Sundance London highlights

As its parent festival considers its future plans we recommend a selection from the UK showcase

by Amber Wilkinson

Sasquatch Sunset
Sasquatch Sunset Photo: Bleeker Street
Sundance London kicks off tomorrow, with films screening across the weekend at Picturehouse Central in the capital. It’s the 11th edition of the UK arm of the festival and comes at a time when the Utah-based event is considering a future that could see it permanently move from its Park City base up in the mountains.

Plenty of places are rumoured to have thrown their hats into the ring, including spots as far-flung as Atlanta, Georgia, and San Francisco. The Request for Proposals period is now in full swing. It closes on June 21 with the selected location expected to be announced either towards the end of this year or early next.

Sundance Institute Board Chair Ebs Burnough said: “Park City has been our home for more than 40 years, together with the state of Utah, and Sundance cherishes and respects our history and partnership. We are thrilled with the vitality we see in independent filmmaking and want to assure the continuous discovery and support of independent artists and audiences our Festival is known for.

“We look forward to reviewing each proposal and working together with all of our potential collaborators to determine how we can collectively meet the needs of the independent film ecosystem and broader creative community.”

For now, however, the focus is on London, which will screen 11 of the films which showed in Park City this year, alongside a selection of short films and panel conversations.

Here’s a few titles to look out for at this year’s festival:

Sasquatch Sunset

David and Nathan Zellner continue to prove they are second to none when it comes to world-building with this tale of a year in the life of a family of sasquatches. Featuring Riley Keogh and Jesse Eisenberg - though you might take a while to work out who is who under the excellent make-up - the film draws on established beliefs about sasquatches while also imagining what it would be like if these elusive creatures came into contact with traces of humans. The result hits a kind of funny, kind of sad sweet spot. David Zellner told us: “We knew we wanted professional actors, not stunt people, because the challenge for us all along was having the more absurd, slapstick elements, but we wanted it to have a certain poignancy, so that hopefully you uncomfortably find yourself emotionally invested.” The film goes on general release across the UK on June 14.

Handling The Undead

Melancholically musing on the idea of zombies, Thea Hvistendahl’s atmospheric film is as much about the horrors of loss and loneliness as it is the hunger for brains. Three stories interlock after an unexplained event breaks the Oslo summer and leaves people rising from the grave. Current Norwegian A-lister Renate Reinsve plays Anna, who is trying to help her son, who is not so recently departed, while Tora (Bente Børsum) contends with the unexpected arrival of her recently deceased partner (Olga Damani) on her doorstep, and an accident leaves Anders Danielsen’s David and his family facing an uncertain future. Chilling and precise in its examination of grief, the acute pain of loss is emphasised by carefully wrought sound design and an ominous score from Peter Raeburn, who told us: “I never would have been able to write a score like this without going there and having had my experiences with grief, and being able to bring those in a non-manipulative way into the work.”

Girls Will Be Girls

Another star who is having a real boost right now is Kani Kusruti, who also puts in a quietly magnetic performance in recent Cannes Grand Prix winner All We Imagine As Light. She’s equally good in the very different supporting role here as the flighty mum of perfect student Mira (Preeti Panigrahi) who is trying to navigate the choppy coming-of-age waters of first love with Sri (Kesav Binoy Kiron), who has attracted the flirty interest of her mother. A sweet film that is generous to its characters while still recognising their faults, it won the Audience Award out in Park City and is set for UK release by Modern Films in the week commencing September 16. Full review coming soon.

My Old Ass

Time travel of a sort lies at the heart of this sunny-side-up coming-of-age film from Megan Park. Elliot (Maisy Stella, making an eye-catching film debut) encounters her 39-year-old self (Aubrey Plaza) after a mushroom trip… but finds her single piece of advice to “avoid Chad” is not so easy as it first might appear. A film that explores how a youthful attitude towards life’s challenges and expectations can be every bit as valuable as a more experienced viewpoint, it is shot with the bright breeziness of a summer’s day and features a clutch of laugh-out-loud moments, including a great Justin Bieber fantasy interlude.

Good Boy

While short films often provide a breeding ground for new talent, they can also be a showcase for existing stars and that’s the case with this sweet UK drama about a man trying to come to terms with loss. Ben Whishaw stars as Danny, his gently nervous performance sparking nicely off the bigger turn from Marion Bailey (The Crown) as his mum. British writer/director Tom Stuart told us that the short is a love letter to his “funny and archaic, kind, intelligent, naughty mum” mum - a sentiment that certainly comes across.

Sundance London runs at Picturehouse Central from June 6 to 9. Tickets are still available from the official site.

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