The Robert Redford-led Sundance London Festival returned to The O2 in London for its third edition recently. Bringing along several films from the Utah original, the festival also presented plenty of underappreciated and upcoming musical acts. While we didn't take on the extravaganza with our usual gusto, we did catch a few films and a bit of the music.
'Kumiko The Treasure Hunter' was designed to be the centrepiece of our Sundance London experience, receiving recommendations of its quality from fellow film journos. We even waited a good 35 minutes in the supposedly legendary "waitlist" - an overflow queue for those looking to book tickets at the last minute, available even for sold out screenings. Tickets were eventually secured, even with one of the famous volunteers having a go at us for being late - rest assured, we would have been delighted to not have been forced to queue up till the last possible moment.
After all that fuss, 'Kumiko The Treasure Hunter' (★) was unfortunately a disappointment. A curious tale of an isolated Japanese woman (Rinko Kikuchi) who finds a VHS copy of 'Fargo', believing the treasure buried in the film to be a real life event, she proceeds to plot her journey from Tokyo to discover the riches at the expense of all around her. Presenting one of the least sympathetic lead characters ever committed to film, 'Kumiko The Treasure Hunter' continually frustrated us.
Fortunately, the post-film Q&A sent us away happy enough - director and co-writer David Zellner proving charming and considered. We were particularly interested by the discussion surrounding the film's costume design - nods to J-horror were subconscious but the striking red coat (a la 'Don't Look Now') was intentional.
Elsewhere, we encountered darker moments with revenge thriller 'Blue Ruin' (out now in UK cinemas) and based-on-a-true-story drama 'Fruitvale Station' (out 6 June, in the UK). The former charts the reaction of a quiet outsider (Macon Blair) who discover his parents' murderer has been freed - sparking an ongoing string of violence that soon appears inescapable. 'Blue Ruin' (★★★½) is often gripping and brutal, although it somewhat spirals out of control from both a filmmaking perspective as well as in terms of its plot.
'Fruitvale Station' (★★★★) offers its brutality in another form, based on the actual events of an altercation in America on New Year's Day 2009. Prior knowledge of the event is sure to cloud any judgement of the film, and while it opens with amateur footage of the incident - the less you know, the better. Central character Michael B Jordan is fully deserving of his plaudits, swaying between the ominous and the affectionate with ease. Similarly, the string of awards the film has received are testament to the powerful reaction created by Ryan Coogler's debut feature.
We didn't do quite as well on the music front, only managing to briefly pop by the nice Festival Square stage setup to catch a couple of the acts on offer. The hearty vocals of singer-songwriter Natalie Shay especially caught our eye, and we're actually quite shocked to find out she's just fifteen - it might not happen for her anytime soon but don't be surprised if big things come a-knocking at some point.
We can't really say whether Sundance London was better or worse than last year's effort but we do know we'd absolutely welcome the festival back next year. Although perhaps we'd be cheeky enough to suggest that it move somewhere a bit more intimate - The O2 does a decent job as festival host but its vastness doesn't quite match up with the intimacy of the panels and post-film Q&As.
Find more info at sundance-london.com.