British films at Sundance 2024

New films starring Kristen Stewart and Saoirse Ronan are among the 15 UK films and co-productions featuring in the 40th anniversary edition of the Sundance Film Festival.

18 January 2024

By Sam Wigley

Layla (2024)

Forty years ago this January, the inaugural edition of the Sundance Film Festival got under way in Park City, Utah, and featured two now classic British films: Peter Greenaway’s ludic country-house mystery The Draughtsman’s Contract and Martin Rosen’s dark animation The Plague Dogs (both 1982).

Fast forward to 2024 and the 40th anniversary programme has more than a smattering of UK titles to look out for, most of them receiving their world premieres. Amrou Al-Kadhi’s Layla and Mikko Mäkelä’s Sebastian will both be seen in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition. Layla, a directorial debut, is a romantic drama revolving around an Arab drag queen, while Sebastian, a second feature from Mäkelä, centres a young aspiring novelist who takes up sex work in the name of research.

The parallel Documentary competition sees the world premiere of Black Box Diaries, a Japan/US/UK co-production from journalist turned filmmaker Shiori Ito. This real-life investigative thriller, already acquired for distribution by Dogwoof, follows Ito’s attempts to bring to justice the high-profile figure who sexually assaulted her.

Five years after her acclaimed debut Saint Maud (2019), British director Rose Glass returns with another intriguing spin on genre. Love Lies Bleeding – screening as a Midnight movie – brings together Kristen Stewart and Katy O’Brian as a gym manager and a bodybuilder in a lesbian romantic thriller set in the American southwest.

The Outrun (2024)

Another starry selection is The Outrun, which pitches Saoirse Ronan as a woman returning to the Orkneys after a long absence, including a spell in rehab. The source is Amy Liptrot’s bestselling 2016 memoir, and the director is Nora Fingscheidt, best known for 2019’s System Crasher.

The festival’s Next section is a showcase for “forward-thinking” storytelling and it’s here we find Kneecap, an Ireland-UK co-production from director Rich Peppiatt in which the eponymous Belfast rap trio play versions of themselves. Co-starring Michael Fassbender, Kneecap will be the first Irish language film to screen at Sundance.

Music binds together a number of other UK titles too. Gary Huswit’s Eno, screening in New Frontiers, is a career-spanning profile of Brian Eno which has been made using generative software to order the film’s scenes and music cues. Designed for a live experience, Huswit’s unconventional immersive doc will be different each time it’s screened.

Onetime Eno collaborators Devo also get their own eponymous documentary. This new look at the radical new-wave band behind ‘Whip It’ and ‘Uncontrollable Urge’ comes to us from American Movie (1999) and Wham! (2023) director Chris Smith. Meanwhile, The Greatest Night in Pop, from director Bao Nguyen, tells the story behind the recording of ‘We Are the World’, the 1985 charity single that brought together singers including Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Wonder.

Rounding out the UK documentaries in the selection is Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui’s Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story, a portrait of the Hollywood actor told through new access to his home movies and personal archive.

Three British short films play Sundance this year – Renee Zhan’s Shé/Snake (a US/UK co-production), Tajana Tokyo’s Salone Love (USA/UK/Sierra Leone) and Yero Timi-Biu’s Essex Girls. There’s also one animated feature, with Christopher Jenkins’ cat-centred 10 Lives getting a family matinee screening.

Finally, How to Have Sex completes its festival run in a Spotlight screening having launched at Cannes 2023. Molly Manning Walker’s clubbing holiday drama arrives in Park City on a victory lap after placing in numerous end of year lists.

The Sundance Film Festival runs from 18 to 28 January 2024.

Kneecap, Sebastian, Layla and How to Have Sex are all funded with National Lottery money via the BFI Filmmaking Fund.

Eno received funding via the BFI’s UK Global Screen Fund.