Sundance London Debriefing Notes

The very first Sundance London festival has drawn to a close. The festival finished for me with Placebo’s performance at the Indig02 on Saturday evening. The band were on form, playing a good mixture of newer songs and old hits. It was a nice facet to Sundance London to feature music as well as film. This is particularly true in the case of Placebo, as the band had attended a Q & A session for the documentary Placebo: Coming Up For Air earlier in the day.

I did not get to see as many films as I would have liked at Sundance London. Nonetheless, I was lucky enough to see the fantastic Liberal Arts. What was good about Sundance London was the number of post-screening question and answer sessions that were held. Even second screenings of films that were held during the day had directors introducing their films, and answering questions from the audience afterwards.

The only real negative of Sundance London was the choice of location. The o2 is an awful venue for a film festival, especially one which showcases independent film. Due to the host of other events taking place at the o2 (the cinema was understandably dominated by Avengers Assemble screenings, while concerts took place in the actual arena), the venue was too capacious to generate any kind of festival atmosphere. The volunteers in their yellow sweatshirts were definitely helpful in providing directions and guidance. However, for festivalgoers attending more than one event in the evening the location was a nightmare. Every restaurant, bar and cafe sported throngs of queues; there was simply nowhere for patrons to eat or relax between events without having to take a tube or bus away from the area.

I genuinely hope Sundance London will return next year, and build on the positives of this year’s festival. Preferably in a more conducive venue.

Film Review: Liberal Arts

Liberal Arts is a warm and engaging comedy drama. The themes that Josh Radnor’s film covers are almost universally applicable.

Jesse is a thirty-something admissions officer living in New York. When he is invited to his old professor’s retirement dinner at his alma mater, Jesse is keen to attend. There he meets Elizabeth, a young undergraduate who is an acquaintance of the professor. Jesse and Elizabeth have a mutual interest in one another other, despite the age gap…

Josh Radnor, who writes, directs and stars in Liberal Arts, appears to know his subject area well. There is a level of insight that shines through the entire film. The script is great, with its humour and involving exchanges. The characters are all well written. Radnor has a flair for creating interesting and authentic characters of all ages.

Liberal Arts will be particularly pertinent to those who graduate from university a few years ago. Nevertheless, the broader theme of age and ageing will be applicable to the widest remit. It is not difficult to identify with Jesse, who does not quite feel his age. There is also some solace in the learned professor’s pearls of wisdom. The beauty of Liberal Arts is the way it depicts all of the main characters as struggling with this. The well-crafted dialogue and characters with depth ensure that viewers will find resonance on some level.

The setting of Liberal Arts is what seems to be the quintessential American campus. It is easy to see why protagonist Jesse would feel such a sense of nostalgia about a place like this. The references to literature are amusing throughout the film. The camera work is controlled, and the film features a good use of music.

Josh Radnor plays Jesse perfectly as the likeable bookish protagonist. Elizabeth Olsen is strong as ever as Elizabeth, while Richard Jenkins brings both humour and acute sadness as Peter. Zac Efron steps out of his comfort zone in a welcome manner, while Allison Janney is great as the aloof Professor Judith.

Liberal Arts simultaneously considers the social impact of literary escapism and the anxieties of ageing in a way that is thoughtful, authentic and amusing. Josh Radnor’s film is highly recommended.

Liberal Arts is being screened at Sundance London, which runs from 26-29th April 2012.

Sundance London Picks

This is actually a ‘films I am going to see at Sundance London’ piece rather than ‘Preview of forthcoming attractions’. The very first Sundance London festival takes place at the 02 from the 26th-29th April 2012. The festival features film screenings and musical performances, as well as talks and guest appearances. More details can be found here. Due to scheduling conflicts, I am not covering as much of the weekend as I had hoped. These are the films I am looking forward to seeing however…

Nobody Walks

Starring John Kasinski and Olivia Thirlby, Nobody Walks is a drama about a young artist who goes to stay in the home of a liberal LA family. The film, directed by Ry Russo-Young, won a Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.

Liberal Arts

I have been hearing very good things about this film on the grapevine that is Twitter. Liberal Arts is about a newly single graduate who returns to his alma mater for the retirement dinner of his favourite professor. The film stars Elizabeth Olsen and Josh Radnor.

Placebo: Coming Up For Air

Placebo are playing Sundance London at the Indig02 on Saturday 28th April. Earlier in the afternoon there will be a special screening of Placebo: Coming Up For Air, a documentary about the band. Charlie Targett-Adams tracks the band on their eighth world tour after the release of their 2009 album.