Under the Electric Sky, image courtesy of Jason "Ohdagyo" Fenmore.
Trevor Groth discovered a home at his first Sundance Film Festival in 1989.
A 17-year-old Salt Lake kid and indie film buff, he instantly became a Sundance fanatic. And now, he’s director of programming, working with festival director John Cooper to select films for the fest.
Like his first fest in ‘89, he says there's something special about this year's selections. “The depth and quality of all of the programs feels unique this year,” he says. “I'm as excited about the lineup as I've ever been.”
We joined a round-table interview with Groth recently on this year's films:
What sort of trends did you see from this year's films?
“One of them is the power of music, which came out in a number of fiction films and documentaries as well. Music has always played an important role here in Park City and obviously in London, which is a film and music festival, so we always like that interception between film and music.
“Everything from Song One, which is about a woman trying to use music to resuscitate her brother who's in a coma, to Alive Inside, a documentary about a man's crusade to use music in rest homes to help patients with Alzheimer’s. Whiplash, our Day One film's about what drives an artist—in this case a drummer. The Fela Kuti documentary (Finding Fela), by Alex Gibney, is on how he used music as a way of getting his politics out there . . .
“Under the Electric Sky, which is about the Electric Daisy Carnival, is half just sort of an experimental documentary about the festival, which is one of the most visceral I have ever seen, and has this thread of what this music means to the people who go to the festival from all different walks of life . . .
“We saw a lot of genre elements in a lot of sections outside Park City at midnight . . . Films like Life After Beth—it’s a young love story but with one of the characters as a zombie. Thrillers like Cold in July and The Sleepwalker, which is basically a psychological horror film in the competition.”
You mentioned Under the Electric Sky, which is a 3D film. Do you see that as a trend for Sundance going forward?
“If that’s the way the filmmakers intended for their film to be seen, we’re open to it. We’ve shown stuff in the past in 3D. We showed U2 3D. We showed Cane Toads: The Conquest, a documentary in 3D. And last year, we had Charlie Victor Romeo in 3D . . . We’re seeing more and more submissions [in 3D] each year.”
New players are out to acquire films this year, like CNN and Netflix.
“Yeah, there’s a bunch of new players here, along with the familiar faces. I think that’s a really encouraging sign about the potential for these films to connect with audiences . . . Netflix, they have Mitt and they’re releasing it on their platform the second weekend of the festival, which I think is going to be happening more and more in future years.”
What trends have you noticed from documentaries this year?
“One of the things we noticed about a lot of documentaries we programmed this year is how character driven they are in the way of getting into issues and subjects, instead of just doing sweeping overviews of an issue. They’re sort of looking at a specific entry point to a specific character or subject and then letting the issues unfold around that storytelling in that character’s journey.”
Do you prefer documentaries that focus on characters instead of just the big picture?
“I prefer the ones that work. In general, I would say those tend to be those [that focus on individual characters to get into big topics]. But then we also have something like Fed Up and Ivory Tower, and those are issue-driven documentaries where I learned so much from each of those and changed the way I look at each of those issues.”