What to See at Sundance Film Festival London

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Wiener Dog, 2016
Wiener Dog, 2016, film still

A mischievous dachshund, a transgender prostitute, and a bespectacled Danny Devito all feature in our hotlist of movies that are making a mark at the indie film festival this season

Can you imagine Utah-founded film festival Sundance without the snowdrifts and sub-zero temperatures native to its US base? To our delight the festival crosses the Atlantic this weekend, bringing with it highlights from the home of indie film. There are 11 premieres, an international short film programme and a handful of Sundance cult classics on the schedule to screen at London's Picturehouse Central, including the Coen Brothers’ neo-noir Blood Simple and Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone – the film that planted a then-unknown Jennifer Lawrence among the meth-dealers of Missouri. Eager to make the most of the opportunity for cultural enrichment, we've selected five of the best offerings from the order of play. Enjoy at your leisure.

The trailer features an adorable, skateboarding sausage-dog, but this being a Todd Solondz film, we’re a little fearful for its fate. The titular canine embarks on a surreal American odyssey, with co-stars including Ellen Burstyn, Danny Devito and a band of depressed mariachis. A sunny Greta Gerwig steps in as the grown-up but still gawky Dawn Wiener, last seen as the bullied adolescent stuck in junior high-hell in Solondz’s 1995 breakout Welcome to the Dollhouse. Expect a carousel of awkward hang-ups, existential despair and pitch-black humour.

Author: The JT Leroy Story
Transgender, HIV-positive ex-prostitute JT Leroy won ardent celebrity admirers including Winona Ryder and Courtney Love for his darkly poetic writing when his novel Sarah was published in 2000 – before being spectacularly unveiled as a fraud. Jeff Feuerzeig’s fascinating documentary chronicles the elaborate literary hoax pulled off by Brooklyn-born author Laura Albert, with interviewees including Albert’s sister-in-law Savannah Knoop, who impersonated Leroy for public readings in blonde wig, hat and sunglasses. But it’s Albert who gets most screentime to explain her motives – she’s a brilliant but unreliable narrator, and the whole truth of the saga might still prove elusive.

Fear and loathing on the campaign trail in a riveting fly-on-the-wall documentary that might have been written by Armando Iannucci. Filmmakers Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg trace the operatic downfall of aptly-named congressman Anthony Weiner, best-known for his prolific sexting under online alias ‘Carlos Danger’. The directors gain astonishing access to Weiner’s ill-starred campaign for New York mayor (watch him practice different inflections on the line “I am profoundly sorry…"). Worth it just for wife Huma Abedin’s eloquent eye-rolls.

Orange is the New Black writer Sian Heder conceived the idea for her directorial debut while working in a luxury Los Angeles hotel as a babysitter-for-hire; one wealthy and neglectful mother made her wonder what might happen if she stole the baby. She didn’t, of course, but Ellen Page in Tallulah does, playing a troubled drifter who enters a fancy hotel looking for leftover room-service and finds herself in charge of a toddler, when a drunken Beverly Hills wife skips out for the evening. Page brings her gift for deadpan comedy and emotional depth to Heder’s freewheeling drama.

Based on Philip Roth’s 29th and most personal novel, Indignation follows a college student’s coming-of-age in a narrow-minded Ohio of the 1950s. It’s a directorial debut for James Schamus, but he’s a veteran Hollywood player who has produced the likes of Lost in Translation, Milk, Brokeback Mountain and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Schamus – whose unceremonious firing from Focus Features propelled his move into directing – will be in London to share some wisdom from his years in the trenches of American independent film.

Sundance Film Festival London runs until June 5, 2016.