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Fresh Roasted Festival: 2013 Sundance Study Sessions: Lesson 4 - NEXT <=>

Sundance Film Festival unveiled the NEXT category in 2010 and has since showcased innovative films that are able to transcend the confines of an independent budget. NEXT films are pure, bold and distinguished by an innovative, forward-thinking approach to storytelling. Films in NEXT use digital technology paired with an unfettered creativity proves the films selected in this section will inform a “greater” next wave in American cinema.

NEXT films stretch limited resources to create impactful art - in fact, the universal symbol for this Fest category is < = > (less than equals greater than), which is speak for creativity that transcends limitations. Although NEXT films share a Festival category, there is nothing categorical about them. By nature they embody the spirit of independent filmmaking. Interestingly enough, Indiewire recently ran an article breaking down what goes into picking the NEXT films and what kind of impact the NEXT films have had overall on the Sundance Fest. You can check that article out here.

Additionally, NEXT tends to contain many of Sundance’s most polarizing films every year.  During the 2009/2010 Festival Season, the Crew of Andrew Bujalski’s Beeswax began coining the term “Mumblecore” to describe many of the matching theme films coming out on the Indie Circuit that year. Most recently, 2012’s Compliance resulted in several walkouts and shouting matches during the Q&A period of presentation.

A taste for innovation, experimentation and button-pushers are the reasons that NEXT is the category from which all the FRF staff can completely agree we are all looking forward to experiencing the most by a ratio of 7 of 10 films being on our list of priority films to see. With this we present to you Fresh Roasted Films’ Sundance Study Session #4: NEXT <=>.

A small list of Previous NEXT films are below:

Bass Ackwards (2010)

One Too Many Mornings (2010)

Bellflower (2011)

Sound of My Voice (2011 Sundance)

Compliance  (2012 Sundance)

Sleepwalk With Me (2012 Sundance) 

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2013 NEXT FILMS

Take a look below at all of the NEXT films and then check out FRF’s Director and Media spotlights for each film after the jump.

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Blue Caprice

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Blue Caprice is inspired by the Beltway sniper attacks during which two men, John Muhammed and Lee Malvo, conducted a siege of terror on the Washington, D.C. area. Their method: a series of random shootings in public places. Their weapon: a sniper rifle, fired from the trunk of a blue Chevrolet Caprice. The film investigates the genesis of thosehorrific events from the point of view of the two shooters, whose distorted father-son relationship facilitated their long and bloody journey across America.

Marked by captivating performances, lyrical camerawork, and a fractured structure, Blue Caprice documents the mechanisms that lead its subjects to embrace physical violence. Eschewing the conventional approach familiar to the genre, director Alexandre Moors utilizes a formidable cinematic lexicon to concoct a harrowing psychological exploration of the two cold-blooded killers that will make a forceful impact on audiences that remains long after the lights come up.

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Computer Chess

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“Is there a computer program in the house which can stand up against a human chess master?” That’s the question posed by mastermind of the game Pat Henderson, head of an annual computer chess tournament. Set in 1980 in a nondescript hotel, Computer Chessfollows several young geniuses as they try to make the ultimate chess program to beat a human player. As the nerdy guys sweat through various social situations (especially with the one girl there), and the convention overlaps with a group of new-age couples in therapy, things get really strange.

Writer/director Andrew Bujalski has created a playful, emotionally resonant period piece bolstered by keen aesthetics, which launches us back into the awkward and uncertain time when the hopeful wave of the ’60s and ’70s was about to crest into the Reagan ’80s. As high-definition video tries to replicate film while threatening to lose all of its original nuances, Bujalski brings the beauty and contrast of early PortaPak video techniques back from the landfill. As his characters mind-meld over one weekend, the humorous film captures a deeper feeling of a bygone era that is nevertheless extremely relevant in today’s technology-obsessed world. People just want to connect with one another, even if they are trying to make an artificial brain.

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Escape From Tomorrow

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Jim White is an average American family man, mostly content to exist within his humdrum reality. At the tail end of a theme park vacation with his loving wife and two beautiful children, he is awakened by an unsettling phone call from his boss, who tells him that he has lost his job. Unwilling to disturb their sabbatical, Jim holds off on breaking the news to his family so they can enjoy their last day at the idyllic and beloved tourist destination. In desperate need of a distraction, he finds one amidst the long lines at the park—two attractive and fun-loving teenage girls. In his fractured state, Jim falls obsessively in love, making any excuse he can to follow them everywhere. Along the way, his paranoid psyche spirals even further downward, and the fine line between fantasy and reality becomes blurred.

