January 22-February 1 could only mean one thing in film – Sundance time! Yes, the world’s most exciting independent film festival rolled into Utah for its 31st year, showing no signs of abaiting.
Last year’s edition was famous for giving two then unknown movies their debuts, namely Boyhood and Whiplash. 2015 didn’t quite manage to pull off coups of that magnitude, but it still gave it a hell of a go, showcasing a line-up of 118 pictures that had been selected from well over 12,000 submissions.
Perhaps most notable this time around was the festival’s recognition of females, both in front of and behind the camera. Regina Case and Camila Mardila were the joint recipients of the Dramatic Special Jury Award for Acting, for their turns in Portuguese film The Second Mother. Alante Kavaite took the Dramatic Directing Award for The Summer of Sangaile, while the US Dramatic Special Jury Award for Collaborative Vision went to Jennifer Phang and Jaqueline Kim for their sci-fi narrative feature Advantageous.
The biggest winner overall was Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, which scooped both the Grand Jury Prize and the US Dramatic Audience Award. Other highlights included The Stanford Prison Experiment winning the Alfred P Sloan Feature Film Prize, while the Grand Jury Prize for Best World Cinema Documentary was claimed by The Russian Woodpecker, which focuses on Chernobyl.
But what of the festival’s founding father, Robert Redford, this year? Although it’s true to say he’s no spring chicken at 78, he soon put rumours of retirement firmly to bed in a Q&A session that kicked off the 2015 extravaganza. Unfortunately, during this he also reaffirmed what many of us have feared for a while: “TV is advancing farther than filmmaking,” he said. Let’s face it, if anyone should know…
But as long as there’s a healthy interest in film, there’ll always be a Sundance, which continues to leave the rest of them in the shade.