Inside Sundance Film Festival ’18: London
With movements such as #MeToo and Time’s Up successfully highlighting the profound inequality that’s rife within the film industry, Sundance Film Festival are courageously asking #WhatNext for the future of independent filmmaking. We spent a morning with the festival’s organisers and the directors of Half The Picture, Skate Kitchen, Leave No Trace and The Tale to discuss how the industry’s evolving and to bring you the low down on this year’s programme…
``I realised that as women, we want to see all different types of stories and these stories are key to giving us the perception we need to change things.`` - Crystal Moselle
Amidst a climatic period of change and profound reflection in the film industry, this year’s Sundance Film Festival: London provides the perfect setting for us all to connect and deliberate the industry’s past, present and future. Taking place from May 31 to June 3 at Picturehouse Central in London’s Piccadilly district, the festival aims to bring diverse voices within independent filmmaking to London’s dynamic and energetic audiences.
“There’s a connection to humanity in independent films,” begins Sundance Film Festival Director, John Cooper. “We want young people to think for themselves and lead us out of our troubles. Bringing humanity and art into young people’s lives is going to help bring about that change. You don’t change anything just by sharing ideas necessarily; I think it’s about sharing stories. You understand how people think through stories. You bring about change by seeing a different culture represented.”
This year’s Sundance lends its focus firmly to celebrating the work of inspiring women within the industry, with 58% of this year’s main feature films having been directed by women, complimented entirely by the vast, dynamic array of strong female leads on screen. This year’s selection undoubtedly champions strong female voices and pays particular attention to the plight of female directors.
Inequality in the industry is touched upon throughout the festival’s programming, particularly in Amy Andrion’s insightful documentary ‘Half The Picture’, which features interviews with a wealth of prominent female filmmakers, who tell their complex stories of the difficulties of being a woman in a male-dominated space. Adrion confidently handles the issue of inherent sexism in the industry and contemplates many of the stereotypes that have prevented several women from rising to positions of authority.
Skate Kitchen, Crystal Moselle
The prevalent issue of existing as a woman in a male-dominated space is also dealt with authentically in Crystal Moselle’s atmospheric film ‘Skate Kitchen’, which follows a subculture of girls in New York whose lives revolve around skateboarding. Although each skater is given a fictional arc to play out, the actresses are actually a group of real-life female skateboarders who frequent New York’s skate parks under the name The Skate Kitchen (@theskatekitchen). Director Crystal Moselle immersed herself entirely in the lives of the skater girls whilst creating the film, working closely with them to portray the difficulties faced by young women who exist in testosterone-heavy spaces.
“We want young girls to be inspired by the idea that they can do things that normally they’re told they can’t do,” notes Moselle, before addressing her own experience of being a woman working within a male-dominated industry. “I didn’t really focus on what it meant to be a woman in a man’s world until I was at Sundance on a panel with three other women and people started asking us the question of what it’s like to be a woman in the film industry.”
“I’d never really thought about it, as I’d never hung out with female directors before,” she continues. “But I started hearing other women’s stories, and all of a sudden I was aware of the problem. I realised that as women, we want to see all different types of stories and these stories are key to giving us the perception we need to change things.”
Meanwhile, Debra Granik’s ‘Leave No Trace’ is a poignant tale of love and survival that casts the spotlight on a headstrong, self-reliant young female character. The film tells the story of Will and his teenager daughter, Tom, who live off the beaten track, blissfully undetected by the authorities in a nature reserve in Portland, Oregan. When they’re discovered by social services and struggle to adapt to their new surroundings, the pair set off on a treacherous journey back to the wilderness.
The renowned director is famed for her inclusion of strong, intelligent and generous young female characters, with Tom baring striking resemblance to Ree from Granik’s critically acclaimed A Winter’s Bone. Ree, played by a then-unknown Jennifer Lawrence, is a young woman whose self-reliant, affirmative attitude transforms her into a courageous, headstrong female lead.
“I love plots where the fact that the character is female isn’t all that matters,” notes Granik. “What matters is that they’re very tuned to their environment, that they’re attempting to navigate their lives with their own personal resources. These young female characters aren’t valued for their physical attributes, they’re valued because their minds matter.”
The rest of this year’s Sundance programming aligns with the festival’s initiative to champion some of the female-led creative excellence that excelled at this year’s Sundance Film Festival in Utah in January. Jennifer Fox’s The Tale, dubbed the essential #MeToo film, is a traumatic yet profusely moving story of childhood abuse that unflinchingly examines the effects of significant trauma. Whilst both Desirree Akhavan’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post and Ari Aster’s Hereditary cast a spotlight on unapologetically strong, dynamic female leads.
“It’s absolutely thrilling to have such a female-led voice at Sundance,” points out Claire Binns, Picturehouse Cinemas’ Director of Programming and Acquisition. “The whole conversation we’re having at the festival this year, asking #WhatNext for the industry, we’re here to make sure that it’s a conversation that is really heard. And to do so, we’re championing female voices and putting their message to the front and centre of what we do. It’s safe to say that things are really changing.”