In between the hobnobbing, parties and trying to scoff bagels down my gob with my rare stopgaps between events I notched up 15 films within the five days at Sundance. Within the 2018 program, I observed the resounding themes and what they say about the unfolding landscape of indie cinema.
With over 30 films and events on our hit list, a strategy was key. Films begin at 8:30 am, go on until midnight and parties creep into the dawn. The opening night movie was Carlos López Estrada’s Blindspotting starring Daveed Diggs – the first of many celebs I’d seen plodding round the festival. Alas, we missed out after being too far back in the queue – a quick lesson in get there early, ticket or no ticket.
Our later screening and made up for our false start. Generation Wealth is an essay film cum unwitting autobiography on wealth and its motives through the sharp lens of piercing photographer Lauren Greenfield. It’s themes of obsession and quest for validity still resound in me.
With 37 percent of the 122 feature films premiering directed by women, Sundance does better to represent female talent than most. In this new era of finding collective strength to take a stand to the systematic discrimination and sexual harassment in the gutters of the film industry, it was encouraging to feel the female force electrify the festival.
As well as the abundance of directors, Sundance has a wealth of female-led narratives. From docs about iconic women such as Jane Fonda (Susan Lacy’s Jane Fonda In Five Acts), Vivienne Westwood (Lorna Tucker’s Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist), visionary artist Yayoi Kusama (Heather Lenz’s Kusama, Infinity) and pop activist Mia (Stephen Loveridge’s Mantangi/Maya/Mia), to making legacies of lesser-known ladies in 360 Hollywood – Elan Bogarin and Jonathan Bogarin’s experimental doc about their grandma, and Alexandria Bombach’s On Her Shoulders about Nadia Murad – a 23 year-old Yazidi who survived sexual slavery by ISIS.
Female breakout performances were also found in the narrative features such as Skate Kitchen’s Nina Moran, Yardie’s Shantol Jackson, and scene-stealer Beth Ditto in Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far On Foot. Hollywood sheen came in the likes of Keira Knightley who led the way in period drama Collette, Kristen Stewart and Chloe Sevigny were Lizzie’s lead lovers and Carey Mulligan was cast in Wildlife alongside Jake Gyllenhaal in Paul Dano’s directorial debut.
A post-Get Out reckoning was also apparent within the themes of the fest. Get Out began its trailblazing road with a surprise midnight screening at Sundance 2017 and is now an Oscar-nominated favourite. Jordan Peel’s political thriller about the anxieties of black lives in a white world has given new flex to stories that wryly illuminate the black American experience.
This year’s Sundance owned a silver thread of Peel’s intelligence. Sorry To Bother You, Blindspotting, Monster and Tyrel all circle inherent racism, and unconscious bias in ingenious, entertaining and close to the bone craft. Looking forward to championing these observed stories which will make us think and hard as we’ll laugh and cry at this year’s Sundance London.
Sundance London is taking place at Picturehouse Central, London on May 31 – 3 June 2018. Early Bird passes for Sundance London now on sale.