David Cross, Ryan Coogler Make a Splash at Sundance London

10:54 AM PST 04/24/2014 by Stuart Kemp
David Cross

The filmmakers talk jet-lag, reality TV disgust and British filmmakers as Sundance top brass assemble on the eve of the third edition of the indie festival's outpost in the British capital.

LONDON – Self-confessed anglophile David Cross took the red-eye from New York to be in the British capital for the international premiere of Hits, his feature directorial debut.

While it's a mistake Cross said he will not make again – taking the red-eye – the Emmy-winning alum of Arrested Development and go-to voice over star of myriad monster animation hits such as Kung-Fu Panda, Megamind and Small Soldiers said bringing his directorial and writing feature debut to Sundance in the U.K. is no mistake.

His movie, starring Michael Cera, is a film about what Cross describes as people's disgusting quest for fame and fortune in spite of having any discernable talent.

Cross thinks it is a trend in the U.S. and the U.K. and is hopeful that when his film takes its international bow during this year's Sundance London music and film festival, the message of disgust translates.

Cross, who spent two years performing on the London stage and has appeared here with his standup shows, said: "From everything I know about British and American culture, I think the story of the movie translates extremely well."

He cites Geordie Shore, the British spin-off of the American show Jersey Shore, as being an example of how bad things have gotten that money is being made by people with "no hubris or talent to speak of."

Said Cross: "Bringing my film here means it carries the stamp of Sundance approval."

Cross is one of a handful of U.S. and international filmmakers arriving in the British capital to support the third edition of the festival, run by the Sundance Institute.

Sundance Institute executive director Keri Putnam, a former Miramax Films and HBO Films high flier, said the challenges for U.S. independent films to find global distribution remains high across marketplaces where local fair is increasingly popular ("naturally and happily", thinks Putnam) and the U.S. studio tent-pole releases dominate mainstream distribution slates.

As the filmmakers and Sundance chiefs gathered April 26 ahead of the festival's opening, indie distribution label and sales banner Dogwoof said it had inked a deal for  Finding Fela directed by Oscar-winning director Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Darkside) for both U.K. distribution and international sales representation.

The deal between Dogwoof and John Sloss's Cinetic Media will see Dogwoof roll the movie about Nigerian musician Fela Kuti in U.K. cinemas in September 2014 as well as handle international sales in all territories excluding North America, Australia and New Zealand, Brazil and Africa.

Finding Fela has its U.K. premiere at Sundance London this weekend.

Sundance London is a part of the Institute's drive to increase its global reach and to "connect with artists' communities and help support financially and creatively" the endeavors of storytellers.

One such artist who came through the Sundance system, attending its Sundance Labs program before seeing his debut Fruitvale Station make its world bow at Sundance in Utah earlier this year is short filmmaker turned feature writer/director Ryan Coogler.

For Coogler it's a huge deal to be in London and not just because it is the first time the filmmaker has visited the U.K.

"It's really an honor for me to come here with Sundance. I am very close to the organization having come through it right to the premiere of [Fruitvale Station]," said Coogler.

A little jet-lagged like his fellow filmmaker Cross, Coogler said he was excited to "wander the streets," checking out a city he knows from the movies, while citing "great [British] filmmakers like Paul Greengrass, Steve McQueen and Mike Leigh".

Coogler's movie details the true story of a 22-year-old Bay Area resident who winds up involved in a vicious and deadly police incident on New Year's Day in 2009.

Other hand-picked filmmakers bringing their wares to London courtesy of Sundance include Marjane Satrapi (The Voices), Sydney Freeland (Drunktown's Finest) and Sara Colangelo (Little Accidents).

Sundance Film Festival director John Cooper said the third edition of the London event had been easier to put together as "we don't have to explain it to people to get their interest."

Cooper, who puts the British festival together with director of programming Trevor Groth, said previous filmmakers had talked about the previous two editions.

"The distributors know what the show is going to be all about which helps, and we are getting more calls than before about being part of this [in London]," Cooper said.

While Groth admits that the proximity of the Cannes Film Festival is an issue for potential U.S. films being programmed in London, he said there is a "growing enthusiasm to be part of it".

Cooper said the first move after the end of the festival will be potential venues for the fourth edition next year after the three year deal with the sprawling O2 entertainment center comes to an end.

This year's festival runs April 25-27 with a mix of movies, music concerts and panel discussions for the ticket buying public.

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