So, I spent the weekend as a volunteer at the first ever Sundance LondonFilm and Music Festival. The Sundance Institute decided to take some of the films (14 out of 120) that were originally shown at the main Sundance Festival in the US in January and run a four day festival in London.
I'd heard of Sundance many years ago but had never considered or really even known of the opportunity to volunteer for something like this. Just by chance, a blog I follow mentioned Sundance were in London and looking for volunteers and having enjoyed my Olympic experience so far I thought I'd give it a go. It would be wrong of me to suggest I'm a natural volunteer (but I'm rather catching the bug) - I'm just interested in being a part of something like this and I often find the view of things from the inside looking out rather more interesting than the view from the outside looking in. I enjoy films and documentaries and am pretty bored with Hollywood blockbusters - being involved in a film festival which champions independent and less commercial films and documentaries is right up my street.
The selection process was straightforward - I applied online a few months ago and soon enough, I was being interviewed over the 'phone by Patrick from Sundance who told me I'd be a good candidate for the “The Theatre Team”. My Olympic experience seemed to help here as Patrick had also volunteered for the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah in 2002 - we bonded on this. I met Patrick at the festival - lovely chap.
It started on Wednesday evening with training at the venue - the O2 in South East London. Our roles were explained, we were shown around the venue and met the people who'd be managing us for the next four days. We were also given our uniform - a bright yellow hoodie which we were all very proud of - several customers were desperate to acquire one - they're pretty exclusive. Watch this space - in true Gimcrack tradition I will model it on for you on Sweatshirt Saturday.
For the next four days (4pm to 11pm), and as part of the theatre team our immediate responsibilities were handling the queues, checking tickets at the door and looking after the audience during the film. You can probably guess that any normal cinema already has the staff to do this sort of thing and the Cineworld multiplex at the O2 is no exception. As Sundance volunteers though, we're also trying to create an atmosphere - helping to make patrons feel they're part of a festival rather than just going to see a film. This involves being available to answer questions, chatting to customers about other festival events, helping out wherever we can and just generally trying to create a buzz.
The O2 is a massive entertainment complex, not just a multi-screen cinema so Sundance volunteers were scattered across the whole venue. This was also a music festival so there were several other locations being used apart from the six cinema screens.
Each film shown had a brief introduction from Sundance and at the end there was a Q & A session with people involved in making or starring in the film. We also did the running around with microphones so the audience could ask questions to the panel onstage. Our duties sound pretty simple and they are but when you’re doing something for the first time it’s still a novelty and you’re keen to do it well. And I’m a big believer in the statement that no job is so simple that it cannot be done badly. It was fun and my fellow volunteers were a great crowd of people. We were all into the Sundance idea and all working together to make sure people had a good time. And, of course, there are perks to being a volunteer.
Each day of the four day festival we were entitled to a ticket to any film we wanted to see outside our work shift. In addition, if you were on duty inside the cinema you got to see the film anyway. We also got the hoodie and a few other goodies. Regrettably, no chance to take photos - as volunteers we were understandably expected to concentrate on our work.
The festival had a great atmosphere. There were quite a few volunteers from the US who had come over at their own expense just for the fun of working at the London festival. The customers were great as they also seemed to understand the whole Sundance festival vibe.
My particular high spot? Being there for the introduction to Harmony which was presented in person by Robert Redford and Prince Charles. I wasn’t expecting that when I volunteered all those months ago. We all love Mr. Redford.
I saw six films over the four days all of which I’d recommend. I would have loved to have seen all fourteen of them - it just wasn't possible. A special mention goes to the two music documentaries I saw - Under African Skies and SHUT UP AND PLAY THE HITS which were both excellent. Under African Skies was such a moving piece of work it almost (*whispers* it did) brought me to tears.
Working at Sundance and the time I've spent on the Olympics so far has given me the bug to do more things like this. It's a lot of fun and I'd encourage you to try as well.
Here are the films I saw.