When you hear the phrase “Sundance Film Festival,” you know what you’re going to get: 100-plus independent films that you reach by slogging through the snow and frigid temperatures of Park City, Utah for 11 days in January.
But a different Sundance is happening this weekend, in the dog days of summer rather than the chill of winter. It takes place in the considerably more temperate Los Angeles, where the transportation challenge won’t be standing in the cold waiting for a shuttle, but braving traffic on the Sunset Strip.
And instead of hundreds of the latest indies, this Sundance will showcase a tidy selection of 10 features and two programs of shorts.
Next Weekend is Sundance’s first U.S. festival outside of Park City, a four-day event taking place mostly at the Sundance Sunset Cinemas in West Hollywood and drawing its name from the NEXT <=> program at Sundance, which is devoted to the most challenging independent films.
“It’s something we’ve been talking about for a while,” Sundance Film Festival director John Cooper told TheWrap this week. “We’ve been thinking, ‘What will we do in L.A. if we have the chance?’ It had to be a good idea, and an original idea.”
The idea of focusing on the kind of films that appear in NEXT <=>, he said, was an attempt to go counter to the big-studio, industry focus of the town. “We wanted to concentrate on the cutting edge of independent filmmaking. There’s a lot of glamour in this town, but maybe the core of indie filmmaking isn’t as well represented.
“The idea is to have some fun, and to create a hotspot with a lot of energy for independent film in general.”
See photos: Sundance Sightings: The Scene in Park City
Most of the films chosen for Next Weekend premiered at this year’s Sundance, though the programmers also added two world premieres, “The Foxy Merkins” (right) and “How To Be a Man,” plus one film that premiered at SXSW and one that debuted at Tribeca.
“It wasn’t just about what we show in Park City,” said director of programming Trevor Groth. “We wanted it to be about the kind of filmmaking that makes a Next film, wherever that happens.”
With independent film undergoing a revolution of sorts in how movies are financed, shot and distributed via a multitude of new platforms, Groth added that the job of a film festival has become more important, not more peripheral.
“With technology more and more accessible, we’re seeing the quantity of independent films produced every year grow and grow,” he said. “So you need to have more attention paid to curation, and that’s what festivals do.”
One crucial difference between showing films in Park City and in Los Angeles, of course, is that the audience in Utah is there specifically to see movies – the festival has a captive audience that is in town for one thing, not a city full of people who are home and have plenty to do.
Also read: 13 Movies You Have to See at Sundance
“We know there’s an audience here,” insisted Cooper. “There’s a real hunger here and around the country for films that are different from what you get every day, and films that may not have huge marketing budgets. This gives us an opportunity to use our name to get as much attention as we can for these films.”
Asked whether Sundance expects to turn a profit on Next Weekend, Cooper shrugged off the question. “That’s not our goal for this,” he said. “Our success will be in the experience we can provide for the audience and the filmmaker.”
In addition to the films, Next Weekend will include a Shortslab: LA, a day-long series of screenings, panels and discussions for filmmakers, as well as one panel at which Gregg Araki and Allison Anders will discuss changes in indie filmmaking with newer directors, and another panel dealing with new methods of distribution.
Next Weekend opens Thursday night with a screening at the Hollywood Forever cemetery of the 1999 documentary “American Movie,” which chronicled the attempts by director Mark Borchardt to finance his dream movie by making a horror short, “Coven”; the doc will be followed by a screening of “Coven.”
Regular screenings will take place on Friday and Saturday at the Sundance Sunset Cinemas, followed by a Sunday program that finds the festival expanding to several other venues, including the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Hammer Museum in Westwood, Cinefamily on Fairfax Ave. and the American Cinematheque at the Aero.
“Blue Caprice,” Alexandre Moors
Acquired by Sundance Selects in March, Moors’ directorial debut is based on the 2002 Beltway sniper attacks, which it shows from the point of view of the two snipers, played by Isaiah Washington and Lee Boyd Malvo.
“Cutie and the Boxer,” Zachary Heinzerling
One of the program’s two documentaries, Heinzerling’s quiet and evocative look at the 40-year marriage between Japanese artists Ushio and Noriko Shinohara is a chronicle of love, art and the occasionally uneasy intersection of the two.
“The Foxy Merkins,” Madeleine Oinek
Not quite as descriptively titled as Oinek’s last film, “Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same,” “The Foxy Merkins” is a comedy that puts a twist on what it calls “those iconic male hustler films of American cinema” by focusing on a pair of lesbian hookers. Lisa Haas and Jackie Monahan star, with Alex Karpovsky from “Girls” in a supporting role.
“How To Be a Man,” Chadd Harbold
Comedian and Vice co-founder Gavin McInnes makes his debut as a leading man, starring as a comic who feels a lump in his breast and is convinced he has a rare form of male breast cancer, and hires a cameraman to record his lessons to his unborn son.
“It Felt Like Love,” Eliza Hittman
A coming-of-age story about a 14-year-old girl who becomes obsessed with an older thug, “It Felt Like Love” illustrates its directors contention that “childhood is a process of disillusionment.” Actress Gina Piersanti won the best-actress award at the Nashville Film Festival.
“Newlyweeds,” Shaka King
A September release from Phase 4, “Newlyweeds” features Amari Cheatom and Trae Harris and is reportedly part stoner comedy, part love story and part cautionary drug tale. To help emphasize the craft that went into the low-budget production, the film’s publicist has opened his office during August for appointment-only trade viewings of the film’s costumes.
“Stand Clear of the Closing Doors,” Sam Fleischner (photo at top)
Winner of the Special Jury Prize at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival was acquired by Oscilloscope earlier this week. Fleischner filmed the story of a young teen with Asperger’s Syndrome who gets lost on the New York subway system as Hurricane Sandy was approaching the city, and incorporated footage of the approaching storm into his affecting drama.
“A Teacher,” Hannah Fidell
Another film that stirred up talk at this year’s Sundance, “A Teacher” stars Lindsay Burdge as a high school teacher involved in a relationship with a student. The film is a lean, understated and unsettling character study that stubbornly refuses to reach for explanations.
“This Is Martin Bonner,” Chad Hartigan
The second film from Hartigan stars Paul Eenhorn and Richmond Arquette as men forging an unlikely friendship after both are released from prison. The film won the audience award in the NEXT <=> program at Sundance and will be available digitally from Cinedigm on Aug. 20.
“12 O’Clock Boys,” Lofty Nathan
Another Oscilloscope acquisition with an early 2014 release in the works, Nathan’s documentary follows a young boy who wants to become part of the urban dirtbike crew that regularly runs afoul of the police on Baltimore streets.
The 10 short films include “A Story for the Modlins,” about an actor who appeared in “Rosemary’s Baby” and then shut himself in an apartment for 30 years; “#PostModern,” a satirical sci-fi pop musical; “Until the Quiet Comes,” a music video shot in the Nickerson Gardens housing project in Watts; and the animated short “Seraph.”
YouTube Shorts @ Next Weekend
The second shorts program is the first time a major festival has curated a shorts program specifically from YouTube videos. Creators include College Humor, Above Average, Machinima, VICE and others.
The full lineup, the schedule and ticket information is available at www.sundance.org/next.