Thirsty at thirty? The Sundance Film Festival

The Sundance Film Festival is 30 years old. But is it the cultural force it once was?

Turning thirty is always a time for reflection. In the case of the Sundance Film Festival, founded three decades ago by baby-blue-eyed movie star Robert Redford, it could be a time for overwhelming smugness. Napoleon Dynamite, The Virgin Suicides, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Garden State, Whale Rider, Hump Day, Winter’s Bone, An Education, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Fruitvale Station. These are just some of the films that started their road to success on the icy slopes of Park City, Utah – ironically a warm environment for the buds of independent film to blossom.

So who will have the breakout hit of Sundance this year? Although at the start of the 2014 event Redford declared “our business is not about business”, there’s no other reason for every film executive in North America to squeeze into this one-street town in mid-winter. Commercially, Garden State director Zach Braff is already looking at a global cinema release for his Wish I Was Here. His Kickstarter-funded project was immediately acquired by Focus Features after its Sundance premiere, where it got a standing ovation. A feel-good comedy about problems only those living the dream in Los Angeles can relate to, it may struggle to rival Garden State’s box office of nearly $40m.

Instead it may be the turn of another Sundance-fostered director to shine – Lynn Shelton, who only started film-making at the age of 37, and now has Hump Day and Your Sister’s Sister under her belt. There’s a bidding war over her latest effort at Sundance, Laggies, where Keira Knightley excels as a twentysomething commitment-phobe who forms a friendship with a teenager, played by Chloë Grace Moretz.

“Comedy,” summarises Knightley, “ turned out to be fun.”

Chloë Grace Moretz and Keira Knightley in ‘Laggies’ (Barbara Kinney)  

It’s definitely one for the girls – and how much female-oriented comedy is worth to the film industry after Bridesmaids can be seen by the list of women writers and comedians here – Kristen Wiig with The Skeleton Twins, Lena Dunham with Happy Christmas and Amy Poehler, who will close the festival in what she describes as a “subversion” of the romcom, They Came Together, where she co-stars with Paul Rudd.

The real subversion however, may actually be found in a German-language film, Wetlands, directed by David Wnendt and based on a novel by Charlotte Roche. Helen Memel is a teenager obsessed with her intimate hygiene, and that obsession is depicted in graphic detail – from the use of a toilet surely last seen in Trainspotting, to sharing dirty tampons with her best friend. The screenings sold out immediately, as expected in a festival heavily populated by lone male bloggers.

Marlen Kruse and Carla Juri in ‘Wetlands’  

The objectification of women, according to Kit Gruelle, an advocate for victims of domestic violence, is one reason why each day in the US, three women will be killed by their violent partners. Her story is told in Private Violence, an HBO-acquired documentary that details the case of one woman fighting to put her abusive ex-husband behind bars after he kidnapped her and beat her.

Life’s injustices and oddities are all to be found in the documentary category, which has long been a fast-track to the factual film-maker’s holy grail – a cinema release. Four out of the five documentaries nominated in the 2014 Oscar category were shown at Sundance 2013. This year’s giant success on every level could be Dinosaur 13, the story of the discovery of a Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton by palaeontologists, and the subsequent legal fight over the bones. It has already been sold for a million dollars, a hefty price for a documentary.

The festival excels at idiosyncrasy, and it can be found at every screening. Elijah Wood, of Frodo fame, has enthusiastically co-produced an Iranian vampire film, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night. Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon star in The Trip to Italy, the sequel to The Trip, which was a gastronomic tour around the north of England. In this one, too, very little happens apart from lunch. Or, as Coogan puts it, “we drive through spellbinding countryside and then diminish it by talking crap”. Despite some very British in-jokes, the Sundance audience seemed game to take a ride.

As the festival puts away its heady twentysomething days, it might be sobering up. Although carefully selected sponsors like Airbnb still dole out coffee on Main Street to the cashmere-clad film tourists, this year there’s been no sign of someone like Jay-Z playing a gig to a couple of hundred ecstatic fans while thousands more gnash their teeth outside in the cold. The music event’s been stripped down: Damon Albarn, Belle and Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch, Nick Cave, who’s here with his documentary, 20,000 Days on Earth. Even the film most beloved of critics here so far,  I Origins, is a serious-looking thriller which questions both science and spirituality. Serious and sober: a Sundance to suit the times. In 2014, a theatrical release is still a distant dream for most of the films on show.

There were no birthday celebrations either: according to the festival’s director, John Cooper, Sundance “likes to look forward, not back”. Instead a workshop on “failure” was held, with aspiring film-makers learning how to cope with near-misses, mistakes and disappointment. Sundance can actually help with that – for all its impressive breakouts, the most financially successful indie film of the past 20 years, 2008’s Paranormal Activity, actually premiered at the Slamdance Film Festival, also in Park City – an event formed for those rejected by Sundance.

Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

    Finding the names for America’s shame

    The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears