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What’s Next about Next: Sundance

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by Sydney Levine
August 12, 2013 3:30 PM
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Making a part of the Sundance Film Festival a part of the festival tapestry in L.A. is a natural “next” step, in line with festivals’ growth patterns worldwide.  Berlinale has spread to theaters throughout its own city.  Toronto Film Festival travels throughout Canada.  Berlin’s Talent Campus is held in Sarajevo, Guadalajara, Tokyo, …so the Sundance Labs are in Jordan….., or like Cannes with its Producers Network in Guadalajara, … etc. or The Critics Week which has a low key extension….

The launch party was as open and friendly as in the early days of the Sundance Film Festival where Nicole Guillemet would stand outside every party and welcome one and all whether they had their ticket or their name at the door or not.  The Sundance people were as accessible and friendly as in those early days.  If only that were the “next” step for festivals, to exclude the exclusionary practices of parties with goons at the door and red ropes within dividing the riff raff lucky enough to have tickets from the more elite industryites.  That is wishful thinking indeed, though the party was definitely along those lines.

And the films were intended to recall those early days as well.  The open air opening night film allowed one and all entry.  The smell of grass, the clear projection and sound united a huge crowd within the Forever Hollywood Cemetery as they watched American Movie.

I had wanted to take as the theme of this blog the idea that now that gay marriage has become legally institutionalized (except for job protection), the NEXT legal hurdle seems to be to legalize pot.  Both the opening night movie, American Movie, and Newlyweeds point to this NEXT legal frontier.  Stoner movies might be addressed to the next generation, but, in spite of my own legalization leanings, I was left out of this NEXT generational appeal.  After all, I am not the next generation, so what can I say?

Another NEXT issue is that of our teachers today and how the line between them and their students is repeatedly stepped over, as we can see when we read the news.  But A Teacher, that exemplary first film which has won acclaim from its Paris rough cut which won the prize at U.S. in Progress at the Champs Elysees Film Festival in 2012 to its Sundance premiere in 2013, does not hit those “next” notes; rather it is a character study of a human in need which touches deep nerves within the audience.

Newlyweeds

Perhaps Newlyweeds hits another “next” chord rather as an African American film sharing the stage at the festival with12 O’Clock Boys and Blue Caprice.  But I think I am stretching the point here just to make a point which perhaps cannot be made at all.

John Cooper hosted a panel comparing the early days, when Sundance films were most definitely regional, small budgeted and really not very commercial – since there was barely a video industry pipeline to fill.

The difference between Allison Anders and Gregg Araki and the “next” generation of filmmakers who were on the panel, Shaka King of Newlyweeds and Hannah Fidell of A Teacher was mainly one of age, although in those early days when Allison premiered Gas Food and Lodging (1992) Gregg premiered The Living End in the same year were pioneering days.  The world of independent cinema was comprised of the Coen Brothers whose Blood Simple (1984) had premiered at New York Film Festival and Jim Jarmusch Whose Stranger Than Paradise had also premiered the same year at the NY Film Festival, and Spike Lee whose She’s Gotta Have It premiered in Cannes in 1985.  And the fact that there was no video or pay TV and so films themselves were isolate and needed to be awaited, or if they were older, to be seen on late night TV. 


It was only at festivals the filmmakers might meet one another for the first time.  And the first generation looked back on filmmakers like Lubitsch, while the next generation revered filmmakers like Wes Anderson or Steven Soderbergh.  However, the term “independent film” still today connotes a lower budgeted, not totally seemless production of a struggling young filmmaker.   Allison and Greg spoke with the confidence they have gained through hindsight.  Shaka and Hannah spoke with less certainty about their personal views on the business today, on the influences upon them, and on the road they are just beginning to travel.  Definitely the DNA is the same however.

So what is NEXT about Next?  I would say the modes of distribution are what is next, and that panel was sold out, standing room only.  This is the next frontier that all are eager to approach.  And Sundance’s NEXT Weekend was the perfect place to spread the word on the latest distribution trends.  Youtube, one of the principle sponsors of this event is the perfect sponsor as it provides the online forum for people to connect, inform and inspire others across the globe.  The platform has not yet reached its full potential for the next generation and the matching up with Sundance is the perfect place for it to realize the filmic aspect of its platform.

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