Variety talks to Sundance toppers John Cooper and Trevor Groth about their London program
LONDON — As the lineup for the third Sundance London film and music festival is unveiled, Variety talks to John Cooper, director of the Sundance Film Festival, and Trevor Groth, Sundance’s director of programming, about the selection (see below for full lineup).
Sundance London, which runs April 25-27, will include 21 feature films and 18 shorts across five sections, as well as live performances by a number of musical acts, which will be linked to movies screening at the fest, and a series of panel discussions.
Cooper says that when Robert Redford and the Sundance team set up the London event, one of their motivations was to give added exposure to U.S. indie films in the international market.
“We realized that the international life of an American independent film was crucial to its success,” he says. The London fest’s creation was partly driven by an impulse to do “anything we could to help films go outside of our borders,” he adds.
Among the American indie films that played first at the Sundance Film Festival, which takes place in January in Park City, Utah, and now have their international premieres in London are “Little Accidents,” “They Came Together,” “The Voices,” “Hits,” “Dinosaur 13,” “Drunktown’s Finest” and “The Case Against 8,” which won the directing award for a U.S. documentary. “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter,” which won the U. S. dramatic special jury award for musical score, has its U.K. premiere in London.
“It was a very successful Sundance for us, so that made for a very good opportunity, with many films that could play at London. So there was a great selection,” Cooper says.
“We looked for films that represent American independent film but also that sense of discovery that Sundance is known for,” he says.
“We really try to have a range of films to bring that will excite the audience, and we learned — this being our third edition — that the audiences in London are really up for this,” he says, citing the mix of docus, artistic films, very serious narrative movies, and comedies. “We were trying to get the full range of what the filmmakers in America are making right now.”
Another impulse behind the birth of the London festival was to link the worlds of movies and music.
“One of the through-lines that we have done throughout the three years of doing Sundance London is that in its conception Redford wanted it to be a film and music festival. He always loved that cross-section of the arts, and so we’ve always looked for films that have music ties,” Groth says.
“What is nice about them is that they aren’t just about a band or about a kind of music. It is about the cultural impact and the personal impact that music can have on lives.”
Among the musicians to play live at the London event are Archive, whose performance is tied to a screening of “Axiom,” and Dele Sosimi, one of the original members of Fela Kuti’s band, alongside an Afrobeat orchestra, which is linked to the screening of Alex Gibney’s film “Finding Fela.”
Other films with a musical theme include “Lambert & Stamp,” about the managers of The Who, “Memphis,” about a singer wandering through the city, and “Under the Electric Sky,” about the Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas, the largest music festival in the U.S.
The desire to connect filmmakers with musicians is one that is close to Redford’s heart.
Cooper says: “It’s an idea that Redford has been very involved in, the whole notion of mixing artists together for a greater impact, and it has been growing in the minds of American filmmakers.”
He adds: “It is in the independent zeitgeist to use music in more interesting ways than (indie filmmakers) did even 10 years ago.”
One of the panels, “The Art of Film Music,” discusses composing music for indie films. Speakers are Alex Heffes (“The Last King of Scotland,” “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom”) and Javier Navarrete (“Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Byzantium”). It is moderated by the director of the Sundance Film Music Program, Peter Golub (“Frozen River,” “The Laramie Project”).
Pulp lead singer Jarvis Cocker will join another music-themed debate, titled “Hybrid Vigor: When Music, Art and Documentary Collide.”
The festival’s venue, AEG Europe’s O2 entertainment complex in East London, offers the ideal site to accommodate the festival’s mix of live music performances, film screenings and panel discussions, and the challenges that come with staging such an event, Groth says.
The success of the London event has encouraged Sundance to expand the selection of music-themed events in Park City and at its other events, such as its Los Angeles festival, Next Weekend, Groth adds.
Whether the London model is applied elsewhere in the world has yet to be determined.
“We are still very open to other cities and other possibilities,” Cooper says.
Among the new events in London this year is a short-film workshop. “The shorts programs that we have shown at Sundance London in the last couple of years have been some of the hottest tickets that we’ve had,” Groth says. “We believe there is a real interest in the short form, and the interest in learning about the craft of filmmaking in the panels that we’ve done has been really high.”
