Sundance aims to find out what’s next for festivals
At Next Fest in L.A., creator talks and live music are mixed among the films.
The Sundance Next Fest is not a typical film festival. Every year the event’s organizers tweak the program to find new ways of presenting Los Angeles audiences with films that premiered earlier in the year at Sundance’s flagship festival in Park City, Utah. This year’s tagline — “where movies, music and mischief collide” — underscores the difference from a more typical film festival experience.
Musical acts are curated to play after certain movies, and conversations between filmmakers and specially selected guests occur after some screenings. Music videos are included in some programs. This year, comedians Kate Berlant, Kate Micucci and Natasha Leggero each will host one of the evening programs.
“We’re constantly thinking of a fun thing that we’d like to do, that we’d like to see,” said Trevor Groth, the Sundance Film Festival’s director of programming in an interview this week.
“We put ourselves in the audience’s shoes and think, ‘What would get me out of my home in L.A. to go be a part of something like this?’
“So for us all those new additions, all those little elements are just things we’re doing for ourselves, some-
thing we’d love to see.”
This year’s festival, starting Thursday and running through Sunday night, will begin with a 25th anniversary screening of “Reservoir Dogs” and a presentation of Sundance’s Vanguard Leadership award to filmmaker Quentin Tarantino. The movie will be the first 35-millimeter film print shown at the Theatre at Ace Hotel downtown since the theater’s renovation.
At the festival’s close on Sunday night, “Mudbound” filmmaker Dee Rees will receive Sundance’s Vanguard Award.
On Friday night, Janicza Bravo’s bitter comedy “Lemon” will play, followed by a performance by Lizzo. Saturday will begin with a screening of Marvin Lemus’ Web series “Gente-fied,” on gentrification in Boyle Heights, followed by a conversation with the creative team, inducing executive producer America Ferrera.
Also on Saturday, Justin Chon’s “Gook,” set within the Korean American community during the 1992 L.A. riots, will be followed by a conversation between Chon and filmmaker Ava DuVernay. Saturday will conclude with a screening of Marianna Palka’s “Bitch,” about a housewife pushed to extreme behavior.
Palka is the writer, director and star of “Bitch.” She made the film last year while also shooting a role in the Netflix series “GLOW.” She has attended Next Fest in the past as an audience member and said she would be there this year whether her movie was playing in the festival or not.
She’s also a fan of the NYC-based musical duo Sleigh Bells, who will be playing after her movie, and was excited when organizers brought their name up as a possibility.
“I was, like, ‘Are you kidding? You can get them?’ ” she said “The themes in their music are really incredible, and because they’re so deep as a band it just feels like the right fit. I don’t think you could have programmed a better combination. I’m kind of floored that they’re doing it.”
Sunday will begin with a screening of Dan Sickles and Antonio Santini’s “Dina,” which won the grand jury prize for U.S. documentary this year at Sundance. The movie will be followed by a conversation between the filmmakers, subject Dina Buno and comedian and commentator Larry Wilmore.
Also on Sunday, Alex Ross Perry’s nuanced Brooklyn-based comedydrama “Golden Exits” will play, followed by a conversation between Perry and filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich.
Then Michelle Morgan’s romantic comedy “L.A. Times” will screen, followed by a performance by the duo Electric Guest. (Electric Guest member Asa Taccone is the brother of “L.A. Times” actor and producer Jorma Taccone.)
“It feels like something that can be different year to year, not because what they did last year failed,” said Perry, the first returning filmmaker at Next Fest, whose “Listen Up Philip” played in 2014.
“Usually if something changes after trying it once, it’s because it was deemed unsuccessful, whereas here they seem to have gotten into a rhythm of being beholden to nothing,” Perry said. “It’s more like, ‘We got good feedback on that and we’re just going to take a swing at something different.’”
Some of those ideas have made their way back to the January festival in Park City. John Cooper, director of the Sundance Film Festival, noted that recent artist on artist conversations such as one between Lena Dunham and Norman Lear are in part a result of Next Fest.
“It’s more a way of thinking about it, what draws audiences,” Cooper said . “What draws audiences now is one-of-a-kind moments, something that’s not typical and has traction and a uniqueness where you might get a spark.
“At the heart of all of this is blowing out the boundaries of what a film festival is,” Cooper added.
“Hopefully it propels us into making some crazy ideas come to life.”
“LEMON,” with Brett Gelman, is among the films shown at Sundance’s Utah iteration that now will show in L.A. at Next Fest. It will be shown Friday night.
“GOLDEN EXITS,” with Adam Horovitz, will be shown Sunday. Afterward, its writer-director, Alex Ross Perry, will talk with filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich.
MARIANNA PALKA is writer-director-star of a tale of a woman pushed to extremes. It’s Saturday.