Something for everyone at this year’s Sundance Film Festival in London

Something for everyone at this year’s Sundance Film Festival in London

The Sundance Festival London June 9-12, 2022
Picturehouse Central, London

The Sundance Film Festival is back in town from 9-12 June, with a selection of twelve feature films chosen from the annual Park City Utah Sundance Film Festival; the largest independent film festival in the USA. For film buffs there will also be a repertory strand of golden oldies, on stage talks with stars and filmmakers present, discussions with filmmakers and podcasts.

It may be a sign of the times that the festival opens with the UK premiere of Good Luck to You, Leo Grande (97 mins), starring 64-year-old Emma Thompson, written by comedienne Katy Brand, and directed by Australian director Sophie Hyde (52 Tuesdays). A sexagenarian retired RE schoolteacher (Thompson) hires a handsome young sex worker (Daryl McCormack) after the death of her husband. The uptight mother of two confesses that her husband was the only man with whom she ever had sex. Yet she knows from books, films, friends, other people’s discussions and life in general, that she has missed out.

McCormack gives a nuanced and credible performance in what will surely be his breakout film, but Thompson is a revelation, too, as her courage as an actress seems to grow with her character’s sexual education. With such an enticing premise, it’s a shame that the story does not flow, and the direction feels stagey, while humour, tension and eroticism are in short supply.

Jim Archer’s Brian and Charles (90 mins) stars the British actor and comedian David Earl (who co-wrote the script with Chris Hayward) as Brian, a lonely and unlucky inventor who builds an artificial intelligence robot from odds and ends around the house. This will not be confused with Spike Jonze’s 2013 film Her in which a lonely writer develops a relationship with a (female) AI virtual assistant. Brian and Charles is more feel good comedy than Sci-Fi romantic thriller. Both films, however, have something to say about the power of persuasion and how adaptable and flexible human beings can be.

Katia Krafft wearing aluminized suit standing near lava burst at Krafla Volcano, Iceland. (Credit: Image’Est)

If you have a love-hate relationship with feats of suicidal daring documented in films like Man on Wire, Grizzly Man and Free Solo, Fire of Love (93 mins) is a film to consider, even if nail biting moments are strangely lacking. More than another tale of obsessed adventurers pushing the boundaries, Sara Dosa’s documentary offers a slightly new angle on the nature of that obsession. Volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft were apparently the world’s only volcanologist couple, and, making the decision not to have children, they travelled the world in search of active volcanoes. They lived, and died, in a quest to get as close to the fire as possible. The subject matter is interesting, but Miranda July’s voice and narration is off-putting, and we long for some context to put their accomplishments in perspective. Nonetheless their story will leave audiences pondering the bond between this perfectly matched couple and their eruptive subject of study.

Another tragic documentary, this time political, is Free Chol Soo (83 mins) (directors Julie Ha and Eugene Yi) which tells the story of a lesser-known know case of racial and social injustice righted, and the work of the Free Chol Soo Lee Defence Committee that helped Chol Soo regain his freedom, if not his life.

Chol Soo was a Korean American immigrant who was wrongfully convicted for the 1973 murder of Yip Yee Tak, a San Francisco Chinatown gang leader. While serving a life sentence he was accused of another murder, which he claimed was self-defence, and sentenced to death. What distinguishes this documentary is not the miscarriage of justice itself, but the inclusion of the aftermath of the appeal and the little documented cost of freedom.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye rewarded Jessica Chastain with a Best Actress Academy Award back in March, but that has not put off Regina Hall (Master, The Hate U Give), who takes on the role of Trinitie Childs, the first lady of a disgraced Southern Baptist Mega Church, in Honk for Jesus, Save Your Soul (106 mins).

After their church is rocked by a scandal similar to the one that uprooted Tammy Faye Bakker and her husband, Jim Bakker, Trinitie helps her pastor-husband, Lee-Curtis Childs (Sterling K Brown, The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story) to rebuild their congregation. Director Adamma Ebo takes a much different approach to the mega church phenomenon than Michael Showalter’s with Tammy Faye in this no holds barred mocumentary.

If Sundance London offers a choice of documentaries, the same can be said for thrillers and horror movies. The eerie, psychological horror movie Hatching (87 mins) will have pushy tiger mums and submissive dads everywhere thinking about the pressures young athletes are under. While sweet, caring Tinja’s (Siiri Solalinna) driven mum shows off her perfect Finnish family in a blog, director Hanna Bergholm ensures the bitter truth behind the façade is revealed, layer by layer.

Resurrection (103 mins) is a psychological thriller written and directed by Andrew Semans, but very much a woman’s film and a topical one at that. Rebecca Hall stars as Margaret, a capable and successful professional who has moved on with her life, or so it seemed. Can Margaret maintain control of her life when her abusive ex-boyfriend (Tim Roth) reappears in her neighbourhood?

Watcher (91 mins) is American director Chloe Okuno’s feature directorial debut and one of those genuine independent films with no big stars and a serial killer on the loose. The story focuses on an American uprooted to Bucharest with her Romanian fiancé, when he takes a job there. The flat that they take has a big window that is great for people watching, but it works both ways. While it might be more of a “who can you trust” thriller than a social commentary, Watcher has something to say about the male gaze that might leave American audiences with a better appreciation of the benefits of learning the local language.

For the complete schedule and tickets follow this link.