One of the panel discussions this year is “Guts to Glory: How Do You Find Your Story?,” which is joined by Ryan Coogler, director/screenwriter of “Fruitvale Station,” and Marjane Satrapi, director of “The Voices.”
FEATURE FILM PROGRAM
American independent narrative and documentary films that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, U.S.
“Blue Ruin” (Director and screenwriter: Jeremy Saulnier) — A mysterious outsider’s quiet life turns upside down when he returns to his childhood home to carry out an act of vengeance. Proving to be an amateur assassin, he winds up in a brutal fight to protect his estranged family. Cast: Macon Blair, Amy Hargreaves, Sidne Anderson, Devin Ratray, Kevin Kolack.
“The Case Against 8″ (Directors: Ben Cotner, Ryan White) — A behind-the-scenes look inside the case to overturn California’s ban on same-sex marriage. Shot over five years, the film follows the unlikely team that took the first federal marriage equality lawsuit to the U.S. Supreme Court. (Documentary). Winner of the Directing Award: U.S. Documentary at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. International Premiere.
“Dinosaur 13″ (Director: Todd Miller) — An unprecedented saga in human history unfurls in this true tale of the world’s greatest dinosaur discovery and the ensuing battle to possess a 65-million-year-old treasure. (Documentary). International Premiere.
“Drunktown’s Finest” (Director and screenwriter: Sydney Freeland) — Three young Native Americans—a rebellious father-to-be, a devout Christian woman, and a promiscuous transsexual — come of age on an Indian reservation. Cast: Jeremiah Bitsui, Carmen Moore, Morningstar Angeline, Kiowa Gordon, Shauna Baker, Elizabeth Francis. International Premiere.
“Finding Fela” (Director: Alex Gibney) — Fela Anikulapo Kuti created the musical movement Afrobeat and used it as a political forum to oppose the Nigerian dictatorship and advocate for the rights of oppressed people. This is the story of his life, music, and political importance, from the award-winning director of “Taxi to the Dark Side” and “We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks.” (Documentary)
In conjunction with the film, the festival will host a free performance from Dele Sosimi, one of the original members of Fela Kuti’s band, alongside an Afrobeat orchestra on April 27.
“Fruitvale Station” (Director and screenwriter: Ryan Coogler) — The true story of Oscar, a 22-year-old Bay Area resident who crosses paths with friends, enemies, family and strangers on the last day of 2008. Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Octavia Spencer, Melonie Diaz, Ahna O’Reilly, Kevin Durand, Chad Michael Murray. Winner of the U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic, and the Audience Award: U.S. Dramatic at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. U.K. Premiere.
“Hits” (Director and screenwriter: David Cross) — A small town in upstate New York is populated by people who wallow in unrealistic expectations. There, fame, delusion, earnestness and recklessness meet, shake hands and disrupt the lives around them. Hits is the directorial debut of writer, comedian and actor David Cross, best known for his work on “Arrested Development.” Cast: Michael Cera, Meredith Hagner, Matt Walsh, James Adomian, Jake Cherry, Derek Waters, Wyatt Cenac, Jason Ritter. International Premiere.
“Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter” (Director: David Zellner, Screenwriters: David Zellner, Nathan Zellner) — A lonely Japanese woman becomes convinced that a satchel of money buried in a fictional film is, in fact, real. Abandoning her structured life in Tokyo for the frozen Minnesota wilderness, she embarks on an impulsive quest to search for her lost mythical fortune. Cast: Rinko Kikuchi. Winner of a U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Musical Score at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. U.K. Premiere.
“Lambert & Stamp” (Director: James D. Cooper) — In this crazy, chaotic gospel of chance, aspiring filmmakers Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert set out to search for a subject for their underground movie, leading them to discover, mentor, and manage the iconic band known as The Who and create rock ‘n’ roll history. (Documentary) U.K. Premiere.
“Little Accidents” (Director and screenwriter: Sara Colangelo) — In a small American coal town living in the shadow of a recent mining accident, the disappearance of a teenage boy draws three people together — a surviving miner, the lonely wife of a mine executive, and a local boy — in a web of secrets. Cast: Elizabeth Banks, Boyd Holbrook, Chloe Sevigny, Jacob Lofland, Josh Lucas. International Premiere.
