Wonderland.

REVIEW – SUNDANCE LONDON 2012

Britain might be gripped by the wettest drought in decades, but the rain didn’t deter film buffs from turning up in droves for the first ever Sundance London film festival at the O2 arena. Wonderland joined them to see if the cinematic magic of Park City, Utah would translate to er, North Greenwich. For your browsing pleasure, here’s the first of our two part review of the event from Thursday (and stay tuned for exclusive images of the four day festival).

Day one

Liberal Arts

Sundance kicked off with Josh Radnor’s Liberal Arts (check out our interview with the film’s director and star here), a sweetly touching campus romance about a 35-year-old who falls for a student when he returns to his old college. Fans of Garden State, listen up: the new Zach Braff has arrived. This time it’s the guy from How I Met Your Mother.

Indie darling Elizabeth Olsen stands out for transforming a cookie-cutter role as naïve college student Zibby into something altogether more compelling. But from the buzz at the festival – in the ladies’, at least – it seems like Josh has a few admirers of his own. Good to know that sometimes the nice guys do win.

Day two

The festival’s second day felt a little like watching The Wire boxset on the big screen. First, creator David Simon popped up in hard-hitting documentary The House I Live In, and then Baltimore’s mean streets made an appearance in coming-of-age drama LUV.

The House I Live In

If you condensed the HBO epic into a two-hour documentary, you might come up with something like The House I Live In. A sprawling, take-no-prisoners documentary that traces America’s failed war on drugs, it took director Eugene Jarecki years to make.

“I slammed my head into the wall for years, “ the veteran filmmaker told Wonderland. “Morning, noon and night, like I’d never made a movie before.” The sheer amount of effort shows – by the end of the film, you’re ready to take to the streets. No wonder Jarecki was later swarmed by people demanding to know what they could do to help.

LUV

LUV is a no less gritty proposition, though first-time director Sheldon Candis puts a romantic spin on it. “It’s a tragically optimistic love fable between a boy and his uncle,” he says. The director drew on his own childhood in Baltimore for the drama, following shy 11-year-old Woody as he gets schooled in the art of hustling from his ex-con uncle (played by Common).

The film occasionally stretches the limits of credulity by indoctrinating Woody into a life of crime in under 24 hours, but a coming-of-age story ultimately lives and dies by the strength of its child actor. Luckily, Rainey, all wide-eyed vulnerability, is a revelation here.

Shut Up And Play The Hits

After all that inner-city angst, thank the indie gods for Shut Up And Play The Hits, the LCD Soundsystem doc that got people clapping along in the cinema. Fans piled into the sold-out screening for its British premiere to watch the concert film of the beloved rock band’s final gig at Madison Square Garden.

“The day we did the location scout at Madison Square, Bon Jovi were in there and they had everything – cranes, dollies – the exact way we didn’t want to shoot our show,” says director Will Lovelace.

Instead, Lovelace and co-director Dylan Southern gave their crew handheld cameras and instructed them to film the concert as if they were experiencing it as fans.

The gambit pays off handsomely. Shut Up And Play The Hits is as close to being at an LCD gig as you’re ever going to get, with the added bonus of backstage footage and close-ups of Petunia, frontman James Murphy’s French bulldog. (Cutest rock pet ever? We think so.) No wonder the crowd kept cheering long after the lights went on.

Words: Zing Tsjeng

REVIEW – SUNDANCE LONDON 2012

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