First-time writer/director Randy Moore takes a bold and creative step into uncharted territory, inviting viewers on a surreal, postmodern voyage into the seedy underbelly of family entertainment.

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I Used To Be Darker

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When Taryn, a Northern Irish runaway, finds herself in trouble in Ocean City, Maryland, she seeks refuge with her aunt and uncle in Baltimore. But Kim and Bill have problems of their own: they are trying to handle the end of their marriage gracefully for the sake of their daughter, Abby, just home from her first year of college. I Used to Be Darker is a story of people finding each other and letting each other go; of looking for love where they have found it before; and, when that does not work, figuring out where they might find it next.

"This is a story about relationships," screenwriter Amy Belk said. "People taking care of each other and letting each other go, looking for love and connection where they’ve found it before or where they might find it next. It’s about family: what pushes us away from our own, what draws us back, how we negotiate new terms of engagement as we carve our own space in the world."

With his third feature, writer/director Matthew Porterfield focuses his delicate eye on this rip in a family’s fabric and the emotional fallout it causes. Cinematographer Jeremy Saulnier beautifully tracks the bubbling revelations and suburban Baltimore landscape in this quiet story that is enlivened by live performance.

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It Felt Like Love

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Fourteen-year-old Lila is experiencing an ennui-filled Brooklyn summer. She awkwardly wears a Kabuki-esque mask of sunscreen at the beach and plays third wheel to Chiara, her more experienced friend, and Chiara’s boyfriend, Patrick. Determined to have a love interest of her own, a bravado-filled Lila pursues Sammy, a tough but handsome older boy.Though Sammy doesn’t respond to her overtures, he doesn’t reject her either, and Lila—unable to resist spinning delusional fables of a relationship with him—manipulates herself deeper into his world. When her desperation and posturing carry her too far into unfamiliar territory, her inexperience is exposed, and she is forced to confront reality.

In this film shot from Lila’s point of view and constructed with precise—sometimes startling—imagery and intimate moments, first-time feature writer/director Eliza Hittman confidently constructs a viewing experience that is completely subjective. Bolstered by a perfectly modulated lead performance from Gina Piersanti, It Felt Like Love unflinchingly reveals some of the rawest moments of girlhood in an authentic story of burgeoning identity and sexual awakening.

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Milkshake

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While O. J. Simpson stands trial and a big beef brews between Tupac and Biggie, Al Jolson’s great-great-grandson Jolie Jolson reaches for a dream he will never achieve. What this white, well-to-do, magnet high school student wants with all his being is to be like the cool kids from the Maple Avenue projects. He wants to be a gangsta like Henrietta, his pregnant-with-someone-else’s-baby girlfriend on the down-low. So when Jolie makes the basketball team, he jumps for joy. In his mind, he has finally made it; he is practically black.

David Andalman’s clever dark comedy Milkshake takes aim at teen sex and racial identity during a time when Netscape was on the rise and the definition of cool morphed from big hair and skinny ties to gang tattoos and baggy pants. Acutely observed and hilariously performed, Andalman’s debut feature sheds light on a mentality that has now gone epidemic.

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Newlyweeds

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Lyle and Nina are in love—with each other and with getting high, but not necessarily in that order. Wafting through aimless days in New York smoking weed whenever possible, Lyle makes his living repossessing rented furniture from the destitute before heading home to be with his girl. Though caught in a loop of self-medication, Nina yearns for more. When mistakes in judgment escalate out of control, the happy couple find the life they have built is quickly evaporating, and the hole they have dug for themselves is growing beyond repair.

Director Shaka King’s feature debut provokes a thoughtful meditation on the habits that hinder modern relationships, navigating through the perilous and comedic with a natural ease and restraint. Craftily luring the stoner-comedy into a meaningful examination of dependency in all its forms, King confronts a community that refuses to grow up and asks the audience what it really means to be an adult.

* It was noted over at Indiewire on January 4th that the Newlyweeds team partnered up withL.A.-based Circus Roads Films Geezers! has just come aboard to rep sales for the Feature.

