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Sundance Programmer Charlie Reff Dishes Out About NEXT FEST 2015

Sundance Programmer Charlie Reff Dishes Out About NEXT FEST 2015

One of Los Angeles’ most lavish and historic film venues,
The Theater at Ace Hotel, will host Sundance NEXT FEST once again August 7-9.
Cinema and music come together for a second time during this weekend–long event that
will showcase 5 films representing distinctively unique visions. These independent
works taken from several sections within this year’s Park City program will
screen for L.A. audiences followed by either a musical act or a special guest
speaker. Last year the slate included “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, “Imperial
Dreams” and “Life After Beth,” which were accompanied by performers Warpaint, Tinashe, and Father John Misty, respectively. Thanks to the eclectic pairings, NEXT FEST became
one of the most memorable festivals to take place in the city.

This time around the program looks even more compelling with
a variety of filmmaking approaches that include the latest Noah Baumbach/Greta Gerwig collaboration, Rick Alverson’s new mind-bending flick, and an offbeat
documentary that borders on the surreal.The festival kicked-off on Sunday with a packed outdoor screening of Jon Watts‘s “Cop Car” at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery hosted alongside Cinespia.

We talked to Sundance programmer
Charlie Reff who shared his excitement for the film selection and dished out
about the process of curating such peculiar celebration of audiovisual creativity.

Aguilar: It seems like the batch of films included in this year’s NEXT FEST comes from a variety of sections in the Sundance 2015 program. You have films not only from the NEXT section, but also from Midnight, Premieres, and even a documentary. Tell me about the process or parameters to select these films.

Charlie Reff: This
is the third year of the festival, counting the first year as NEXT Weekend, and
we’ve never had specifically only NEXT section films. I believe last year we
played four films from the NEXT section. We played a film from Midnight last
year, and we played a doc called “Cutie and the Boxer” the first year. We
definitely want to keep the diversity of the lineup. We still feel all the
films are representative of NEXT. We like that NEXT is this idea of artistic pursuits
that have an unconventional approach to storytelling, even a film like
Mistress America.” The reason we wanted to play that is because when Noah works
with Greta in films like “Frances Ha” and now “Mistress America,”  they don’t
feel like his other films. His
other films have a certain tone and point of view, but when he and Greta had
gone off to make these films, they are wildly different stylistically from the
other films he’s done.

Even in the first year of the festival we were hoping to
play a film like “Prince Avalanche,” but it came out before the festival. That
was David Gordon Green, a studio guy being like, “Fuck it, I wanna go make a weird unique film
without anybody holding me back.” We want to show films form the filmmakers
that are still willing to go in this direction and the new generation that’s
coming up and is committed to it still. I feel like it makes sense
including a doc. I love “Finders Keepers,” it was one my favorite films at the
festival and it’s just so unique. It’s such a unique watch for a documentary
film. We want to champion the
different approaches people are taking.

Aguilar: So you sit down
with your team to figure out what films to play at NEXT FEST and go through every possible film from the Park City program? 

Charlie Reff: One
thing that’s actually interesting, is that first thing we think about is that
any film released before the festival is automatically off the table. It was
actually really unique this year distribution-wise because I think so many
films rushed to release this year. I don’t know if you noticed that, but
there were so many films coming out in the summer and the spring that were just
acquired or coming out on VOD. That’s
one thing that wipes away nearly half the slate. Beyond that, there are a lot of
films that we want to play, but we need them all to have this unique NEXT
quality that I talked about.

Aguilar: So you probably
wouldn’t play a film like “Brooklyn,” which is very classical in terms of the
filmmaking style and approach.  

Charlie Reff: Exactly.
I love the hell out of  “Brooklyn,”
but it’s so wonderfully classical that it would never play at NEXT Fest. The
interesting thing that we always talk about when programming the Park City
festival, and that it’s always a difficult thing for people to understand, is
that every film that plays in the NEXT section could potentially play in our
U.S. Dramatic Competition, but not every film in the U.S. Dramatic Competition
could play in NEXT. They need to have that wild inventive quality to them, and that’s
not to disrespect films that use classic storytelling, but that’s just how NEXT FEST is.

Aguilar: How do you
decide what musical act goes well with a certain film? It seems like a complicated task and a leap of faith because it’s difficult to know how an audience will react to a certain combination.

