This past weekend the Sundance Institute returned to the Theatre at the Ace Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles for the 4th year of their annual film and music festival, NEXT FEST. NEXT FEST, an edgier and eclectic companion of the prestigious Park City, Utah-held Sundance Film Festival, maintained the same curatorial discernment as the mainstay with programming that included films from the 2016 festival, as well as film shorts, musical performances by Shamir and Big Freedia, music video debuts, discussions with filmmakers (including John Landis), and more.
The festival kicked off perfectly on Friday night with the LA premiere of the visually and emotionally appealing film, Lovesong [Directed by So Yong Kim]. Lovesong is a slow-burning, subtle tale of best friends Sarah and Mindy (played by Riley Keough and Jena Malone, respectively) that reunite to embark on a roadtrip that tests the boundaries of their friendship and desires. With emotions at a height, the trip ends abruptly and the pair doesn’t reunite until Sarah heads to Nashville for Mindy’s wedding. Changed dynamics and conflicting emotions leaves viewers to wonder if they will be able to resolve the past before Mindy jumps the broom. After the screening, multi-genre artist Shamir delivered an electric performance that had the entire theatre on their feet.
Saturday’s lineup of screenings was filled with coming-of-age tales Morris From America, White Girl, and Goat. The screenings started innocently enough with Morris From America; the story of Morris (played by newcomer, Markees Christmas), a young teen that attempts to find his way after he moves to a small town in Germany with his father, Curtis (played by Craig Robinson), from New York. Many of Morris’ challenges center around girls, hip-hop, and a mildly contentious relationship with his father.
The next screening, White Girl, kicked the intensity up a few notches. White Girl, the semi-autobiographical film debut of Elizabeth Wood, is a story that centers around Leah (Morgan Saylor), a white college sophomore that moves to Ridgewood, Queens, with Katie (India Menuez) during summer break and becomes involved with the Puerto Rican d-boys on the block. Leah engages in an excessive amount of drugs and sex while being on the giving and receiving ends of manipulation. The excess is not for naut, as the film touches on gentrification, white privilege, and female autonomy.
Goat, a tale touching on brotherhood (fraternal and familial) and toxic masculinity as Brad (Ben Schnetzer) is hazed while trying to join the fraternity his older brother, Brett (Nick Jonas) belongs to, rounded out the night before Sunflower Bean took to the stage for a performance. In between the screenings a host of cool things were happening: Neon Indian premiered their low res, VHS inspired video for “Annie;” and directors Elizabeth Wood and Catherine Hardwicke sat for a post screening talk moderated by Jen Yamato.
NEXT FEST’s final day kicked off with “Downtown and Dirty Shorts,” a showcase of comedic short films. Nick Kroll kept the crowd laughing between the shorts, as he hosted the showcase. Later, steve aka Flying Lotus excitedly made his directorial debut with the premiere of his short film, Royal. The beautiful score, composed by Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, aligns perfectly with the dark and creepy feel of the short, while contrasting with the vomit-inducing portions of it. Per Flying Lotus, Royal is a small portion of his upcoming feature cinematic debut, KUSO.
In seemingly concerted vulgarity with Royal, horror/comedy film, The Greasy Strangler (directed by Jim Hosking), closed out the screenings. The film centers around a dysfunctional father-son duo – smooth, grease-loving, Big Ronnie (Michael St. Michaels) and his awkward middle-aged son, Braden (Sky Elobar) – that take tourists on disco themed tours around Los Angeles. The film is filled with grease, eye balls, obscene jokes, bodily fluids, and so much more for the creep in you. The night was capped with a performance by Big Freedia lighting the stage on fire with some nawlins bounce music while her dancers shoulder hustled and twerked into the night.
Overall, NEXT FEST was a weekend filled with amazing films, energetic live performances, and informative panels that encouraged creators to continue pushing the limits. This was the Institute’s last festival for the 2016 year, but make sure to check out Sundance Film Festival in January 2017 and be on the lookout for NEXT FEST’s return next year.