“Memphis” (Director and screenwriter: Tim Sutton) — A strange singer drifts through the mythic city of Memphis, surrounded by beautiful women, legendary musicians, a stone-cold hustler, a righteous preacher, and a wolf pack of kids. Under a canopy of ancient oak trees and burning spirituality, his doomed journey breaks from conformity and reaches out for glory. Cast: Willis Earl Beal, Lopaka Thomas, Constance Brantley, Devonte Hull, John Gary Williams, Larry Dodson. International Premiere.
“Obvious Child” (Director and screenwriter: Gillian Robespierre) — An honest comedy about what happens when Brooklyn comedian Donna Stern gets dumped, fired, and pregnant, just in time for the worst/best Valentine’s Day of her life. Cast: Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffmann, David Cross, Gabe Liedman, Richard Kind. U.K. Premiere.
“They Came Together” (Director: David Wain, Screenwriters: Michael Showalter, David Wain) — This subversion/spoof/deconstruction of the romantic comedy genre has a vaguely, but not overtly, Jewish leading man, a klutzy, but adorable, leading lady, and New York City itself as another character in the story. “They Came Together” reunites director Wain with many of the stars from his 2001 cult teen classic, “Wet Hot American Summer.” Cast: Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd, Ed Helms, Cobie Smulders, Max Greenfield, Christopher Meloni. International Premiere.
“Under the Electric Sky (EDC 2013)” (Directors: Dan Cutforth, Jane Lipsitz) — This 3-D film chronicles the love, community, and life of festivalgoers during Electric Daisy Carnival Las Vegas, the largest music festival in the U.S. Behind-the-scenes footage and exclusive interviews with Insomniac’s Pasquale Rotella reveal the magic that makes this three-night, 345,000-person event a global phenomenon. (Documentary). U.K. Premiere.
“The Voices” (Director: Marjane Satrapi, Screenwriter: Michael R. Perry) — This genre-bending tale centers around Jerry Hickfang, a lovable but disturbed factory worker who yearns for attention from a woman in accounting. When their relationship takes a sudden, murderous turn, Jerry’s evil talking cat and benevolent talking dog lead him down a fantastical path where he ultimately finds salvation. Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick, Jacki Weaver. International Premiere.
SPECIAL EVENT PROGRAM
On-screen stories complemented by extraordinary off-screen experiences.
“Axiom” (Director: NYSU, Screenwriters: David Gambero & NYSU) — Axiom is an island in the middle of nowhere, steep cliffs on all sides. On the island there is an underground city dominated by a bell, the bell decides the fate of the city’s inhabitants. Cast: Jonathan David Mellor, Santi Senso, Cova de Alfonso, Silvia Vacas, Pablo Menasanch, Julia Llerena. World Premiere.
Includes a live performance and DJ set by South London collective Archive, who will also participate in a post-screening Q&A.
Drawing on the Sundance Film Festival’s rich legacy of premiering outstanding films produced in the U.K. – including “An Education,” “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “In Bruges,” “In the Loop,” “Kinky Boots,” and “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels” – this showcase presents two U.K. films that premiered in Park City, Utah, this year.
“Frank” (Director: Lenny Abrahamson, Screenwriters: Jon Ronson, Peter Straughan) — “Frank” is an offbeat comedy about a wannabe musician who finds himself out of his depth when he joins an avant garde rock band led by the enigmatic Frank — a musical genius who hides himself inside a large fake head. Cast: Michael Fassbender, Domhnall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Scoot McNairy. U.K. Premiere.
“The Trip to Italy” (Director: Michael Winterbottom, Screenwriters: Rob Brydon, Steve Coogan, Michael Winterbottom) — Michael Winterbottom reunites Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon for more delectable food, some sharp-elbowed rivalry, and plenty of laughs. Cast: Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon. European Premiere.
FROM THE COLLECTION
A selection of notable films discovered by the Sundance Film Festival and presented at Sundance London in association with Empire Magazine. These films are included in the Sundance Collection at UCLA, which preserves independent documentaries, narratives and short films supported by Sundance Institute.
“Memento” (Director: Christopher Nolan, Screenwriters: Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan) — A man with a relentless desire to revenge his wife’s brutal murder faces a rare, untreatable form of memory loss that hinders his path. “Memento” is a complex puzzle in which the outcome is known and the enjoyment comes from piecing together the steps leading up to it. Cast: Harriet Sansom Harris, Mark Boone Junior, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano, Guy Pearce, Stephen Tobolowsky. Winner of the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival.