Charlie Reff: After
going through it last year programming NEXT FEST and then programming last
year’s and this year’s Park City festivals, as soon as I was watching a movie
that I knew we were going to play and felt like a potentially cool NEXT FEST
film, I was automatically already brainstorming ideas. It was like,
“What would be an interesting crossover audience for this film? What musician
has the right fan base that would love this film?” or vice versa, “The fan base
for this film, what music do I think that they’ll be really into?“ I start thinking
about the films and the music in my head and with my phone all the way back in
November. We have the films to bring to people in, so I think
about what music could be interesting and could make sort of a big statement.

With “Mistress America” I always wanted to pair it with Sky
Ferreira. I’m a big fan of her. I know “Mistress America” has the Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig fan base. They pull that audience, so it’s about, “What can we
do different? What audience could we bring to this film that would really get
into it?” I started thinking about an ideal musician for the female, college-age,
twenty-something, audience. “What artist can we bring in that would pull that kind of
audience to ‘Mistress America’?” They maybe don’t know about the film yet, but
they’ll fucking love it! That’s how the program for “Mistress America” came

Entertainment” and Sharon Van Etten was a really hard one to pull together
just because it’s such a singular and provocative film. I had conversations
with Rick Alverson, the director of the film, about what kind of mood would be
good for after the film. We were thinking of something really aggressive
afterwards and Rick wasn’t really into that idea.  He said, “Honestly, it’s quite a ride you are putting that
audience through with the film and it probably wouldn’t be good to put even
more in-your-face kind of intensity after.” We thought that the film was almost
like a folk tale and that it has that wanderer feel to it, so I started thinking
about folksy artists. Sharon Van Etten popped into my head because I love her and she
is beyond talented. When I think of all the films that I’ve watched in the
world and all the music that I’ve listened to, I realize that Rick Alverson is a filmmaker
that throws me for a loop when I watch his films. As much as I think that I understand
cinema, when I see his films they completely disorient me. That’s what’s
special about him. Maybe this has happened to you with other filmmakers, but he blows my mind so much that I kind of almost stop breathing and I
think, “What the fuck am I seeing? What is he putting us through? What is he
exploring? “

At the same time Sharon Van Ette is so raw. She is such a beautiful
performer. Once when I was watching her set I found myself really listening to what
she was singing about and I was like, “Wow, this sis really, really personal.”  This is how the selection happens. It’s
not some specific formula. 

Regarding “Turbo Kid,” it’s always been a dream to do something like
this from the moment of pitching idea of NEXT FEST. I would always talk about,
“Man, there are all these films coming out that are pulling from 80s aesthetics
and there is a very similar strand of music.” It’s such a popular thing and I
thought that’s something we would do one year. Then “Turbo Kid” came along and I
was like, “Fuck Yeah!” This is the ultimate movie to do this with and celebrate
the idea of this generations that’s influenced by the sounds and aesthetics of
the 80s. Toro Y Moi are two of my favorite artists that really experiment with
those sounds and push them forward. The greatest thing about them is
that neither one of them do it ironically or mocking. There is sincerity in the
love for the music they are creating and the music from the time period that
has been so influential for them. That’s what “Turbo Kid“ is too. It’s not an ironic
film, is a love letter and it’s shockingly sincere about its love of the 80s. That’s
something I wanted to do. I didn’t want to make a joke of the 80s, I wanted
people who love the 80s.

Aguilar: The other two films will have a special Q&A instead of a musical act. What can you tell me about the speakers that will accompany the films and filmmakers?

Charlie Reff: We
always talk to the filmmakers and we ask for ideas from them. With “Cronies” by
Michael Larnell, we will have a filmmaker that came before him and that was “the guy” who he felt understood what they were creating. The speaker will be Robert Townsend.

With “Finders Keepers” we wanted a really fun conversation and
we chose someone who will ask the really fun and exciting questions out of all
the questions that someone could ask the filmmaker. We will have Thomas Middletich to ask the strange questions about
the reality of the story. We will also have John, the subject for the film
there as well.

Aguilar: NEXT FEST is back at the Theater at Ace Hotel, which is a fantastic venue. It feels like the ideal place to show these films in L.A.

Charlie Reff:  We love working with them. They have been
incredibly supportive. They got it. Two years before the very first festival, when
we it was called NEXT Weekend, we had already visited the Ace Hotel while it
was still under construction. We were exploring this idea that maybe it’ll be
fun to play new independent films in old movie palaces. I love the idea
because I think these places are incredibly special. That was in the back of
our heads and then when we heard about the Ace being done, we went to them and
explain what we were trying to do and they were like, “Yeah, we are in.” We
love being there. 

Find out more about Sundance NEXT FEST 2015 and get tickets to the events HERE

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