World premieres of new features from Ben Wheatley and Edgar Wright are the highest-profile UK productions to debut at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
Following his recent re-adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, Brighton-based Wheatley has written, directed and edited In the Earth. Made entirely during the COVID-19 pandemic, and with a narrative evidently influenced by it, Wheatley’s ominous-looking genre piece sees a doctor and his guide journey to a research hub deep in a mysterious forest as a deadly virus ravages the world. Joel Fry, best-known for his supporting role in Danny Boyle’s Yesterday (2019) and TV appearances in Game of Thrones and Plebs, joins Ellora Torchia (Midsommar), Hayley Squires (I, Daniel Blake) and third-time Wheatley collaborator Reece Shearsmith (High-Rise, A Field in England) among the cast.
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Edgar Wright’s The Sparks Brothers is the director’s first documentary and focuses on oddball pop siblings Sparks – Ron and Russell Mael. Expected to offer an intriguing look at the American duo using new interviews, archive footage and animation, the film explores Sparks’ career since the 1960s and includes footage shot at their O2 Forum Kentish Town gig in 2018.
Sam Hobkinson’s UK-Belgium co-production Misha and the Wolves screens as part of the World Cinema Documentary Competition. Debut feature director Hobkinson, who recently directed the Netflix documentary miniseries Fear City: New York vs The Mafia, tells the mysterious story of a Holocaust survival memoir and its writer through a series of re-enactments, archive footage and interviews.
Genre fans excited by Wheatley’s premiere will also have their interest piqued by Censor, the debut feature from Welsh director Prano Bailey-Bond, which is screening in the Midnight strand. The BFI-backed horror was shot in Leeds and centres on film censor Enid (Niamh Algar), who suffers the torrid mental consequences of her work viewing gore-filled video nasties. Executive producers on the project include horror expert and writer Kim Newman and Andy Starke, who produced Kill List (2011) and In Fabric (2018).
Director Kevin Macdonald’s Life in a Day 2020, a UK-US co-production showing as a special screening, is a documentary feature compiled from 15,000 hours of footage from 192 countries around the world, all shot on 25 July 2020. Macdonald returns to the concept he developed in Life in a Day (2011), which premiered at Sundance a decade ago.
Two British fiction shorts will play the festival. Akinola Davies Jr’s Lizard looks at an 8-year-old girl’s experiences when she is thrown out of a Lagos Sunday school, while Lkhagvadulam Purev-Ochir’s Mountain Cat is a Mongolia-UK co-production in which a girl is forced to visit a shaman.
Renee Maria Osubu directs the sole British short documentary, Dear Philadelphia, a US-UK co-production about a community in the north of the Pennsylvania city. Rounding off the British shorts, Renaldho Pelle’s animation The Fire Next Time depicts a riot on a housing estate.
A pair of projects in Sundance’s New Frontiers strand for immersive and VR work round off the UK slate this year. Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran is a UK-Iran co-production comprising a darkly comic Instagram show whose leading artists are Javaad Alipoor and Kirsty Housley. Anna West and David Callanan, meanwhile, are leading artists on To Miss the Ending, a VR project that concerns memory and the digital world.
This year Sundance will not have an in-person festival at its usual base of Park City, Utah and instead will be screened predominantly online. Films from its programme will also screen at 20 satellite venues across America, many of which are drive-in cinemas.