Ahead of Sundance Film Festival London, Thomas Adam Curry selects five of the best films showing, reflecting on identity, politics, power and community
Celebrated as a springboard for emerging cinematic talent, the Sundance Film Festival returns to London this week at Picturehouse Central with an eclectic and informative mix of features, documentaries, shorts, discussions and talks. With 12 full-length features – equally balanced between male and female directed works – and 12 original shorts, this year’s festival challenges audiences to reflect on identity, politics, power and community.
Opening with Mindy Kaling’s Late Night, about a legendary late-night talk show host whose world is turned upside down when she hires her first female writer, and closing with the UK premier of Penny Lane’s thorny and thought-provoking Hail Satan?, which probes challenging questions of religious hypocrisy in modern-day America, we’ve picked five favourites you won’t want to miss.
The Farewell (above)
After learning their beloved matriarch has terminal lung cancer, a family opts not to tell her about the diagnosis; instead, they plan an impromptu wedding as an excuse to gather together for one final goodbye. A heartfelt celebration of family, home and heritage, The Farewell, directed by Beijing-born Lulu Wang and starring Awkwafina, blends warmth and knowing wit in its examination of how we lie to the ones we love.
Under five-foot tall, Dr Ruth Westheimer escaped the holocaust that claimed her parents’ lives, traveled to America and established herself, unequivocally, as the country’s most iconic sex therapist. With her diminutive frame, thick German accent, and uninhibited approach to sex and education, Dr Ruth transformed the America’s attitudes towards sex and sexuality through her books, TV appearances and radio talk shows. In the lead up to her 90th birthday, documentary Ask Dr Ruth presents a tender character study of a beloved revolutionary, queer advocate and sex-positive pioneer.
Directed by Alison Klayman, the filmmaker behind the Emmy-nominated Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry and Netflix’s remarkable Take Your Pills, The Brink pulls back the curtain on the far right as it follows Steve Bannon on a tour of toxicity through Europe and the US. A deft and vigilant fly-on-the-wall record of Bannon’s populist playbook, The Brink is a must-watch triumph that’s as enlightening as it is enraging.
The Last Tree is an unsentimental coming-of-age film that explores the ways we pull away from friends, family and authority figures in our quest to define an authentic sense of self. The film follows Femi, a British boy of Nigerian heritage, as he’s forcibly transplanted from Lincolnshire to inner-city London at the bidding of his whimsical birth mother. With stylistic flair and a vibrant visual and aural texture, writer and director Shola Amoo charts one boy’s pained – at times perilous – path to manhood.
At six years old, The Satanic Temple is possibly one of the most colourful and controversial religious movements in US history. Chronicling the extraordinary rise of a religious oddity that celebrates ‘the other’, Hail Satan? playfully probes the hypocrisy of America’s attitudes towards religious liberty. Charming, funny and thought-provoking in equal measure, this brilliantly blasphemous doc catalogues a new breed of publicity-minded, socially conscious activism that strives to speak truth to power in profound new ways.
Sundance Film Festival London is at the Picturehouse Central from May 30 – June 2, 2019. Head here for more information.