Sundance: London inspires change, movement for equality

The directors of Sundance: London 2018 didn’t set out to program a festival with over 50 percent female directors, Senior Programmer David Courier said. By chance, the programme ultimately included seven main feature films directed by women, highlighting female voices and creative direction.

“That happened naturally, organically,” Courier said. “After the festival was all programmed, we figured it out. It was a pleasant surprise for us.”

The festival, which began May 31 and lasts until June 2 at Picturehouse Central in Piccadilly, took into consideration movements including Time’s Up and #MeToo when choosing the theme for this year’s festival: #WhatNext. The hashtag highlights the inequality in the film industry and looks at what the future of independent film is.  

Director of Sundance Film Festival John Cooper said they stumbled upon this direction while making the program for London.

“We tried to represent different styles to make a very eclectic program that represents what we do, and what the Sundance Institute does,” Cooper said. “The audiences in London are very accepting of almost anything, and almost the more eclectic you give them, the better it is.”

It’s thrilling to have 58 percent of the films directed by women, Clare Binns, Managing Director at Picturehouse Cinemas, said. Picturehouse aims to offer films for every age and give people opportunities to have unique and lively experiences at the cinema, Binns said.

“We’ve always been a female focused company who have believed in equality and making sure that women are front and center both in the programming and everything we do,” Binns said. “It’s a natural thing for us, so it’s not anything different for us, it’s just the world around us changing.”

Debra Granik, director of Leave No Trace, said that soon, having more female directors will become normalized. She described how the increase will take away the separation between female and male directors to create one inclusive group.

“When there’s bounty or healthy representation, the ghetto doesn’t feel like a ghetto,” Granik said. “We’ve just expanded the perimeter of the ghetto to be a big group of cultural workers.”

A lot of men and women are working to create a more fluid group, Granik said, but traditionally dominant groups will not give up power easily.

“It’s very uncomfortable to be unseated,” Granik said. “It’s going to take a push. It’s going to take an incursion. It’s going to take talking about it. If we don’t ever change, where’s culture? Culture cannot stay the same.”

Change can happen through sharing stories like the ones seen in independent films, Cooper said.

“There’s a connection to humanity that’s in independent films that’s not always in the bigger films,” Cooper said. “You understand how another population works, how other people think through stories more than theory. You change by seeing the different culture represented, or a conflict.”

One story told at the festival is about the New York City female skateboarding culture, seen in Crystal Moselle’s Skate Kitchen. The movie features a group of female skateboarders who are not full-time actresses, but actual members of a group with an Instagram account called “Skate Kitchen.” Moselle met the group on the subway in New York City and based the movie around them.

“Skateboarding is a bigger metaphor for the idea that women can do things they’re told they’re not supposed to do,” Moselle said. “It’s a message to young girls that you can do this too, whatever it is, you can do what you’re told you’re not supposed to do.”

As a female director, Moselle has battled this challenge her entire career, she said, but spending time with the members of Skate Kitchen made her incredibly inspired and hopeful for the future.

“I think that they’re very woken up to the times and what’s happening,” Moselle said. “I think they’re seeing how badly a lot of us have messed this world up, so they’re very motivated and courageous and see an opportunity for change.”

While the festival champions women’s voices, through direction and movies including Amy Adrion’s Half the Picture, in which women directors tell the stories of their lives and careers, and with female leads including Laura Dern in The Tale, the purpose is not exclusion, but celebrating women in particular and having a conversation, Binns said.

“When you go to the cinema, it’s not always about coming out having had a mind blowing experience,” Binns said. “It’s about discovering things, seeing films that challenge you. It’s about encouraging people to take a chance on films that they might not ordinarily go to see.”

Click here to find out more about Sundance: London and buy tickets for the remaining days of the festival.