You don't need to have attended the Sundance Film Festival to comprehend its enormity. It began somewhat modestly in 1985 as Robert Redford's Sundance Institute assumed control of the U.S. Film Festival, which had been held in Park City, Utah for a few years until that point. Eighty-six films screened that year across two screens. It has since mutated into a behemoth of a film festival, a vanguard of American independent cinema that boasts an exorbitant programme of films roughly averaging around the two-hundred mark. Nearly fifty-thousand people now descend upon Park City for two weeks each January to experience not only the familiar set of faces on the festival circuit, but the newest voices in American and world cinema, the exciting and innovative filmmakers the festival takes pride in privileging. Sundance is one of the most prestigious outlets for new filmmakers, and as such is up there with the best festivals as a platform for discovering new talent. In short, Sundance is fucking huge in every sense of the word.

That's all important to keep in mind because Sundance London, the offshoot festival now in its third year, is minuscule. Really, it's tiny. For one, Sundance takes up an entire city for a fortnight, whereas Sundance London occupies the Cineworld in Greenwich's 02 Arena for a weekend. Moreover, this year's programme comprises twenty features (including three 'From the Collection': Reservoir Dogs (1992), Memento (2000) and Winter's Bone (2010)), seventeen shorts divided into two separate programmes, and the world premiere of Archive's short film Axiom. When compared to Sundance proper, it sets up an interesting dichotomy. Because of its vastness, it's likely that one's experience of Sundance will mostly consist of wading through a lot of mediocre fare, but that only exacerbates the unbridled joy of discovering a great film you had no idea about beforehand. Sundance London inverts this; most of the fat has been trimmed off, supposedly offering a selection of the best bits of Sundance at the expense of that sense of discovery. Every feature film showing at Sundance London played at Sundance 2014 (with the exception of Fruitvale Station, which played the 2013 festival), meaning that if you're interested enough in cinema to attend Sundance London, there's a good chance that you've at least heard about some of, if not all the films on show.

I certainly knew about all the films on the Sundance London schedule, mainly because of the film critics I follow on Twitter had already seen them at Sundance. I also think it's fair to say the same of my colleagues in the press screenings, as attendances noticeably fluctuated according to buzz. Now, here's the important question we need to ask: does this make Sundance London's goal fundamentally different than Sundance's? I'm not necessarily sure it does: Sundance London exists to promote the exciting independent voices, but this time to a UK audience that may not usually get to see them (most of the films have no UK distribution yet). But because of its size, the films selected sort of have to be the best possible representation of what American independent cinema has to offer. Now, up front, I don't think that Sundance London 2014's line-up of films does that. There are some great inclusions, don't get me wrong, but there are also some mystifying inclusions. Or rather, they're mystifying when considering the films not included, such as the Grand Jury Prize winner at Sundance 2014, Whiplash, or Richard Linklater's Boyhood, or the Nick Cave film 20, 000 Days on Earth, or the documentary about Roger Ebert, Life Itself. Or any of the other notable films like The Babadook, The Guest, Cold in July, The Guest, Cold in July, God Help the Girl and God's Pocket. Maybe it's down to money or distribution deals or whatever, but Sundance London is certainly not the microcosm of American cinema that it could and should be this year. With so few films, there should be no duds at all. On the first day of press screenings (April 22nd) there were two. While that doesn't sound like much, that's ten-percent of the festival's feature films. And all I can do is hope that this will change as the festival grows in stature.

Still, at least that first day started incredibly well; although, with a film that doesn't really embody the independent spirit. See, They Came Together comes from David Wain, the guy who brought mainstream comedies Role Models and Wanderlust into the world. But please, I implore you, don't hold that against him because his new film is a delight from beginning to end. And if I do one thing with this gigantic fucker of text, it'll hopefully be persuading you to see this film. They Came Together is to romantic comedies what Police Squad! (1982) was to cop films and Team America: World Police (2004) was to Hollywood action films: a knowing parody of tired clichés, a wonderfully absurd take some of the laziest devices in Hollywood storytelling, and, most importantly, just deeply and tremendously funny. Framed with one of the most exhausted tropes in the book, They Came Together begins with Joel (Paul Rudd, David Wain's muse) and Molly (Amy Poehler) recalling to friends the story of how they came together - which is basically You've Got Mail (1998) with candy replacing books. Simple enough. What follows is a complete obliteration of the romantic comedy genre which, while boasting expectedly excellent central performances, mostly succeeds because of its tautness.

See, if Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer (Epic Movie (2007), Meet the Spartans (2008)) have taught us anything, it's that the whole self-aware genre parody thing can become cloying very easily as the jokes become as tired as the clichés they're lampooning. But, clocking in at a mere 83 minutes, They Came Together never once threatens to run out of steam. Every moment has some comedic purpose, is building towards some absurd punch-line that I found more often than not hilarious - whether it's the traditional frolicking in the leaves which is undercut by a dead body beneath, or the repeated acknowledgement that Joel's failure to follow through on his dream of setting up a coffee shop is actually a metaphor for his commitment issues, or the aesthetic and formal changes that occur during as the film hits upon the clichéd plot points (including one of the funniest zoom shots in recent memory). No second is wasted, which is absolutely key in comedy. It moves at such a blistering pace with so many gags per minute that I couldn't help but love it effusively. I laughed more watching this film than I have in quite some time in a cinema, and that's definitely worth something. Although, I do concede that its constant self-awareness and randomness won't work for everybody. But then again, if you don't like the prospect of Amy Poehler, surely one of the best physical comedians around, wearing a suit of armour, maybe you're the problem.

