The Sundance Film Festival's Next Fest, an extended weekend of selections from January's big indie movie bash in Utah, starts its second Los Angeles run Thursday with a 10th anniversary screening of “Napoleon Dynamite” at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
But the screening at the iconic cemetery is about all that will be similar to last year's inaugural L.A. Next Fest. The rest of the program, Friday to Aug. 10, will unfold at the recently refurbished United Artists Theatre at Ace Hotel Downtown (last year's venue was the Sundance Sunset Cinemas).
Live music also will be a big part of this year's event. Concerts by like-minded artists will accompany each evening screening, while special guests will participate in conversations following every afternoon screening.
“Last year's Next Fest met our expectations and gave us encouragement to want to do it again — and to do it, maybe, even bigger,” says Trevor Groth, director of programming for the Sundance Film Festival. “We had a great venue to watch movies last year at the Sundance Cinemas. But L.A.'s a big town and there are a lot of things happening all the time. So we had this idea about bringing a music element into the festival, and when we heard about the Ace renovating the old UA Theatre downtown, setting it up to do screenings and concerts, it felt like the perfect venue for us.”
The core of the festival remains movies, of course, and Sundance has curated six of the more acclaimed indie features that debuted in Park City.
“Life After Beth” is a zombie romantic comedy starring Aubrey Plaza and Dane DeHaan. “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter” features Rinko Kikuchi as a Japanese woman searching for a probably imaginary cache of cash in wintry Minnesota. “Listen Up Philip” is up-and-coming director Alex Ross Perry's story of a successful writer's sentimental education, with Jason Schwartzman and Elisabeth Moss.
“Imperial Dreams” charts the efforts of a Watts gangbanger to keep out of trouble after his release from prison. Indie thriller maestro Adam Wingard's (“You're Next”) next one, “The Guest,” suggests what can happen when someone claiming to be your dead son's Army buddy pays a visit. And Ana Lily Amirpour's “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” takes the audience to an undead-plagued Iranian town.
“The festival is inspired by the Next section of the Park City festival, which we started about five years ago,” Groth explains. “It showcases adventurous new films from American independent filmmakers who we think are pushing boundaries a bit in terms of storytelling and style. Of these six films that are showing at Next Fest, three of them were in that category and three others were in other sections, but they all embody that same spirit and attitude.”
“Life After Beth” will be paired with an acoustic performance by multi-instrumentalist Father John Misty, R&B fusion artist Tinashe will play following “Imperial Dreams” and the all-female dream-rock band Warpaint is part of the “Girl Walks Home” show.
The Theatre at Ace Hotel, as it's now called, re-opened at the start of the year. It retains the baroque, 1920s movie palace look it had as United Artists' flagship theater.
“What I like about the renovation was that they didn't overdo it,” notes Sundance Film Festival director John Cooper. “They kept a very authentic feel. They brought in all state-of-the-art projection and sound without complicating the natural beauty of the place.”
Next Fest is designed to be an uncomplicated good time as well.
“What I charged Trevor and the programmers here with was really creating an event that adds to the cultural landscape of Los Angeles,” Cooper adds. “Making it unique, making it something exciting that can add to that without just making it more busy. Making it really fun; it's in the summer.”
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