Why Sundance's Next Fest Is the Future of Film Festivals

Greta Gerwig and Lola Kirke in Noah Baumbach's Mistress AmericaEXPAND
Greta Gerwig and Lola Kirke in Noah Baumbach's Mistress America
Fox Searchlight

Next Fest isn’t like most other film festivals, so much so that calling it one almost feels misleading. This is a good thing. The Sundance-hosted festivities are an increasingly multimedia affair in which moving images are only part of the draw — a model for like-minded entities to follow. (It's also part of why the original name, Next Weekend, was more accurate.)

Now in its third year, the event lays claim to six Los Angeles premieres over two weekends. The first of these is Cop Car, a Kevin Bacon–starring thriller at Hollywood Forever Cemetery on Aug. 2, while the Theatre at the Ace Hotel downtown hosts the rest the following Friday through Sunday. Each movie is only presented once, and all of the screenings feature either a musical act or a noted guest conducting Q&A sessions after the credits roll.

Next Fest takes its name from NEXT, the flagship Sundance Festival's program devoted to innovative and/or outré offerings. Anyone who ventured to Park City in January may already have seen the likes of Turbo Kid and Cronies. For those who hate air travel and/or snow but like good movies, Next Fest is increasingly essential for the way it brings some of Sundance’s finest offerings to L.A.

In order to not only survive but thrive in the increasingly fragmented world of independent film, exhibitors and distributors need to make their events seem special. Next Fest pulls this off. Since it's largely confined to one weekend, there’s no overlap between screenings (as there always is at larger festivals), which obviates the need to make tough decisions and prioritize one film over another. It also doesn't offer as much of a chance for potential viewers to plan on catching a screening and quickly abandon those plans once the festival enters its second week. There's only one opportunity, and Sundance wants you to seize it — what appears to be a limitation can actually be liberating.

Gregg Turkington in Rick Alverson's Entertainment
Gregg Turkington in Rick Alverson's Entertainment
Magnolia Pictures

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A huge part of the appeal is how carefully curated the actual lineup is. Noah Baumbach’s wonderful Mistress America, co-written with his inamorata/muse Greta Gerwig, is must-see in and of itself — a comic delight about college and sisters peppered with too many hilarious lines to count. Another standout is Rick Alverson’s Entertainment, which somehow manages to be more caustic and despairing than The Comedy, which, though uproariously funny, was so bleak that its title felt like a misnomer nevertheless. Among films screened in the first two years were Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter and It Felt Like Love, both of which embody the best of Sundance.

Nicolas Winding Refn, Bret Easton Ellis and Werner Herzog all appeared last year; this year's moderators have yet to be announced. If they're as fitting as they have been in the past, these guests will prove an integral part of the experience. Ellis, for instance, was on hand to discuss Listen Up Philip, a film about a talented writer whose belief in his own genius prevents him from forming meaningful relationships with the people around him. This year's musical guests — Sky Ferreira, Sharon Van Etten and Neon Indian  — are all on the verge of crossover success.

More than anything else, Next Fest feels like something not to be missed. Die-hard cinephiles would likely show up anyway, but more casual moviegoers are sure to be impressed by the laid-back ambition. Next Fest already has a strong enough pedigree for us to be optimistic about not only this year's edition but the many to follow as well — and even the knock-offs that will no doubt arrive soon.

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