The overwhelming success of They Came Together, which seemed to go over well with everybody in attendance, certainly quelled the impact of the second film on the schedule: David Cross' feature film début Hits. Let's not beat around the bush here: Hits was a real let down. To the extent that it almost seems intentional that the title is an anagram of 'shit'. Designed as a mordant satire of celebrity culture and the delusional, vapid quest for fame in the vein of The King of Comedy (1982), Hits feels incredibly misguided. The film is centred around Dave (Matt Walsh), a stereotypical working-class man from a small town who gains internet notoriety as liberal New York hipsters latch onto his rantings at city council meetings, much to the chagrin of his fame-obsessed daughter Katelyn (Meredith Hagner). It's this focus on the working-class that made the film feel misanthropic with no recourse. "Look!" David Cross seems to be yelling while he pisses himself laughing, "Look at the deluded poor people with nothing else in their lives apart from the empty pursuit of celebrity! Aren't they funny?! Aren't they horrible?! Lets's all point and laugh at their pathetic existence!"

They aren't the only figures of fun, just as much bile is aimed at the hipsters, but if you hate your characters as much as Cross does, there needs to be a bloody good reason for it (see: nearly the entire filmography of the Coen Brothers). You've got to be saying something interesting and meaningful because, frankly, I don't want to watch people wallowing in such abject misery for an extended period of time unless it's truly worth it, I especially don't want to laugh at them like Hits wants us to. And I don't think you will laugh - I certainly didn't laugh much and neither did the majority of the audience. It's flat, its jokes are lazy, and it sometimes veers into the wrong kind of uncomfortable - especially a scene involving sexual exploitation. It just adds very little to the conversation, only that everybody wants to be famous, which is, you know, kind of well-worn ground at this point. It's simply a mess of worn out platitudes about fame and Millennials that have been covered with more intelligence in the aforementioned King of Comedy and the excellent Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein TV show Portlandia (2011), and probably countless other films I haven't seen yet. And it's a real shame because I really do like David Cross.

Luckily, Hits was probably the low-point of the day for me - although the consensus of the room seemed to favour the next film, Tim Sutton's (Pavilion) Memphis. I can certainly see why: it's an incredibly shapeless film that barely qualifies as a narrative, even though the press notes suggest it has one. Actually, here's some extracts from the press notes: "An expressionistic folktale, [...] a strange singer drifts through the mythic city of Memphis. [...] Under a canopy of ancient oak trees and burning spirituality, his doomed journey breaks from conformity and reaches out for glory." Those words don't describe the film I saw. At all. What I saw essentially boils down to musician Willis Earl Beal (possibly playing a fictional version of himself) fucking around and doing whatever for 79 minutes while Tim Sutton pretends to be Terrence Malick and Humphrey Jennings. It's all very loose and unfocused; as hard as I tried, I couldn't make any cogent associations between most of the shots and vignettes and was left baffled as a result. I sensed that it was, in the most oblique way possible, about creativity; but Sutton's languid sense of the poetic really confused that. Although, that being said, it was at least capable of some moments of beauty (whenever Beal plays music), and Beal is certainly interesting as both a musician and a human being, so it's ultimately less hateful than Hits. And Willis Earl Beal talks about the time he fucked the ground, which is kind of funny.

Next up was The One I Love, the feature film debut of Charlie McDowell (Malcolm's son). This is a tricky film to write about because, while I want to advocate for quality cinema (which The One I Love definitely is), it's a film with a very unusual edge to it, the nature of which I believe should be protected at all costs. The basic plot follows a couple (Elizabeth Moss and Mark Duplass, both impressive here) spending a weekend at a vacation house in an attempt to revive their ailing marriage. That is, until something happens. I won't spoil that something, but to quote the film, it's basically "some weird Twilight Zone shit." In that respect, The One I Love is in the same ballpark as Charlie Kauffman, Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze because it uses a high-concept science-fiction concept to explore and say so much about relationships and expectations and communication. Although this film is modest in practical terms, with only three actors (the other is Ted Danson) and two locations, it's absolutely huge in emotional scope and I adore it because of that. Sometimes it tries to grasp for too much and burns out slightly, especially towards the end, but the amount of ambition displayed for a debut feature makes up for that in my mind. It's confident, imaginative, funny and really deeply felt, and while you may mistake the vagueness of this summary as a cop-out on my part, I truly believe that this film is a surprise worth concealing. Just see it when you get the chance.

The final film of the day was Sydney Freeland's first feature Drunktown's Finest, which was fine (high praise, I know). Haphazardly flitting between three Native-Americans in Gallup, New Mexico, a deadbeat father-to-be trying to get his act together (Jeremiah Bitsui), a trans woman (Carmen Moore) and a college-bound woman trying to discover her roots (Morningstar Angeline Wilson), Drunktown's Finest is clearly concerned with identity crisis. The three characters act as different strands of the contrast between Native-American and Anglo-Americana values, and as someone that's admittedly ignorant towards Native American culture, I found that conflict compelling. While some of the stories better served than others -- I really would have liked to see more about the trans character, Felixxia -- and the film completely mines the repertoire of coming of age tropes (Overbearing parents! Falling in with the wrong crowd! Dreams falling apart! Stuff!), that prevalent culture-clash sustained my interest throughout. Which is actually quite impressive, considering that was the fifth film I saw that day.