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Sundance Film Festival 2024 report by Louise Fox

Lit movie theatre Sundance Film Festival
Egyptian Theatre, Park City, Utah

Against the backdrop of snow-covered mountains in Utah's picturesque Park City, I attended the 40th edition of the Sundance Film Festival from January 18 to 28, 2024. I was always drawn to Sundance's commitment to showcasing groundbreaking storytellers at the iconic Egyptian & Eccles film Theatres. The experience allowed me to see the best of independent film and interact with industry professionals, filmmakers, film festivals, critics, and fellow film enthusiasts. 

My Top five programme highlights

Director Rose Glass (Saint Maud) smashes this unapologetic queer neo-noir thriller starring a mesmerising Kristen Stewart and Katy O'Brian as a hulk-like bodybuilder set in New Mexico circa 1989. It is funny, violent, sexy, brutal and extreme and will be a cult classic in the queer canon. A co-production between A24 and Film4.

A boisterous, political comedy in the Irish language. Liam Óg Ó hAnnaidh, Naoise Ó Cairealláin, and JJ Ó Dochartaigh play themselves in this fictionalised version of Irish Rapers Kneecap, directed by Rich Peppiatt. Why all the Sundance buzz ? It's not a bland, folksy, ethereal version of minority language it's a fresh, ballsy film a-wash with bad ketamine trips, terrorist jokes, and bum cheeks.

Glen Powell is great as a professor moonlighting as a hitman in this sharply scripted comedy/noir directed by Richard Linklater.  Loosely based on a true crime article Linklater read twenty years ago in the Texas Monthly. He says, " The film is attempting to hit a lot of notes—comedy, noir, thriller, psychological study—while examining most of all the concept of identity and how fixed our personalities may or may not be"  It is funny, sexy, clever and confident filmmaking and a total pleaser for audiences.  

Absolutely poignant and deeply touching, the documentary "Ibelin" unravels the story of a young man grappling with a muscle-wasting disease. The profound narrative delves into the regrets of his parents and family following his death, as they initially hoped he would find love, make a difference in people's lives, and form genuine friendships. Little did they know that within the digital realm of the World of Warcraft community, Ibelin discovered a world that fulfilled all of those. Winner of the Audience Award: World Cinema Documentary at Sundance

I watched 21 films over 4 days in person and 3 online. The film programme is massive: 145 feature films across 12 categories, short films seven programs short films, and 8 Episodic projects, including U.S. Dramatic & Doc Competition, World Cinema Dramatic & Doc, Next, Midnight, Premiers, New Fronters, Spotlight, Family, and Specials. Longer reviews are over on Mor Media’s Letterbox 

Other great titles included the charming My Old Ass, afterlife AI doc Eternal You, music Doc Devo, Jesse Eisenberg's debut A Real Pain with a brilliant Kieran Culkin, A New Kind of Wilderness, Didi, Girls will be Girls, and debut Good One. Some much anticipated but total turkeys included Handling the Undead, Love Machina, and the big-billed Kristen Stewart & Steven Yuen Love Me.  All the films I saw & the full programme are listed on the Mor Media’s Letterbox  

Sundance Six degrees of separation

In true Sundance style, in the last two years, I chatted with Ira Sacks (Passages) only to find out he was great friends with the person I had brunch with the day before, I met Sundance Institute Vice Chair Gigi in a line to find out she had a family in Cornwall.  I had a drink with some old-time Sundancers in the Double Tree bar, only later to find out that it was Reed Hastings, co-founder of Netflix  - we talked about our film picks but mostly about our dogs & trainers ! I missed meeting up with my Celtic colleagues at UK Film Council brunch this year, which just highlights We are not all UK Film ! Our own South Wester Dave Taylor Mathews (formally Encounters) was with the Eventive team working behind the festival. 

Some takeaways: Slamdance runs concurrently with Sundance, it’s mantra: By Filmmakers, For Filmmakers,” set up as people were fed up with Sundance's limits, have grown a rich alternative progrramme!  A lot of people go to Sundance but never watch a film !  The Sundance Awards are bizarre and certainly not what everyone is talking about at the festival. Dress warm casual is king ! Accommodation is eyewateringly expensive and limited.  Sundance will have to move dates and places in the next couple of years and lastly everyone I know gets ill after Sundance! 

It was not much short of £3000, including flights, a pass (850$), and shared accommodation. Was it worth it? YES ! No other festival I've been to has been so open and welcoming, my contact book is brimming with great professionals willing to do some mentoring, run a masterclass or support the Film Festival’s development, sure it was -5 degrees most of the time, and you negotiate 6m high snow banks and slide around on the ice, I've seen performances by Saul Williams (Neptune Frost) had a lovely chat with André Holland (Moonlight) and his mum, went to talks & panels with fierce filmmakers, stumbled into happenings, and got thrown out of a bar (I'm 52!) met & made friends with people from all over the world,  it was a total blast and one that I won't forget in a long long time. 

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