Sundance Film Festival 2008

Buckle up folks, here we go - looking forward to a week of films and savouring the stress.

by Amber Wilkinson

Alan Ball's directorial debut in a feature film - Towelhead - is one of the films we most look forward to as the Sundance Film Festival begins!

Alan Ball's directorial debut in a feature film - Towelhead - is one of the films we most look forward to as the Sundance Film Festival begins!

Ah, Sundance, the scent of snow, stressed journalists and caffeine-laden PR staff hits you as soon as you enter Park City. Acting as a melting pot for this heady mix is the Marriot Hotel, bustling as ever when we arrived. Sighted Brian Cox (or his doppelganger) in the lobby, presumably checking in - and a good sign as I am scheduled to interview him this weekend. He is starring in two films here - Red and The Escapist - so is doubtless going to have an especially busy few days.

For some reason the email notifying us of the opening press conference must have got lost in the ether so we missed it this year. But the press release is just in. The conference was attended by Mr Sundance himself, Robert Redford, along with President and Founder of the Sundance Institute Geoffrey Gilmore and director of the opening night film Martin McDonagh.

Redford said: "As from the beginning, the Sundance Film Festival is about discovery of new talent and of issues that are resonating with filmmakers and artists alike.

“This year filmmakers are putting a personal focus on issues relating to the world we live in rather than addressing them on a macro-political level. And it’s exciting to me to see a new community of storytellers cross over from different points of origin: the playwright who brings his words to the screen, the poet who shares her story through music, the advocate who invokes social change through documentary and many other artists whose works extend beyond the screen.”

Still, even though everything kicks off this evening, we figured its never to late to take a sneak peak at what we're most looking forward to in the next ten days. There are two of us to cover things this year, so we hope to bring you more coverage than ever before.

There's certainly plenty of British and Irish interest here, from, In Bruges - which we'll be seeing this evening - the feature directorial debut of award-winning playwright McDonagh, to a host of smaller films, it shows homegrown talent is still flourishing in the independent sector.

Among the other UK directors making their debut here this week, is Olly Blackburn, whose film Donkey Punch is showing in the Midnights slot. It tells the tale of a group of Brits who get more than they bargained for after hooking up with some blokes while on a beach holiday to the Med. I'm still trying to get a proper interview with him - hopefully after seeing the film, but I did manage to catch up with him via email to ask what it is like to be coming to Sundance with his first film.

He said: "I’m really excited! Donkey Punch is a low budget, independent thriller, with some quite extreme content, a fantastic ensemble of young actors giving very strong performances, and it's also trying a fresh take on the genre – so all of involved were praying we'd get into Sundance because it's the perfect place to premiere this kind of film."

His prayers have certainly paid off, with the Sundance brochure describing the film as "nerve-shredding". One of the best things about coming to Sundance is that films here frequently haven't been seen by anyone else, anywhere else in the world, so you genuinely get the chance to see something completely fresh. Donkey Punch is no different.

Olly added: "The film itself is literally hot off the presses - I only saw the finished version three weeks ago. Sundance will be the first time a public audience has ever seen it. It's a very British film but I hope an American audience will relate to it. The characters and the situations are things everyone in their twenties can connect with, the genre is universal and it’ll be very interesting for American audiences to see this aspect of Britain. It will be something new for them, because it’s not what they’re used to in British cinema – the film shows smart, glamorous, confident young people, who are very aware. They’re enjoying themselves in a sun-bleached location – like millions of young Brits do every year - and they’re emotionally and physically very confident… at least, at the start of the story. So the film is totally British – but it challenges the stereotypes a lot of people have about Britain."

As for the other films we're looking forward to, Michael (Beetlejuice) Keaton's directorial debut The Merry Gentleman - billed as a romantic fable - should be interesting, if only for the fact it will give us another chance to see Scotland's Kelly Macdonald - so good in this month's No Country For Old Men. Also receiving its premiere is Towelhead, which marks the first directorial film outing for Six Feet Under's Alan Ball. Exploring the sexual awakening of a 13-year-old Lebanese American, it stars Sundance stalwart it stars Sundance Stalwart's Aaron Eckhart and Toni Collette, so should be worth a watch. In the 'off-the-wall' department, meanwhile, is Michel Gondry's latest flight of fantasy Be Kind Rewind, which stars Mos Def and [actorJack Black[/actor] as video shop assistants who remake classic 80s movies and which I have on good authority is well worth a watch.

A week here has a tendency leave you feeling like a zombie - and there's nearly always a film about them, too. This year is no exception, with George A Romero in town to promote his Diary Of The Dead. Tony will be catching up with him at the weekend [and you can read what he said, here].

Other than that, there's not much happening. Now if we can just find an email connection to put this online...

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