There is something for everyone at this year’s Sundance Film Festival in London

The Sundance Festival London from 9th to 12th June 2022
Picturehouse Central, London

The Sundance Film Festival is back in town June 9-12 with a selection of twelve feature films selected by the annual Park City Utah Sundance Film Festival; the largest independent film festival in the United States. For cineastes there is also a repertoire strand with golden oldies, stage talks with attending stars and filmmakers, discussions with filmmakers and podcasts.

It may be a sign of the times that the festival will open with the UK premiere Good luck to you Leo Grande (97 min.) starring 64-year-old Emma Thompson, written by comedian Katy Brand and directed by Australian director Sophie Hyde (52 on Tuesdays). A sixty-year-old retired RE teacher (Thompson) hires a beautiful young sex worker (Daryl McCormack) after the death of her husband. The uptight mother of two admits her husband was the only man she ever had sex with. But she knows from books, movies, friends, conversations with others, and life in general that she’s missing out.

McCormack gives a nuanced and believable performance in what is sure to be his breakthrough film, but Thompson is also a revelation, as her courage as an actress seems to grow as her character’s sexual enlightenment grows. With such an alluring premise, it’s a shame the story doesn’t flow and the direction feels staged, while humor, suspense and eroticism are in short supply.

Jim Archers Brian and Karl (90 mins) stars British actor and comedian David Earl (who co-wrote the screenplay with Chris Hayward) as Brian, a lonely and hapless inventor who uses odds and ends around the house to build an artificial intelligence robot. This is not to be confused with Spike Jonze’s 2013 film she in which a lonely writer forms a relationship with a (female) virtual AI assistant. Brian and Karl is more of a feel-good comedy than a romantic sci-fi thriller. However, both films have something to say about the power of persuasion and how adaptable and flexible people can be.

Katia Krafft wearing an aluminized suit standing near the lava eruption at Krafla volcano in Iceland. (Image credit: Image’Est)

If you have a love-hate relationship with exploits of suicidal audacity documented in movies like man on the wire, grizzly man and Free solo, fire of love (93 min.) is a thought-provoking film, even if nerve-wracking moments are oddly absent. More than just another tale of obsessed adventurers pushing boundaries, Sara Dosa’s documentary offers a slightly new perspective on the nature of this obsession. Volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft were apparently the world’s only married couple of volcanologists, and after deciding not to have children, they traveled the world in search of active volcanoes. They lived and died to get as close to the fire as possible. The subject matter is interesting, but Miranda July’s voice and narration are off-putting, and we crave some context to put her accomplishments in perspective. Nonetheless, her story will leave the audience pondering the connection between this perfectly matched couple and their eruptive subject of study.

Another tragic documentary, this time political, is Free Chol Soo (83 min) (directors Julie Ha and Eugene Yi), which tells the story of a lesser-known well-known case of racial and social injustice, and the work of the Free Chol Soo Lee Defense Committee that helped Chol Soo regain his freedom, if not his life.

Chol Soo was a Korean-American immigrant wrongly convicted of the 1973 murder of Yip Yee Tak, a leader of San Francisco’s Chinatown gang. While serving a life sentence, he was accused of another murder, which he described as self-defense, and sentenced to death. What sets this documentary apart is not the miscarriage of justice itself, but its inclusion of the aftermath of the appeal and the little-documented cost of freedom.

Tammy Faye’s eyes awarded Jessica Chastain an Oscar for Best Actress in March, but that hasn’t deterred Regina Hall (Master, The hate you give), who takes on the role of Trinitie Childs, the first lady of a disgraced Southern Baptist mega church Honk for Jesus, save your soul (106 minutes).

After her church is rocked by a scandal similar to the one that uprooted Tammy Faye Bakker and her husband Jim Bakker, Trinitie helps her pastor husband Lee-Curtis Childs (Sterling K Brown, The People vs. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story) to rebuild their community. Director Adamma Ebo takes a very different approach to the mega-church phenomenon than Michael Showalter with Tammy Faye in this no-holds-barred film.

If Sundance London offers a selection of documentaries, the same goes for thrillers and horror films. The chilling psychological horror film hatching (87 mins) will have pushy tiger moms and obsequious dads pondering the pressures young athletes are under. While Tinja’s (Siiri Solalinna) loving, caring mother blogs about her perfect Finnish family, director Hanna Bergholm ensures that the bitter truth behind the facade is revealed layer by layer.

resurrection (103 mins) is a psychological thriller written and directed by Andrew Semans, but it is primarily a women’s film and a timely one at that. Rebecca Hall stars as Margaret, an able and successful professional who has moved on with her life, or so it seemed. Can Margaret stay in control of her life when her abusive ex-boyfriend (Tim Roth) reappears in her neighborhood?

observer (91 mins) is American director Chloe Okuno’s directorial debut and is one of those true starless independent films with a serial killer on the loose. The story centers on an American woman uprooted to Bucharest with her Romanian fiancé when he takes a job there. The apartment they take has a large window which is great for people watching but it works both ways. Although it’s more of a “who to trust” thriller than a social commentary, observer has something to say about the male gaze that might help American audiences appreciate the benefits of learning the local language.

For full schedule and tickets to follow this link.

There is something for everyone at this year’s Sundance Film Festival in London

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