“Reservoir Dogs” (Director and screenwriter: Quentin Tarantino) — Six unacquainted professional criminals are brought together by a veteran thief to execute an elaborate diamond robbery that goes awry. Confused and panicked by their narrow escape, the four surviving jewel thieves regroup at the planned rendezvous spot, where they question trustworthiness and face harrowing confrontations and fierce dissension. Cast: Steve Buscemi, Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen, Chris Penn, Tim Roth, Lawrence Tierney. Premiered at the 1992 Sundance Film Festival.
“Winter’s Bone” (Director: Debra Granik, Screenwriters: Debra Granik, Anne Rosellini) — When a teenage girl’s crystal-meth-making father skips bail and goes missing, she and her young siblings and disabled mother face losing their home. In a heroic quest, the girl traverses the county to confront her kin, break their silent collusion, and bring her father home. Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Dale Dickey, Garret Dillahunt, Kevin Breznahan. Winner of the U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.
Discussions with renowned guest speakers providing insights into the filmmaking process.
THE ART OF FILM MUSIC
What goes into a successful film score? What is the ideal way for directors and composers to interact? What are some of the many roles music can play in the filmmaking process? How can music enhance (or ruin) a movie? These and other questions related to the intersection of film and music will be discussed by two leading practitioners: Alex Heffes (“The Last King of Scotland,” “Red Riding Hood,” “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom”) and Javier Navarrete (“Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Wrath of the Titans,” “The Sea,” “Byzantium”), moderated by the director of the Sundance Film Music Program, Peter Golub (“Frozen River,” “The Great Debaters,” “The Laramie Project”). Presented in association with British Academy of Film and Television Arts.
GUTS TO GLORY: HOW DO YOU FIND YOUR STORY?
With case studies from script to screen, this in-depth panel will get down and dirty about the often bumpy ride that it takes to realize your dream of getting your film made. From the spark of an idea, to typing the words FADE IN, to your world premiere at a major festival, filmmakers share stories from the trenches on how they navigated the obstacles, faced the challenges, compromised when they had to, and ultimately beat the odds. Are you ready for the true story? This panel is for anyone who has made a film (or dreams of making a film) or who just wants to know the real deal. Panelists are Ryan Coogler, director/screenwriter, “Fruitvale Station,” and Marjane Satrapi, director, “The Voices”; Moderated by John Cooper, director, Sundance Film Festival. Presented in association with BFI NET.WORK.
HYBRID VIGOR: WHEN MUSIC, ART AND DOCUMENTARY COLLIDE
From last year’s “Stories We Tell” to the controversial “The Act of Killing,” the hybrid documentary is going from strength to convention-busting strength. But British documentary seems to be pushing the boundaries even further in challenging the genres of music, biography and archive film. Why is this and what does it tell us about the role of artists and musicians in documentary filmmaking? Join the creative partnerships behind three recent festival hits for an exploration of what went into stretching the limits of the form, an insight into the unusual collaborations between director and subject, and a look at the questions these films pose about memory, truth and the creative process. Panelists are: Jarvis Cocker and Martin Wallace, composer and director of “The Big Melt”; Edwyn Collins and Grace Maxwell, subjects of “The Possibilities are Endless”; Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, directors of “20,000 Days on Earth”; Moderated by Tabitha Jackson, director, Documentary Film Program, Sundance Institute. Presented in association with BRITDOC and Sheffield DocFest.
SHORT FILM PROGRAM
Two wide-ranging collections of short films that screened in January at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.
SHORT FILM PROGRAM 1
Cruising Electric (1980) (U.S.) (Director and screenwriter: Brumby Boylston) — The marketing department green-lights a red-light tie-in: 60 lost seconds of modern movie merchandising. International Premiere
Dawn (U.S.) (Director: Rose McGowan, Screenwriters: M.A. Fortin, Joshua John Miller) — Dawn is a quiet young teenager who longs for something or someone to free her from her sheltered life. Dawn is the directorial debut of actress Rose McGowan (Planet Terror). International Premiere
Exchange & Mart (U.K.) (Directors: Cara Connolly, Martin Clark, Screenwriter: Cara Connolly) — Reg is a lonely girl at a remote Scottish boarding school where paranoia about rape is rife. Her unorthodox self-defense class provides the human touch she craves so deeply. When she is attacked in the woods, she knows what she has to do…
Love. Love. Love. (Russia) (Director: Sandhya Daisy Sundaram) — Every year, through the endless winters, her love takes new shapes and forms. Winner of a Short Film Special Jury Award for Non-fiction at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.
