The 33rd Sundance Festival, the largest indie film festival in the US, is currently underway in Park City, Utah. Held every year in January, the festival showcases new work from both American and international independent film-makers.
Some of the highlights of the festival this year are expected to be Robot and Frank, a comedy sci-fi drama starring Frank Langella; Arbitrage, a thriller starring Richard Gere, and Red Hook Summer, a new family drama from director Spike Lee.
Robot and Frank is set in the near future, and has been described as an ‘offbeat buddy comedy’ concerning the relationship between an elderly ex-jewel thief (Langella) and a robot assigned to take care of him. In Arbitrage, Richard Gere will play Robert Miller, a troubled hedge fund manager attempting to sell his trading empire; when he makes a critical error he is forced to turn to an unlikely person for aid (interestingly, Al Pacino was originally set to play Miller). Red Hook Summer is the story of a boy from Atlanta who goes to Brooklyn in order to visit his grandfather, whom he has never met. Spike Lee, who is best known for his work during the eighties and nineties (She’s Gotta Have It, Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X) is generally considered to be an intelligent and talented director who sometimes produces flops (such as Girl 6); there is much speculation surrounding Red Hook Summer’s reception at Sundance.
There is a dishearteningly finite sense to the festival this year, with the grim reality of the worldwide recession still looming over film-makers. Opening the festival with documentary The Queen of Versailles (a couple living in a dream mansion are thrown into misfortune following the economic crisis), festival chairman Robert Redford was careful to caution film-makers in his opening speech:
‘I want film-makers to know we’ve got their back. But we try to describe the pitfalls and not let them get deluded to the point where they get too disappointed when their films don’t get bought. They’ve got to know it’s a hard road. And they have to be careful of the hype surrounding the festival; because once they leave the hype may disappear with them. So I say: ‘Deal with the reality.’ Enjoy it while it’s here, but enjoy it like Cinderella at the ball.’
While some, including The Queen of Versailles, have been snapped up by distributors already, it seems likely that many of the films screened at Sundance this year will not escape the curse of the credit crunch. Redford is certainly correct to draw the attention of film-makers to the clock slowly ticking towards the midnight hour. However, the Sundance Festival has been an important objective and beacon of hope for independent film-makers since it first ran in 1978, and even the sombre note of recession hanging in the air will not put a stop to that.
Some other films stirring interest at Sundance are the comedy Predisposed, starring Jessie Eisenberg as a piano prodigy, Bachelorette starring Kirsten Dunst, and L, the new film from Efthimis Filippou (the writer of stand-out Greek movie Dogtooth). Exciting news for British film fans is that the first ever Sundance UK will be taking place at the O2 in London in April 2012. The festival will screen a special selection of 14 films chosen from among those screened at Sundance in the USA, and will also be holding panel discussions and music events (tickets are on sale now).