The Sundance Film Festival is a significant event in the film world’s calendar, and getting a coveted spot on the program is any burgeoning director’s dream come true. Founded in Utah in 1978 as the U.S. Film Festival, it has grown and developed over the years into the media frenzy it is today. Though it champions independent films, chairman Robert Redford is a legend in the world of Hollywood. With a career spanning six decades, he’s both starred in films like the 1973 Oscar winner “The Sting” (one of the most famous movies about games of skill) and directed critically-acclaimed work like “The Horse Whisperer” and “The Legend of Bagger Vance.”
Despite the host of celebrities now regularly flocking to attend, Sundance is still a place for small and independent films to find their audience. The 2018 shorts category boasts Dev Patel’s directorial debut, 2017 winner Charlotte Wells’ return and Don Hertzfeldt’s follow-up to his Academy Award-nominated “World of Tomorrow.”
You may recognize the Oscar-nominated Dev Patel from the other side of the lens, but this year, he’s presenting “Home Shopper” as his first directorial project. He’s worked with some of the greats during his career as an actor, including directors Danny Boyle and M. Night Shyamalan, as well as fellow actors Judi Dench and Hugh Jackman. He credits working with such legends as inspiration for crossing over into directing.
“Home Shopper” sees Armie Hammer of “The Social Network” and “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” fame cast alongside several other less well-known actors, with Sophie Kargman playing the lead. The film promises dark humor with a plot based on housewife Penny Turner’s dependence on home shopping channels. Only time will tell whether Patel’s moment behind the camera proves to be a success or not.
Charlotte Wells cleaned up last year with awards at both Sundance and the SXSW Film Festival. Her short film “Laps” impacted viewers with its stark depiction of sexual assault on public transport with understated brilliance. This year, she offers “Blue Christmas,” a drama whose title track includes Elvis Presley’s classic song of the same name. Set in her homeland of Scotland, the film takes place in the year 1968 and follows a debt collector played by Jamie Robson. The character is desperate to avoid his unhappy home situation where his wife is falling deeper and deeper into psychosis.
Festival favorite Don Hertzfeldt returns in 2018 with his latest animated short “World of Tomorrow Episode Two: The Burden of Other People’s Thoughts.” Hertzfeldt has enjoyed plenty of success at Sundance in the past, attending the festival a total of eight times and winning the Grand Jury Prize twice. His latest film features the same main character as last year’s entry: a young child speaking with her time-traveling adult clone. It promises to be just as crazy and unique as Episode One, covering baffling and disconcerting subjects around time travel, memories and consciousness. The voice of protagonist Emily is made up of unscripted recordings of the director’s niece, which Hertzfeldt then edits into a compelling dialogue.