Thursday, 25 April 2013

Sundance London: Day 1

The 2nd Sundance London Film and Music Festival kicked off at the O2 today with another ambitious collection of films from the January event in Park City, plus a number of live performances, workshops, panel discussions and musical events. Press screenings have been underway all week, and now the fun really starts, since all of the filmmakers are in town for the festival.

Yesterday we had a big launch press conference with Robert Redford, who noted that Sundance's first venture outside its home base in Utah was a big success last year, and he was happy to be invited back again. "It's a cultural exchange," he said, "We bring foreign films to Utah and now we're exporting American films to London audiences. And the filmmakers are excited to see their films travel outside America's borders." Here are a few early highlights...

The Kings of Summer
dir Jordan Vogt-Roberts; with Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso 13/US ****
Witty direction and an exceptionally sharp script give this coming-of-age film a blast of originality that completely wins us over. There may be a few too many wacky touches, but overall the film is grounded in solid characters and hilariously squirm-inducing observations. It centres on three teens (Robinson,  Moises Arias and Basso, pictured) who run away from home and build a cabin in the woods to escape their humiliating parents. And we can see why, with brilliant supporting turns by the likes of Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally. So even if the film sometimes drifts toward Napoleon Dynamite, it remains grounded by the excellent performances and sharply observant filmmaking.

The Look of Love
dir Michael Winterbottom; with Steve Coogan, Imogen Poots 13/UK ***.
This fascinating story is told with vivid style, a terrific use of actual settings and a strong cast. But the characters never quite get under our skin, so our interest in the history of one of London's more colourful districts is never deepened by personal resonance or larger meaning... REVIEW >

dir Jeff Nichols; with Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland 12/US ***.
Nichols is a gifted writer-director who knows how to get into the heads of his characters. And this film has superior actors who create people who are intriguing and hugely involving. But the overlong running time makes the story drag badly, straining our patience to the point where we don't really mind how things end... REVIEW >

God Loves Uganda
dir Roger Ross Williams; with Christopher Senyonjo, Lou Engle 13/US *****
This deeply disturbing documentary shines the light on a side of American culture that seems wholly positive to everyone involved. But from the outside it looks sinister and hateful. Credit must go to the filmmakers for presenting this in a fair and balanced way, covering the whole story with remarkable restraint. The topic is the missionary work run by the Kansas City-based International House of Prayer in Uganda, where in the name of Christian outreach they export ultra-conservative views that would never take root in America. This has led to several violent murders as "Christians" rise up to kill anyone perceived to be a homosexual, and indeed a law is before Uganda's parliament to make being gay a capital offense. Watching these clean-cut, under-educated American young people is shocking: their hearts may be in the right place, but they simply don't realise that they are actually killing people instead of helping them. A remarkably honest but truly shocking film that deserves to spark a lot of discussion. Especially in Uganda.

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