First Night: Sundance London Film Festival, O2 Arena - News - Films - The Independent

First Night: Sundance London Film Festival, O2 Arena

Wainwrights make UK's sunless Sundance sing, but will it return?

Even Rufus Wainwright couldn't help quipping at the inaugural Sundance London, "We could be in Utah: the weather is so sh*t."

The Sundance uniform of snow boots, skinny jeans and fur coats may have been replaced by anoraks but the festival's ability to attract stars both on-screen and in the audience was not diminished.

Despite pre-event scepticism, it was a success. Even the decision to house the event in the O2 proved a hit.

Prince Charles gave Sundance the royal seal of approval when he introduced Harmony. Directed by Stuart Sender and Julie Bergman Sender, the film is narrated by the Prince of Wales and is a call for better awareness of environmental issues.

Yesterday saw the world premiere of the concert movie starring Wainwright and his sister Martha, Sing Me the Songs that Say I Love You: A Concert for Kate McGarrigle. Directed by Lian Lunson, it is comprised of footage from a Carnegie Hall tribute concert celebrating the life of Kate McGarrigle, who died in 2010, aged 63. It was followed by a concert at which the Wainwright siblings performed.

The big difference between Sundance London and Utah has been the emphasis on music. In recent years The South by Southwest festival in Austin, which incorporates music and film, has taken the cool-kid-on-the-block mantle that was once the preserve of Sundance. The musical efforts were a mixed bag. Tricky disappointed with his Jim Morrison-inspired antics, while Placebo had the crowd singing along.

John Cooper, director of the festival, explained: "That was Robert Redford's idea. He really likes the idea of examining different kinds of art together. He thinks artists are of like minds and putting them together you get more combustion."

The choice of musicians was a bit uninspiring for an organisation that made its name through discovering new talent in independent American film. Mr Cooper admitted the choices were made "on who was available, and we learned a lot about this side of the business". Even so, the music was a worthwhile addition to the festival and I expect the Utah event to follow suit.

Judged on discovering new American cinema, which was what the festival was set up to do in 1978, Sundance London was a qualified success. The 14 films offered a broad representation of the type of films showing in Park City rather than simply a best of 2012.

Equal weighting was given to documentary and feature films and women directors were out in force. The pandering to the stars that major film festivals are often accused of doing was not evident. The highlights included Lauren Greenfield's documentary Queen of Versailles, a rags-to-riches tale of a billionaire couple, and Colin Tevorrow's lo-fi sci-fi Safety Not Guaranteed, about journalists who answer a personal advert: guy seeking partner in time travel.

Not all the films sold out, unsurprising given the lack of big-name filmmakers, although it attracted a far younger crowd than usually seen at a British film festival. Eve Gabereau, co-managing director of Soda Pictures, whose film For Ellen premiered at the festival, remarked: "What's been amazing is that the audience is younger and very different from what we see at other London film festivals and the BFI."

John Cooper says it's still undecided if Sundance will return to London in the future. However, a failure to do so would make the event feel like a gimmick rather than a genuine attempt to further the career of American independent filmmakers.

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