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
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
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.

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor