LOS ANGELES – The third Sundance NEXT FEST came to a close on Sunday night and let”s hope we”re not reaching by saying it has now secured its much-needed place on the LA cultural calendar.
A spin-off of the main Park City festival, NEXT FEST started in August 2013 primarily featuring films that had premiered in January in the “NEXT” and (sometimes) Midnight sections. Screenings were held over a three-day weekend in different venues across the city and that gave the first edition of the festival an unintended scattershot feel. Last year, Sundance wisely made the Ace Hotel”s historic United Artists theater the event”s home base and secured the LA premieres of “Life After Beth,” “Listen Up Philip,” “Kumiko the Treasure Hunter,” “The Guest” and “Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.” Oh, and performances from Tinashe and Warpaint. Considering many of those movies ended up on a ton of year-end best of lists that was always going to be a tough act to follow.
2015's edition kicked off on Sunday, August 2 with a screening of “Cop Car” (luckily buzzworthy as the director will be helming the next “Spider-Man”) at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. The festival continued Friday night with the LA premiere of Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig”s wonderful “Mistress America.” That evening”s sold out program ended with a live performance from Sky Ferreira. Saturday included a screening of the documentary “Finders Keepers” with a Q&A moderated by “Silicon Valley's” Thomas Middleditch and Audrey Plaza. The day wrapped with another well-received doc, “Entertainment” and a performance by Sharon Van Etten. This pundit was out of town Friday and Saturday, but heard the former events were more, um, entertaining than the later. Still, attendance appears (and we say appears because the festival has not shared any numbers) to have been very strong across the board. If Saturday”s programs didn”t sell out they were still pretty full and the festival ended with a pretty packed screening of “Turbo Kid” on Sunday.
As for “Turbo Kid,” it's the epitome of a midnight movie and simply not for everyone. Directed by the Montreal trio of François Simard, Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell, “Kid” takes place in an alternate timeline inspired by bad ’80s B-movies where the “future” post-apocalyptic world is 1997 (so smart, right?). There are a lot of stylistic jokes that reference that era of moviemaking (and you've seen them before), but the surprise was just how gory it is. The movie is not categorized as a horror film at all and all of the blood and guts are for comedic effect, but, boy, did it get gross quick. “Kid” is also a flick where its intended audience will cheer when it”s revealed Michael Ironside is playing the villain and the dialogue is as campy as possible (which doesn”t always mean its as funny as the filmmakers hope it will be). “Degrassi: The Next Generation” star Munro Chambers is pretty good as the “Kid” in question and veteran Canadian actress Laurence Leboeuf brings a ton of energy as Apple. That being said, unless the movie”s trailer blows you away it”s worth skipping.
Before “Kid” began the festival premiered a new short film collaboration from artist/musician Flying Lotus and director Eddie Alcazar titled “FUCKKKYOUUU.” The black and white experimental film featuring naked women playing with each other and a monstrous man in a forest felt a little bit like a ’90s Nine Inch Nails music video (or any “American Horror Story” promo) with a few nods to Jonathan Glazer thrown in for kicks. So, yes, it was all pretty familiar, but it was certainly more memorable than “Turbo Kid.”
The night ended with an electric set from DJ”s Neon Indian and Toro y Moi. There “dj battle” featured a little bit of house, a little bit of dub step, a little bit of EDM and a whole lot of good times. The crowd even crashed the stage before security kindly ushered them off and an hour into the show few had left the auditorium. And that, frankly, is the most impressive part of NEXT FEST.
The 2015 edition of NEXT FEST may not have had as many great movies as the previous installment, but both portions I attended featured the sort of energy the LA Film Fest and AFI Fest would kill for. Also, unlike those two festivals, it attracted a much younger and, frankly, (for lack of a better description) hipper audience that would also be the envy of those competing LA festivals. This semi-hipster audience is likely a combination of the programming and the venue (the fact the downtown based LA Film Fest did not use the Ace Hotel this past June simply makes no sense), but it makes you wish NEXT ran for a week instead of just an extended weekend. Dare to dream Sundance finds a way to extend it in 2016? More importantly, let”s just hope its here to stay.