Sundance London 2017: Highlights and Interviews

13 Jun 2017

8 mins
A Ghost Story
A Ghost Story

Taking place in a small town in Utah, USA every January, the Sundance Film Festival is one of the key events in the cinema calendar. Founded by screen legend Robert Redford, it has a reputation for providing a showcase for the very best up-and-coming independent cinema and has been the launchpad for a number of hugely successful directors, including Quentin Tarantino, Ryan Coogler, Steven Soderbergh, Richard Linklater and Ava DuVernay. Recently, the festival has staged a spin-off event in London, where highlights from the main festival are screened for UK audiences eager to spot the next big thing. Our team of film curators and young reporter Ceyda went along to see what was on offer. 

Kirsten - Film Programming Manager

Crown Heights

Thought-provoking American drama based on the true story of Colin Warner, a young black man who in the 1980s was arrested for a murder he did not commit. Imprisoned for 20 years, the film depicts the prejudice and series of injustices Colin faced as he and friends fought to prove his innocence. The film's sensitive, if at times distressing, portrayal of Colin's experiences and of those close to him over the years make this an important discussion piece. It will spark debate around America's highly criticised judicial and prison systems, and the racial discrimination that still exists today.

Ceyda sat down with Crown Heights director Matt Ruskin, to talk about the performances in the film, as well as the podcast and true story it was based on, and how he strived to tell an issue-led story from a human perspective.

The Incredible Jessica James

Jessica James is not only incredible, she's 'freaking dope'! Funny, assertive and exuding positivity, she wraps you up in her life in New York and takes you on a thrilling rollercoaster of the ups and downs of her drama teaching job, recent break up and struggle to be taken seriously as a playwright. Set up with a divorced man (played by comedian Chris O'Dowd), her honesty versus his awkwardness leads to a quirky romance. Despite that, the story never strays far from showing Jessica's attempts to navigate her career trajectory, with the some of the most pleasing moments being Jessica interacting with her young drama students as she inspires them to write their own plays. A refreshing, contemporary story that fizzes with comedy and offers a brilliant female role model for the big screen.

Ceyda caught up with the film's director James C Strouse and star Jessica Williams to discuss the new comedy. In the interview below, Williams offers her advice to young people looking to find their path in life, while Strouse discusses the way comedy can used to subtly convey more serious issues.

Joe Ursell - Film Programmer

Chasing Coral 

This documentary focuses on the alarming impact climate change is having on the world's coral reef ecosystems. Rising temperatures have resulted in new coral bleaching, a sign of widespread coral death. In an attempt to educate the world about this, a former ad-man teams up with a group of scientists, divers and photographers, using modern technology to capture some astonishing footage. Taking care to provide contextual information to those new to the subject - without ever patronising experts - the film is a sobering but very accessible insight into a subject we should all be paying more attention to. Despite some despairing statistics, the film is optimistic, with a faith in the enthusiasm and curiousity of young people to work together to achieve positive change, as well as celebrating the ability of disparate groups of people to work together for the common good.

Ceyda also sat down with Chasing Coral's director Jeff Orlowski to discuss his film - which won the Audience Award for documentary at this year's Sundance - and the wide-reaching impacts of global warming on the world's oceans and environment. Orlowski also offers practical advice on what the young people of today can do to take action and help combat climate change.

Walking Out 

With a debt to the likes of The Revenant and Grizzly Man, Walking Out tells the story of a 14-year-old boy staying with his father in the mountains of Montana. They go on a hunting trip with the aim of the boy killing his first big game - regarded as a generational rite of passage by his father, who has little regard for his son's attachment to modern technology - but a horrific accident turns their journey into a struggle for survival. Spectacularly shot, the film engages with ideas around masculinity, father/son relationships, and the ethical practice of hunting itself. Seeing a distinction between hunting for sustenance and the barbarity of killing for sport, the father forces his son - and the audience - to think about the subject in nuanced ways. A gripping story that offers plenty of scope for debate, this is a terrifically engaging drama, although be warned - some sequences are not for the squeamish!

Michael - Film Programming Assistant

A Ghost Story

David Lowery's follow-up to his charming Pete's Dragon remake is a very different beast altogether. A Ghost Story has a straightforward premise - the untimely death of a husband causes him to return as a white-sheeted ghost to look over his wife - but the film is executed in a way which elevates it into the realm of oddly compelling cinema. Each shot is composed and constructed meticulously, with very little action taking place across stretched out scenes, allowing for a more meditative, spiritual viewing experience. This is a challenging piece of storytelling - with its musings on love, life and time everlasting, it should fascinate fans and students of film alike.

Ceyda - Young Reporter

The Incredible Jessica James 

Incredibly witty, unfiltered and unapologetic, The Incredible Jessica James is the exact film us Millennials needed. Jessica reminds us that a woman doesn't need a relationship to tell her she's worthy. She knows she's a 'unicorn' rare and stunning, with or without a guy's approval. Undeniably an up and coming star, Jessica, playing the role of Jessica, shows a confident, realistic performance of strong women today. The writer is unafraid of exploring taboo topics on big screen regarding sex, the patriarchy and relationships today, but successfully sugar coats with a surface of comedy to keep the film light hearted and entertaining to watch.

Chasing Coral

An eye opening, shocking documentary accounting global warming in a way I've never seen before. We all think that global warming is a threat to our future, that it's not our generations fault. This documentary however, reminds us that it's here, it's now, and only we can change it. To visually witness the bleaching, and the passion in which the marine team have towards putting their message across, really moved me. From stunning ocean captures and documented camera work to the team's hardships and problems encountered, the documentary was beautifully framed as a story surrounding the protagonist, Coral. Only we, the audience, can save her. The ending is the one we create.

Crown Heights

Adapted from the popular This American Life podcasts, Crown Heights captured everything wrong in law, but everything right in family, perseverance and the importance of making the right choices alone. Lakeith Stanfield's performance in Crown Heights for me was unforgettable. The emotion carried in his eyes throughout really captured the wrong doings of the American law system but also the strength of character needed to pursue an ongoing battle for mercy. To learn of such a devastating true story left me feeling frustrated throughout, as the director made evident how unjust and hasty murder convictions can be, but more importantly how a few manipulated words can change someone's fate forever. 

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