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2014 Sundance NEXT FEST: Interview with Programmer Charlie Reff on a Potentially “Dynamite” 2nd Edition

Over the span of five short years, John Cooper and Trevor Groth’s branded <=> section has not only become a destination for “bold, distinguished by an innovative, forward-thinking approach to storytelling” in Park City, but in its inaugural year with a ten feature film line-up showcasing world premiere titles and a pair of films that were actually shown elsewhere (12 O’Clock Boys) it became a mainstay for the Angeleno crowds. Now, twelve months later, their lovely nudge to my kind of film has been slimed down by half a dozen titles making for a sophomore edition of Sundance NEXT FEST that has decidedly been retooled and refined. Converging at the Ace Hotel Downtown Los Angeles for a three-day film love-in (preceded by today’s out-door 10th year anniversary showing of Jared Hess’ Napoleon Dynamite), on paper,  this might already have become the sort of flagship event that nurtures the frenergy between artists is multiple disciplines, godfathers and forges relationships via film discourse between the select filmmakers and their eclectic peers, and as a whole, best encapsulates the fest’s overall mandate and philosophy of creating a bond between the filmmaker and the audience (after Sundance London, they just announced that Hong Kong will now become a new lieu of activity). As Charlie Reff points out below, making every film a truly one time, film “event” is perhaps the best approach for merging discerning types and built-in audiences.

The three day card event this weekend features Jeff Baena’s rom com zombie Life After Beth paired with indie folk rock artist Father John Misty, Malik Vitthal’s Los Angeles set Imperial Dreams (the NEXT section winner is still seeking a distribution deal) is merged with urban pop artist Tinashe (a short inspired by Kendrick Lamar ‘s m.A.A.d city album is also part of that card) and finally, on Sunday we have a girl power type of evening with Ana Lily Anirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night and indie rock band Warpaint.

In the conversation events, director David Zellner gets to talk shop with Werner Herzog after his screening of Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, Alex Ross Perry gets to detail the convergence of the written word and Super 16mm in Listen Up Philip with writer Bret Easton Ellis, and lastly, the enigmatic Nicolas Winding Refn will be Adam Wingard’s plus one for a showing of The Guest. Some events have been sold out, visit the site to see what’s available.

I had the chance to talk shop with passionately film obsessed Reff, a Sundance Film Festival programmer who not only curates for the Park City edition (we discuss some of the mind obliteration and invigoration involved in the yearly selection process) but has actively became a matchmaker of sorts for the crossover splendor that will unfold at the NEXT FEST.

Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist, and critic at, established in 2000. A regular at Sundance, Cannes, and Venice, Eric holds a BFA in film studies from the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013, he served on the narrative competition jury at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson’s "This Teacher" (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022, he was a New Flesh Juror for Best First Feature at the Fantasia International Film Festival. Current top films for 2023 include The Zone of Interest (Glazer), Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell (Pham Thien An), Totem (Lila Avilés), La Chimera (Alice Rohrwacher), All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Raven Jackson).

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