Today marked the start of Sundance London — the second annual mini-festival of highlights from the Sundance Film Festival, transported across the pond and into the cavernous surrounds of the UK capital’s O2 Dome. I’ve been dipping into the press screenings, catching up on a few titles I missed in Park City back in January, and will report back over the weekend. Having missed last year’s inaugural edition, I’m still getting acquainted with this notion of festival as franchise; roving film journalists may not be that jazzed about it, but for civilian film buffs who can’t fly to Park City on a whim, a second-hand programme is precisely the point.
That said, Sundance London does have one or two things its parent festival doesn’t, beginning with an unusual world premiere yesterday. Okay, so it was for a car commercial rather than a movie. But not just any car commercial: “Desire,” produced by Ridley Scott Associates, is a slick 13-minute short film with Emmy-winning “Homeland” star Damian Lewis as its leading man. Well, Lewis and a gleaming Jaguar, since the film’s principal remit, of course, is to make the car look as sexy as possible. Not hard. TV director Adam Smith (“Dr. Who,” “Little Dorrit”) was at the helm, but the Ridley Scott house style is in full effect.
“Desire,” which you can watch in full below, is a glossy, silly distraction that doesn’t invite any thoughts beyond a) Jaguars are nice, and b) Damian Lewis could make a killer James Bond whenever Daniel Craig decides to hang up his tux. Nor should it: it’s an ad, after all.
But I find the placement of a Jaguar promo in the Sundance London lineup symbolically interesting, particularly considering that its press premiere — complete with champagne picnic boxes — took place mere minutes after a press conference where Sundance founder Robert Redford underlined the festival’s budget-conscious independent credentials. Is the world’s foremost indie festival getting a little corporate or, conversely, letting its hair down a bit with some (literally) commercial fluff? And does it matter, if a luxury brand showcase feeds some cash into the noble Sundance stream?
I guess letting Joe Swanberg direct a mumblecore Jag ad wasn’t on the cards. Either way, check out the ad and tell us if you think it belongs on a cinema screen.