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Pit Stop

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Recovering from an ill-fated affair with a married man, Gabe finds solace in the relationship he maintains with his ex-wife and daughter. On the other side of town, Ernesto evades life at home with his current live-in ex-boyfriend by spending much of his spare time in the hospital with an ailing past love. Impervious to the monotony of their blue-collar world, they maintain an unwavering yearning for romance.

Far from the gay centers of the world, director Yen Tan explores the complex and oft-forgotten lives of gay men in small-town America. The understated, contemplative nature of Ernesto and Gabe’s story is told from the perspective of an observer, allowing us—even if just for a moment—to understand what it means to be an outsider. The emotional isolation the two men have grown accustomed to is captured in a subtle, optimistic, poetic fashion while avoiding melodrama. In a refreshingly quiet film, Tan’s protagonists never try to run away from their relatively hollow surroundings, but opt to fill life’s deepest voids with their tenacious confidence.

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A Teacher

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Diana, a young, attractive teacher at a suburban Texas high school, is well-liked by her students and colleagues. Her life seems to be following the status quo, but in reality she’s having a secret affair with her student Eric. She confides in no one but him, reveling in the teenage terrain of sexting and backseat quickies. Even when the risk of discovery looms over their relationship, her investment in the fantasy remains stronger than reality. Unable to control herself, she heads down a reckless path of self-destruction.

The subject of a teacher-student affair may be tabloid fodder, but writer/director Hannah Fidell resists sensationalism or the temptation to pathologize her protagonist. At its core, Diana’s affair with her student is the manifestation of her avoidance of responsibility, and the film lets us in on her internal struggle. With bold vision, Fidell uses highly controlled pacing, silky camera movements, and a tense percussive sound aesthetic to free her narrative from the confines of convention, while a fascinating performance by Lindsay Burdge transports us into Diana’s head space, where her unabated obsession lives.

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This is Martin Bonner

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Chad Hartigan’s moving second feature has an air of simplicity but proves a subtle meditation on friendship, faith, and human connection.

In his fifties, Martin Bonner leaves his old life behind and relocates to Reno, where he finds work for a church-based program that helps released prisoners transition to life on the outside. Divorced with two adult children, he tries speed dating and passes time as a soccer referee on weekends. Meanwhile Travis Holloway has just been released from a 12-year prison stint. His program mentor, Steve, is charitable and helps him adjust, but Travis finds Steve’s Christian devotion uncomfortable and reaches out to Martin instead. The two men form an unlikely friendship that offers them unspoken support and understanding.

In this quietly observational film, Hartigan affects naturalism but hints at unnerving disquietude as both Martin and Travis struggle in an unfamiliar place—looking for a second chance at life. The storytelling is intimate, witty, and personal, while Paul Eenhoorn (as Martin) and Richmond Arquette (as Travis) offer standout performances, approaching their characters with a low-key restraint that evokes the awkwardness of starting life afresh, well into middle age.

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2013 NEXT DIRECTORS SPOTLIGHT

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Alexandre Moors

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Growing up in the suburbs of Paris, Alexandre Moors was active in the graffiti scene while studying fine art at the renowned École nationale supérieur des Arts Décoratifs. After moving to New York in 1998, Moors began directing high-concept short films and music videos. He recently codirected, with Kanye West, the experimental short film Cruel Summer, which premiered at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. He currently lives in Brooklyn with his wife, two daughters, and countless cats.

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Andrew Bujalski (Computer Chess)

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Andrew Bujalski was born in Boston in 1977 and studied film at Harvard’s Department of Visual and Environmental Studies. He wrote and directed the films Funny Ha Ha, Mutual Appreciation, and Beeswax. His first three films all appeared on the New York Times’s “Best of the Year” lists. He types 89 words per minute.

IndieWire’s Interview w/ Computer Chess Director Andrew Bujalski HERE 

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Randy Moore (Escape From Tomorrow)

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Randy Moore was born in Lake Bluff, Illinois, a small town known for Scooters—its famous hot dog joint—and for being a center for alcohol smuggling during Prohibition. He studied filmmaking at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Columbia College in Chicago, and Full Sail University in Winter Park, Florida, where he graduated valedictorian. Moore has worked as a story editor in Los Angeles. Escape from Tomorrow is his first feature film.