Marilyn Myller (U.S., U.K.) (Director and screenwriter: Mikey Please) — Marilyn maketh. Marilyn taketh awayeth. Marilyn is trying really hard to create something good. For once, her expectation and reality are going to align. It will be epic. It will be tear-jerkingly profound. It will be perfect. Nothing can go wrong.
Notes on Blindness (U.K., U.S., Australia) (Directors: Peter Middleton, James Spinney) — In 1983, writer and theologian John Hull became blind. To help make sense of his loss, he began keeping an audio diary. Encompassing dreams, memories, and his imaginative life, Notes on Blindness immerses the viewer in Hull’s experience of blindness.
Of God and Dogs (Syria) (Director: Abounaddara Collective) — A young, free Syrian soldier confesses to killing a man he knew was innocent. He promises to take vengeance on the God who led him to commit the murder. Winner of the Short Film Grand Jury Prize at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. European Premiere
Phantom Limb (U.K., Australia) (Director and screenwriter: Alex Grigg) — James and Martha narrowly survive a motorcycle accident. During the aftermath, however, James begins to experience Martha’s phantom pains.
The winner of the Sundance London Short Film Competition will be the tenth short film featured in this program.
SHORT FILM PROGRAM 2
Afronauts (U.S.) (Director and screenwriter: Frances Bodomo) — On July 16th 1969, America prepares to launch Apollo 11. Thousands of miles away, the Zambia Space Academy hopes to beat America to the moon. Inspired by true events. UK Premiere
“Burger” (U.K., Norway) (Director and screenwriter: Magnus Mork) — It’s late night in a burger bar in Wales… Winner of a Short Film Special Jury Award for Direction and Ensemble Acting at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.
The Cut (Canada) (Director and screenwriter: Genevieve Dulude-Decelles) — The Cut tells the story of a father and a daughter, whose relationship fluctuates between proximity and detachment, at the moment of a haircut. Winner of the Short Film Jury Award: International Fiction at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.
I Think This Is the Closest to How the Footage Looked (Israel) (Directors: Yuval Hameiri) — A man with poor means recreates a lost memory of the last day with his mom. Objects come to life in a desperate struggle to produce a single moment that is gone. Winner of the Short Film Jury Award: Non-fiction at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.
The Last Days of Peter Bergmann (Ireland) (Director: Ciaran Cassidy) — In 2009, a man claiming to be from Austria arrived in the town of Sligo, Ireland. During his final days, Peter Bergmann went to great lengths to ensure no one ever discovered who he was and where he came from. UK Premiere
Life’s a Bitch (Canada) (Director: Francois Jaros, Screenwriter: Guillaume Lambert) — Love. Grief. Choc. Denial. Sleeplessness. Bubble bath. Mucus. Masturbation. Pop tart. Pigeons. Toothpaste. Hospital. F__k. Bye. Hair. Sports. Chicken. Bootie. Kids. Rejection. Squirrels. Cries. Awkward—95 scenes, five minutes: life’s a bitch. UK Premiere
MeTube: August Sings Carmen “Habanera” (Austria) (Director and screenwriter: Daniel Moshel) — George Bizet’s “Habanera” from Carmen has been reinterpreted and enhanced with electronic sounds for MeTube, an homage to thousands of ambitious YouTube users and video bloggers, and gifted and less gifted self-promoters on the Internet.
The Obvious Child (U.K.) (Director and screenwriter: Stephen Irwin) — Somebody broke the girl’s parents. The rabbit was there when it happened. It was an awful mess.
Yearbook (U.S.) (Director and screenwriter: Bernardo Britto) — A man is hired to compile the definitive history of human existence before the planet blows up. Winner of the Short Film Jury Award: Animation at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. International Premiere.