over the years to such an extent that it’s bulging at the seams in Utah, it would suggest it’s time for us to think about moving at least some part of that festival onto some other countries. This seemed like a wonderful place to come to because of the rich cultural history that Great Britain has.”
Over the next four days Sundance will showcase 14 narrative and documentary feature films at the O2. All of them are independent and together represent a diversity of perspectives – just the kind of diversity Sundance was set up to reflect. So the programme includes the drama 2 Days in New York, the sequel to 2 Days in Paris. And the documentary Finding North, which tells the human stories behind America’s hunger crisis.
But many people in the film industry here in the UK have noticed that there are no British films in the main Sundance programme. Which might seem odd in this year of increased international focus on British cultural identity and activity.
And some people are asking if the enterprise has been conceived mainly as a means of boosting the Sundance brand – in the face of mounting competition from newer film festivals, particularly American ones such as South by Southwest and Robert De Niro’s Tribeca. Robert Redford insists he isn’t threatened by the competition, pointing out that his festival is the only one that shows exclusively independent films – and not a mixture of independent and mainstream cinema.
And he defends the London programme – because the main Sundance festival showcases films from around the world. “We opened our first festival with Four Weddings and a Funeral. So we’ve exhibited films from Great Britain for a long long time – since our beginning. So it seemed right that we’d come here with our films, which are strictly American.”
But the festival’s also raising eyebrows because its programme of liberal, quirky films will be playing in a multiplex at the O2 – a venue for pop concerts with a shopping centre and chain restaurants. On one hand an uneasy fit. But on the other, possibly the perfect strategy to bring independent cinema to a whole new audience. Which is just what Sundance was set up to do.