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Matthew Porterfield ( I Used To Be Darker)

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Matthew Porterfield wrote and directed Hamilton, for which he was named best new filmmaker at the Boulder International Film Festival in 2007, and Putty Hill. He studied at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, lives in Baltimore, and teaches screenwriting, theory, and production at Johns Hopkins University. In 2012, Porterfield was a featured artist in the Whitney Biennial, a Creative Capital grantee, and the recipient of a Wexner Center Artist Residency Award. He has two feature scripts in development—“Sollers Point” and the IFP No Borders project “Metal Gods.

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Eliza Hittman (It Felt Like Love)

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Award-winning filmmaker Eliza Hittman was born in New York City and is still based there. In 2010, she received an MFA from California Institute of the Arts’s School of Film/Video and has been a guest artist and lecturer at Columbia University. Her short film Forever’s Gonna Start Tonight premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2011 and was listed on Indiewire’s list of “The Best of the Best.” It Felt Like Love is Hittman’s first feature film.

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David Andalman

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Writer and director David Andalman is an alumnus of Oberlin Collage with several short films to his credit, including The Braggart and Takoma Park, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2008 and was the inspiration for Milkshake. Andalman received an LEF Moving Image Fund grant for both of his shorts. Milkshake is his first feature.

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Shaka King

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Shaka King is a writer, director, and producer whose films Cocoa Loco and Herkimer DuFrayne 7th Grade Guidance Counselor have screened at festivals and on networks internationally. Newlyweeds, King’s first feature, was developed in the Emerging Narrative workshop at IFP and was awarded a postproduction grant from Rooftop Films/Edgeworx Studios. He lives in Brooklyn, where he was born and raised.

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Yen Tan

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Malaysian-born, Austin-based Yen Tan is a writer, director, and graphic designer. His previous film, the award-winning Ciao, was released theatrically. He was profiled on the cover of the Austin Chronicle for his film poster designs. Pit Stop participated in the Outfest Screenwriting Lab and was awarded grants by the Austin Film Society, Vilcek Foundation, and United States Artists. The film is Tan’s third feature.

IndieWire’s Interview w/ Pit Stop Director, Yen Tan HERE 

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Hannah Fidell

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Hannah Fidell is a director, writer, and producer based in Brooklyn and was recently named one of Filmmaker magazine’s annual “25 New Faces of Independent Film.” Two of her short films, The Gathering Squall and Man & Gun, screened at SXSW in 2012. A Teacher, which she wrote, directed, and coproduced with Kim Sherman, is her first feature film. In May, Fidell attended the Champs-Elysees Film Festival, where A Teacher was awarded the U.S. In-Progress Grand Prize.

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Chad Hartigan

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Chad Hartigan was born in Nicosia, Cyprus, and graduated from the North Carolina School of the Arts. In 2008, he wrote and directed his first feature, Luke and Brie Are on a First Date, which had its world premiere at the Hamptons International Film Festival before screening at several others. A Latin-American remake entitled Luna en Leo is set for release in 2013. This Is Martin Bonner is Hartigan’s second feature film.

IndieWire’s Interview w/ MMB’s Director, Chad Hartigan HERE 

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2013 NEXT MEDIA SPOTLIGHT

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BLUE CAPRICE Media

Blue Caprice Trailer

Blue Caprice Stills

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Computer Chess Media

Computer Chess Stills

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Check out IndieWire’s Interview with Computer Chess Director, Andrew Bujalski HERE

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ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW Media

Escape From Tomorrow Stills

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Check out IndieWire’s Interview with Escape From Tomorrow Director, Randy Moore HERE

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I USED TO BE DARKER Media

I Used To Be Darker Trailer

I Used To Be Darker Stills

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Meet the Director I Used to Be Darker Matt Porterfield (Via IndieWire)

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IT FELT LIKE LOVE Media

It Felt Like Love Clips

It Felt Like Love Stills

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MILKSHAKE Media

Milkshake Stills

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NEWLYWEEDS Media 

Newlyweeds “Going to Sundance” Kickstarter Campaign

Newlyweeds Stills

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PIT STOP Media

Pit Stop Stills

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Check out IndieWire’s Interview with Pit Stop Director, Yen Tan HERE

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A TEACHER Media

A Teacher Stills

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THIS IS MARTIN BONNER Media

This is Martin Bonner Kickstarer Campaign

This Is Martin Bonner Stills

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Check out IndieWire’s Interview with This Is Martin Bonner Director, Chad Hartigan HERE 

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