Director of Programming Trevor Groth and Festival Director John Cooper.
Nate von Zumwalt, Editorial Coordinator
In the minds of Festival Director John Cooper and Director of Programming Trevor Groth, the difficulties inherent in programming the Sundance London film and music festival tend to look more like opportunities. That is to say, neither Cooper nor Groth appear to be fettered by ingrained concepts of how and where a film festival can and should be run.
Sundance London is now in its second year, following a debut festival rife with equal parts uncertainty and success, the former of which was vanquished by a dedicated contingent of UK film enthusiasts turning out to screenings and events throughout the four-day festival. That is precisely why, one year later, the programming pair is eager to return to London this April to share the just-announced 18 feature films, 9 shorts, and handful of panels with film lovers across the pond.
Fresh off the unveiling of a similarly exploratory film festival, NEXT WEEKEND, Cooper and Groth took a moment to shed light on the carefully curated programme for Sundance London, last year’s ambitious UK audiences, and their respective affinity for sharing and showcasing the best independent film in the world.
With the Sundance Film Festival taking place just two months prior to Sundance London, what is the programming process for the latter?
John Cooper: For films, I think it really begins at our Sundance Film Festival in Park City. We have Sundance London in the back of our minds around that time, as we watch how audiences react to the films. Generally, we’re thinking about building a diverse program in addition to representing the broad fundamentals of film—documentary, narrative, and shorts. We want to give a good representation of not only what we’re doing at our Festival in Utah, but also what is going on in the independent film scene.
Trevor Groth: As a film and music festival, there are some obvious ones that jump out to you. Films like History of the Eagles Part One, Muscle Shoals, and The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete, which Alicia Keyes did the music for and Jennifer Hudson stars in. But the greater driving force behind the program is to create a cross-section of what the Festival in Park City is all about and to give audiences in London a taste of what Sundance is.
Are the trends and themes that we saw at the Sundance Film Festival visible in the Sundance London programme?
JC: Many of the themes that we saw in Park City this year are represented in the Sundance London programme. Comedy looms large, there is an exploration of sexual relationships in films like Look of Love and Touchy Feely, and as always we’re drawn to documentaries with strong emotional impact, which is evident in a film like Blood Brother.
TG: One of the big stories that came out of Park City was the number of women directors in the U.S. Dramatic Competition, and Sundance London is following suit in that regard. We’re excited to have 10 films directed by women screening at Sundance London.
What did you learn from the inaugural Sundance London, and how did that inform the programming this year?
JC: The audiences were very adventurous and engaged in the Q&As and panels. We’re creating our panel programming around that, with things like the “Screenwriting Flash Lab,” which is geared toward somebody who wants to be a screenwriter.
TG: We included some UK films in our Shorts Program last year, and there’s something compelling about seeing films from the U.S. side by side with films from the UK. We wanted to expand upon that, so we created a UK Spotlight section for feature films from the UK that premiered in Park City earlier this year.
How is Robert Redford’s vision for Sundance Institute perceptible in Sundance London?
JC: Redford played a huge role in the conception of Sundance London and he really continues to be engaged as it evolves. He’s very interested in artists interacting with different mediums—in this case filmmakers and musicians. That’s something that continues to drive him in his own career. We’re glad he can join us for Sundance London again this year.
What are you most looking forward to at Sundance London, and what films or events do you think will resonate strongly with UK audiences?
JC: I think all of the documentaries will play really well. We’ve selected filmmakers with very strong points of view—Lynn Shelton, Lake Bell, and Jordan Vogt-Roberts—and they create some real diversity. Additionally, Upstream Color created quite the stir at the festival because of its depth and story, and I’m looking forward to showing that film.
TG: What I’m looking forward to is something that’s a big part of the Festival in Park City, which is having first-time filmmakers alongside established filmmakers like Barbara Kopple and Michael Winterbottom.
Each of you talk often about the importance of reaching new audiences. What drives that desire?
JC: I like building things. I like trying things and then shifting them based on what works. Part of the goal of Sundance London is to engage a greater culture around cinema. We know that what we do for 10 days in January in Utah works, but where else can we take that?
TG: I love the idea of fueling creativity. At its core, that’s what Sundance Institute is all about. One of the things that surprised us last year was how many people came out to the panels about the raw process of filmmaking. Sundance London may help give someone in the UK the energy to go out and make films that maybe one day we can show.