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Sundance London 2013 - John Cooper interview

John Cooper and Robert Redford at Sundance London. (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images for Sundance London)

Interview by Rob Carnevale

JOHN Cooper, Director of the Sundance Film Festival, talks about bringing Sundance to London for a second time and some of the things he’s most looking forward to over the four days at London’s O2 Arena.

He also discusses his views on the current state of independent cinema, documentary filmmaking and what he would like to see happen in the future. He was speaking at the opening press conference…

Q. This year is the second Sundance London. Looking back on last year, how do you think it went and what did you learn from the inaugural event?
John Cooper: I really felt that what impressed my whole team that comes with me here is the notion of who receptive the audiences were. We bring all the filmmakers with us to this event, so there’s a lot of interaction. It’s what makes a festival ‘festive’. The reaction from the audiences was foremost in our minds when we decided to come back, and then talking with the filmmakers [because] they had a really amazing time here. Basically, because of the facilities – the projection is amazing – and then just the experience with the audiences and meeting new audiences and the notion that their films could travel outside of American borders. It was really exciting for them.

Q. You showed over 200 films in Utah this January. How did you decide which ones to show here in London?
John Cooper: Well, it’s actually a great opportunity to see how the films play. We go into the Park City festival cold and it’s just throwing them out there. So, it’s really great that we can see… what we’re looking for is films that play and have an emotional impact, of course, but also we look to get a very diverse selection to sort of show what we do. So, we always put documentaries on the same footing. So, we make sure we have documentaries and short films and an array of different kinds of films so that you have a good idea of what’s in Park City.

Q. Do you feel there’s any trends or unified themes that have emerged out of the Utah festival that have come with you?
John Cooper: Comedy. We’re actually doing a panel on it [here]. We really noticed that a lot of the young filmmakers were turning to comedy as a way of telling their story and fusing even serious stories with comedy. So, we saw that as a real trend, which was different for us who watch many, many films.

Q. Does the fact that you’re here for a second time indicate a longer commitment of the Sundance brand to London?
John Cooper: I think you do things when they feel right and it felt right last year. So, that’s why we’re back. Long term commitment? Of course. We have a long history of showing a lot of British films at Sundance, so I really like the back and forth that we’re getting with both the British film industry and us in America. I think it’s a very good relationship and it has been for many years.

Q. How would you all sum up the state of independent cinema at the moment? Do you think it’s going in the right direction?
John Cooper: It’s always difficult for independent films to get made. I’m actually most optimistic about the quality of the films. I think that filmmakers, particularly in the documentary world, are becoming better story-tellers and I think that they’re seeing that there’s nothing that can hold them back. We’re seeing a surge of creativity, different ways to tell stories. That’s what I’m seeing.

Q. Many of the films that come out of Hollywood tend to follow a certain political line. Why is it so hard for filmmakers who are offering an opposing narrative to make films that get distribution? And how important is it for you to promote their work?
John Cooper: It’s very important. That’s what we do. And we don’t just to do it at the film festival because that’s promoting finished work. We also do it in all of our workshops and labs. We don’t ever go down one thread necessarily. We’re looking for stories that move us because it all comes back to story and the kind of stories that other people are interested in. I actually feel that that is the place for independent film – the stories that no one else are telling. And they’ve been doing an interesting job of it.

Q. If you were able to change one thing about the independent film world today, what would it be?
John Cooper: I would like more subsidies for actually getting the films out. I think releasing a film is really hard and it takes a lot of money and it takes a lot of advertising, especially in this time. So, I would look for ways to help filmmakers in that last stage so they can reach audiences. The Internet is great but it’s noisy. So, we still have the same problems – how do people find what they want? And I’d give them a lot more money.

Find out more about this year’s line-up l Read our interview with Robert Redford

Above photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images for Sundance London.