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
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
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.

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links