Sundance London: The Verdict

Few cinephiles felt anything other than happiness at the news that after 25 years in Park City, launching careers of hip kids like Quentin Tarantino and Steven Soderbergh, Sundance was coming to London.

Fourteen of the most impressive films to play in Utah in January were to be screened on top of live music events, discussion panels and the vague promise that should things go well over this four-day trial festival, Sundance London might become a regular event.

Only the venue, North Greenwich’s dome-shaped behemoth, the O2 Arena, posed a note of doubt. If you don’t live in that part of London, frankly, it’s an arse of a commute and the vast, draughty space speaks less of indie festivals and more of a soulless shopping precinct.

I was in the unusual position of having both a press credential and being a volunteer at the event. With the press screenings scheduled to take place before the public festival, it was fascinating to watch the place turn from empty lost city, with a few baffled journalists wandering in search of the Thames Clipper, to a joyful hub of cinema-loving activity. Along with the films, the Sundance core staff packed a managerial approach positive and energetic enough to enliven even the most reserved of the volunteers.

Volunteering was an actual joy. Not only were some of us able to catch the ever gorgeous Sundance Kid when, in the dark, he stumbled up some stairs (nice save, Dilara), but given the public-facing nature of our role, we were well positioned to take the temperature on how this inaugural festival was being received. Happily, the combination of great films, available directors (Q&As were the post-screening norm) and the resultant buzz overwhelmed venue skepticism.

Punters, volunteers and the journalists still about openly aired their views on individual films and the festival as a whole. With screenings localised to the top five cinemas of the O2 Cineworld – plus its 770 capacity Sky Super Screen, the environment began to feel almost cosy. It was like the famous London cynicism and inbuilt stranger-danger alarm had been deactivated. Of course, there were imperfections. The press rounded on Tricky’s performance and there was a technical glitch during one of the screenings of Julie Delpy’s 2 Days in New York. I include these details to prove that this article hasn’t been generated by a Sundance adoration bot. They were the exceptions that proved the rule. And the rule was cool, so cool I might cry.

So the question now is will Sundance London return? The early signs are good. Sponsor AEG is pleased and programing director Trevor Groth introduced the final screening of sexy sex drama Nobody Walks by saying he would, ‘hopefully see you all next year’.

The feeling’s mutual, Trevor!

Sundance London Film Festival took place at O2 Arena on 26 to 29 April 2012.


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