Christine Westwood reports from the Sundance Film Festival 2015.
They’re popping up everywhere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival: Irish actors, writers, directors and producers and sometimes in the most unlikely places. It’s thanks to ongoing networking among creatives in the film industry that you can end up with an Irish writer, Michael Kinirons in the Australian desert for the Nicole Kidman headliner Strangerland, directed by first time feature director Kim Farrant and part-financed by the Irish Film board.
Then there’s the talented Kerry-born writer/ director Gerard Barrett (Pilgrim Hill) steering the powerful tale of a Dublin man and his alcoholic mother in Glassland. Brooklyn, adapted by Nick Hornby from the book by Colm Toibin, is a tale of a young Irish girl who becomes an emigre in New York. It stars Saoirse Ronan (Wuthering Heights, Lovely Bones), who’s home is in County Carlow.
An Irish production company joined with other European outfits to create The Visit selected for entry in the World Documentary competition. The Visit documents an event that has never taken place: humans’ first encounter with intelligent life from another world. Belfast is the location for 71, a UK production directed by first time director Yann Demange. With its mix of Irish and British actors, the powerful screenplay of The Troubles by Gregory Burke has earned critical attention since the film’s first outing at the Berlinale.
Speaking of UK filmmakers, the Brits are dominating The Sundance Festival’s World Cinema Documentary Competition this year. There’s Dark Horse, set in a tiny village in one of the poorest mining valleys in Wales, where barmaid Jan Vokes, plans to take on the ‘sport of kings’ and breed a racehorse. Jan and other locals pitch in to raise a foal that becomes an unlikely champion, beating the finest thoroughbreds in the land. The underdog story by writer/director Louise Osmond is making the movie a Sundance favourite.
Kim Longinotto is a British documentary maker, known for films that highlight the plight of female victims of oppression or discrimination. In Dreamcatcher Longinotto uses unobtrusive verité camera work to follow Chicago ex-prostitute Brenda as she intervenes to help other women caught in the same fate. How To Change The World is the story of Greenpeace, a joint UK/Canadian production that follows the birth and rise of the ‘rainbow warriors.’
In the Shorts Documentary category, UK production company Fly films (Hockney and Ken Loach’s The Spirit of ’45) scored one of the only two long form entries with Abandoned Goods, a moving portrait of patients from Netherne psychiatric hospital 1946 -1981 who created an extraordinary collection of artworks under artist Edward Adamson. At tonight’s Short film awards tonight, director Edward Lawrenson said ‘We realised in the editing that we’d have lost a lot of emotional impact if we’d had to cut the length down. We’re incredibly pleased that Sundance has a progressive remit that can include films of that length. And it was great working with Fly Films, they’re so experienced.’
Other UK short films in competition include Daytimer, Out of sight, Followers and a film about the Liverpool football stadium disaster, simply called Saturday.
But it’s director Ben Aston’s Russian Roulette that was acquired this week by Conde Nast Entertainment on the back of The New Yorker Short Films series last month. At 5 minutes long, the intriguing synopsis is ‘London becomes a little less lonely when Lucy meets a libidinous cosmonaut on Chatroulette..’ Aston’s graduation film He Took His Skin Off For Me premiered at the Palm Springs Shortfest 2014, and was selected for the BFI London Film Festival. Russian Roulette recently won the jury prize for the London short film competition but just missed out at Sundance against US writer/ director Don Hertzfeldt for World of Tomorrow where a little girl is taken on a mind-bending tour of the distant future.