The first of the new year’s major international film festivals, Sundance gets under way this week amid the usual frigid temperatures. Strong as ever on world premieres, the line-up in Park City, Utah features the unveiling of a score of high-profile new British films, several of which are playing in competition.
Idris Elba has stepped behind the camera for the first time with Yardie, playing in the festival’s dramatic competition. Adapted from the cult novel by Victor Headley, it follows a young Jamaican’s fortunes after he moves to London in the 1970s, encountering the man who killed his brother. Backed with National Lottery funding via the BFI Film Fund, it stars Aml Ameen (The Maze Runner, The Butler) in the lead role as ‘D’.
The dramatic competition also hosts the world premiere of American Animals, a US/UK co-production and the fiction debut of Bart Layton, whose documentary The Imposter created a stir back in 2012. Like that film, American Animals promises a difficult-to-believe true story, this time centred on an art heist.
There are also two British entries in the documentary competition: Lorna Tucker’s Westwood is a feature-length portrait of fashion icon Vivienne Westwood, and Stephen Loveridge’s Matangi/Maya/M.I.A. is a long-gestating look at the Sri Lankan musician M.I.A.
In addition to its competition slot for American Animals, Bart Layton’s UK-based production company Raw is also behind the new documentary Three Identical Strangers. Another stranger-than-fiction tale, it’s directed by Tim Wardle and centres on three men in 1980s New York who discover as young adults that they are identical twins.
Elsewhere, there’s a smattering of literary costume dramas to be unveiled: Still Alice director Wash Westmoreland is back with Colette, a biopic starring Keira Knightley as the celebrated French novelist, while Claire McCarthy’s Ophelia is a revisioning of Hamlet from Ophelia’s perspective, starring Daisy Ridley in the title role and Naomi Watts as Gertrude.
Anyone who enjoyed Jim Hosking’s one-of-a-kind The Greasy Strangler (2016) will be eager for news on his new one. Titled An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn, it stars Aubrey Plaza and Emile Hirsch in a comedy about an unhappily married woman whose life takes a turn when a man from her past arrives in town to perform the eponymous show.
US premieres will also give stateside audiences their first chance to see both Armando Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin and Rungano Nyoni’s I Am Not a Witch, as well as upcoming UK releases You Were Never Really Here (the latest from Lynne Ramsay) and Beast (the Channel Islands-set mystery drama from debut director Michael Pearce).
Colette, An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn, I Am Not a Witch, You Were Never Really Here and Beast were all also BFI funded.
UK shorts playing at Sundance include Careful How You Go (Emerald Fennell), Fry-up (Charlotte Regan), Garfield (Georgi Banks-Davies), The Right Choice (Tomisin Adepeju), Marfa (Greg McLeod), Wren Boys (Harry Lighton, funded via the BFI’s Network programme) and Blue Christmas (Charlotte Wells).
Pushing the envelope in Sundance’s New Frontiers section is Dickgirl 3D, from Sidsel Meineche Hansen and James B. Stringer, in which “the viewer becomes a post-human pleasure-seeker in an encounter with a submissive clay-like sculpture”.