Sundance 2014 marks the 10th year that I've headed up to snowy Park City for Robert Redford's independent film festival that is achingly cool in more ways than one. In that time there have been plenty of changes, most notably, improved communications - when I first came in 2005, wifi was rarer than a quiet moment in a Michael Bay film, laptops back-breakingly difficult to lag around and social media a fairly new arrival.
There have also been expansions to the programme, most notably the Next <=> section - aimed to capture lower budgets and younger voices - which has gone from strength to strength since its inception in 2010. The atmosphere, however, remains thankfully the same. This isn't just a place where press and industry come to party, they are reassuringly outnumbered by fans of cinema who head to Utah for a bit of light star-spotting or to find a gem they can tell their friends about in the year ahead. They make the public screenings lively and warm places - and give this festival a vibrancy that is unique.
Change was also on Redford's mind at yesterday's opening press conference at the Egyptian Theatre on Main Street. "To me change is inevitable," he said. "Either you resist it or you go with it and try to change with it as much as possible."
He was also untroubled by the fact that his role in All Is Lost was overlooked by Oscar.
"Would it have been wonderful to be nominated? Of course," He said. "But I’m not disturbed by it or upset because it’s a business. I was so happy to be able to do this film because it was independent. So that’s what’s on my mind, the chance it gave me. I’m happy about it and I’ll stay happy with it. The rest is not my business, it’s someone else’s."
The business of choosing films to watch is a tricky one and often those films that end up being the most memorable, for example, last year's This Is Martin Bonner or 2012's Beasts Of The Southern Wild - come from new voices. Here's a handful of the films I'm looking forward to seeing over the next 10 days...
Roger Ebert Photo: Kevin Horan
Life Itself - Almost certain to be the hottest ticket in town among journalist's who grew up inspired by film critic Roger Ebert, this documentary is based on his 2011 memoir and directed by Hoop Dreams helmer Steve James. Ebert - who died in April 2013 after a long cancer fight - said in a blog post two days before he passed away "I'll see you at the movies". And so we shall.
Paul Eenhoorn: We had a script and we would run the lines and then we would throw them away. Photo: Andrew Reed
- Not for the first time this section of the festival looks to have plenty of interest in it, but I'm plumping for this because star Paul Eenhoorn was so impressive in last year's This Is Martin Bonner. Another film to be shot in the current filmmaker magnet Iceland (after Of Horses And Men and The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty), it tells the story of two ex-brother-in-laws on a trip to try to reclaim their youth. The catalogue description of "bawdy comedy" sounds like a bit of a departure for Aaron Katz (Dance Party USA, Quiet City). But why not? I'm also hoping to catch Michael Tully's follow up to his strange-but-alluring Septien, Ping Pong Summer - set on a vacation in 1985.
US Dramatic Competition
Rinko Kikuchi in Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter Photo: Sean Porter
I was won over by the distinctive narrative of child-rebellion tale Kid-Thing, so I'm very much looking forward to the Zellner Brothers latest Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter
. The story, about a Japanese woman's odyssey from Tokyo to Minnesota in search of riches, sounds typically idiosyncratic. As I am somewhat late with this preview article, I can also heartily recommend Whiplash - based on the short film that won the top prize at last year's festival - by Damien Chazelle. The story of a jazz drumming prodigy and his increasing conflict with a conductor determined to push him to the limit, is surprisingly intense and emotional. Beautifully edited by Tom Cross (Crazy Heart, Wrong Turn) and with blisteringly good performances from Miles Teller and JK Simmons, it's beat is likely to reverberate in a cinema near you before long.
US Documentary Competition
Ariel Gulchin in Fed Up Photo: Scott Sinkler
Always a strong section at Sundance, it's hard to single out just one. But with obesity levels soaring across both the developed and developing world Fed Up, which promises to lift the lid on Sundance 2014 marks the 10th year that I've headed up to snowy Park City for Robert Redford's independent film festival that is achingly cool in more ways than one. In that time there have been plenty of changes, most notably, improved communications - when I first came in 2005, wifi was rarer than a quiet moment in a Michael Bay film, laptops back-breakingly difficult to lag around and social media a fairly new arrival. You can read about the New York premiere of Fed Up, here
World Cinema Dramatic Competition
Tilda Cobham Hervey and Sam Althuzien in 52 Tuesdays Photo: Visit Films
Having spoken to director/cinematographer Bryan Mason about the 52 Tuesdays project a couple of years ago (read that here
, I'm really keen to see how this experimental film, shot only on Tuesdays for a year over which the action concerning a mother (Del Herbert-Jane) who is undergoing gender transition and her relationship with her daughter takes place. Flying the flag for Scotland, meanwhile is God Help The Girl, by Belle & Sebastian singer Stuart Murdoch.
Kelly Reilly and Brendan Gleeson in Calvary Photo: Jonathan Hession
The section dedicated to 'Indy' films we'll be most likely to see in cinemas across the next 12 months, I'm most looking forward to John Martin McDonagh's follow up to black comedy In Bruges
. This time Brendan Gleeson plays a priest tormented by his community in Calvary
. I'll also be looking out for Michael Fassbender in Frank and Michael Winterbottom's latest The Trip To Italy.