When the Sundance film festival comes to London next year, it will be based in the venue that used to be the Millennium Dome ? and continues to polarise opinion
Next year Robert Redford is bringing the Sundance film festival to the O2 ? now London's pre-eminent venue for big pop culture experiences. The Greenwich dome has come a long way from its image as New Labour's white elephant, but is the O2's rise a good thing? Two writers take up the debate:
'Love it' ? Jude Rogers
Give me a night out at a huge spacious venue, where the staff all smile brightly, and a shiny train takes you home. As a gig reviewer, I've spent many happy nights in the O2, an arena that doesn't fit the usual cool rules. Sound-systems soggy with lager are seen to be more authentic, as are bouncers who would rather eat you than greet you. Call me Granny Boring, but an atmosphere conducive to communal joy is much better ? plus tiered seating suits everyone, and the sound is pin-sharp. I've also watched Lady Gaga play the O2 twice, and can attest that even the biggest production feels intimate here. That can't just be down to the star ? the place plays its part.
Perhaps people scoff because the O2 isn't about one kind of night out. Here, you can neck pasta with your mates, pop to the cinema to see a blockbuster, watch Rafa Nadal on a world tennis tour, or gaze at Tutankhamun's treasures. Where else does that happen? The O2 works because it brings low culture and high culture effortlessly together ? something New Labour never did, but Robert Redford always does. That is its genius, and also its power.
'Hate it' ? Caroline Sullivan
Funny how a venue that tries to give so much bang for your leisure buck is such a joyless place. For all its attempts to be a one-stop entertainment experience ? with a multiplex cinema (suitably "indie" for Sundance's British debut, eh?), two gig spaces, dozens of restaurants and even a temporary ski slope ? the O2 is a place where Londoners go only because there's nowhere else to see that show.
It's not operator AEG's fault that the joint is a drafty shed stuck at the tip of the isolated Greenwich peninsula, but they do get the blame for being overwhelmingly mercenary about the whole thing. They have a virtual monopoly on top bands, who play the soulless arena because it's London's biggest indoor venue, and from the minute punters arrive they're exhorted to spend money. Needless to say, nothing is cheap.
Beyond that, there's the relentless branding (two branches of Starbucks) and, most of all, the feeling that culture must be "monetised". One of the permanent exhibits, the British Music Experience, says it all. When booking a �10 ticket on its website you're confronted with a Led Zeppelin quote: "I've got my ticket, I've got that load." That load of money, they mean.