London comic contests top US film festival prize

An award-winning London comedian heads a strong contingent of UK talent out to make their mark at the Sundance Film Festival this week.

Laura Solon will compete for a prize at the festival championing independent cinema, when it opens on Thursday. Presided over by founder Robert Redford, the 28th Sundance will feature 117 full-length films from 30 countries and 45 first-time filmmakers. Recognition by the Sundance Grand Jury gives independent filmmakers a huge advantage and a smart move is to enter the short film competition and hope your taster is one of 64 chosen. Submissions totalled 7,675 this year.

Solon will attend Sundance for the first time after Tooty's Wedding, an 18-minute comedy she co-wrote with Ben Willbond, about a young couple whose marriage hits the rocks, was selected for the competition.

She said: "We spent about £5,000 on the short and our big plan is to turn it into a feature film. We submitted it to some short film festivals and won a couple of prizes in the US so we sent it to Sundance. It was a long shot and we didn't hear back for ages, so we assumed it hadn't got in."

There'll be serious work amid the schmoozing. Solon, who has just completed a pilot script for a sitcom commissioned by the US ABC network, said: "The film will be screened around five times and we'll have as many meetings as possible with financiers and other filmmakers."

Not only newcomers hustle at Sundance. Stephen Frears, director of The Queen, is to premiere his new low-budget crime film, Lay The Favourite, for international distributors. A cast that includes Bruce Willis and Catherine Zeta-Jones should boost box office credentials. British director Jon Wright is tipped to be a festival success with Grabbers, an Irish-set film about blood-sucking aliens.

Films expected to attract buyers include Bacherlorette, a comedy with Kirsten Dunst and produced by Will Ferrell, described as a "meaner, raunchier" version of last year's hit, Bridesmaids.

Richard Gere is a fraudulent hedge-fund magnate in the thriller Arbitrage. Spike Lee will unveil his first dramatic film in four years, Red Hook Summer, set in Brooklyn in which the director returns to the role of Mookie, one that Spike Lee played in his 1989 breakthrough film, Do The Right Thing.

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