The current cold snap will have been suitably mettle-testing for those British filmmakers heading out to this year’s Sundance Film Festival, held as ever in the plunging winter temperatures of Utah’s Park City. There’s a colourful smattering of UK films and co-productions across the programme, most receiving their world premiere screening.
Among the most hotly anticipated of these must be the new film from Asif Kapadia, whose film portrait of Amy Winehouse is now in the running for this year’s Oscar for best documentary. Ali and Nino is Kapadia’s first dramatic feature since 2007’s Far North. It’s an adaptation of Kurban Said’s novel of the same name about the romance between a Muslim prince and a Georgian aristocrat in Azerbaijan during the First World War. The screenplay is by Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons, Atonement).
War, this time the Iran-Iraq conflict, also forms a backdrop to the Tehran-set horror film Under the Shadow, a tale of evil spirits, possession and violent revolution. Written and directed by Babak Anvari, it was filmed in Amman, Jordan, and produced and co-funded by London-based Wigwam Films. The superficial comparisons to Iranian vampire flick A Girl Walks Home Alone Late at Night, which premiered to wide acclaim at Sundance 2014, start here.
Under the Shadow is to be unveiled in Sundance’s Midnight movie strand, which proudly trumpets darkside alumni including Delicatessen (1991), The Blair Witch Project (1999) and Saw (2004). It’s here this year that also sees the premiere of The Greasy Strangler, the feature debut of Jim Hosking. Shot in LA, and backed by the BFI Film Fund, it boasts Elijah Wood and Ben Wheatley among its producers and offers an intriguing premise involving a disco walking tour, father-son rivalry and an oily murderer stalking the streets.
Also with funding from the BFI is Notes on Blindness, screening in the festival’s experimental New Frontier strand. Written and directed by Peter Middleton and James Spinney, it’s drawn from audio diaries that academic John Hull kept after he started losing his eyesight in the early 1980s. The audience experience includes an innovative, headset-delivered virtual reality experience.
Two British films compete in this year’s world cinema documentary competition. Robert Cannan and Ross Adams’ The Lovers and the Despot retells the bizarre story of how North Korean dictator’s son and movie obsessive Kim Jong-il once kidnapped one of South Korea’s biggest movie stars. Stephen Kijak’s We Are X, meanwhile, revisits the career of Japanese glam metal band X Japan and their troubled frontman Yoshiki. There’s British backing too in Aaron Brookner’s Uncle Howard, which plays in the US documentary competition.
UK shorts this year include Over (Jörn Threlfall), Rate Me (Fyzal Boulifa), Mining Poems or Odes (Callum Rice) and Manoman (Simon Cartwright), the animations Edmond (Nina Gantz) and Pombo Loves You (Steve Warne), and the non-fiction Territory (Eleanor Mortimer), a short-form look at Gibraltar’s monkey population.
Last but far from least, Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Lobster gets a special outing in Spotlight, Sundance programmers’ arena for film favourites of the past year.
Sundance films with backing from the BFI Film Fund are The Greasy Strangler, Notes on Blindess, The Lovers and the Despot and The Lobster.