How the NEXT Began

The Filmmaker Lodge was packed with people - and possibilities - as all nine filmmakers from this year's inaugural NEXT section gathered together for the first time. With Sundance Film Festival's newly minted Festival Director John Cooper moderating, the conversation was lively, insightful and, frequently, silly.

Cooper began by explaining the genesis of NEXT, citing the need to 'carve out' a protected space in the Festival program for the burgeoning low- and no-budget filmmaking scene. But Cooper warned to not think about these films merely as examples of frugality, noting 'Ultimately, it's about story.'

As the filmmakers related their tales of triumph and woe, it became obvious just how diverse the NEXT program truly is. Some of the directors on stage had brought films to the Sundance Film Festival before, such as Todd and Brad Barnes (Homewrecker) or Katie Aselton (The Freebie), but most had not. Funding came from every imaginable avenue, from the nonprofit fundraising of Sultan Sharrief (Bilal's Stand), to private financiers, to the time-tested strategy of friends, family and credit cards. This wide-range of approaches continued as the discussion turned to process and it was truly gratifying to see the NEXT crew share strategies, such as Eyad Zahra's (The Taqwacores) advice on committing to pay an accomplished casting director.

But yet, amid all the differences, what bound the event together was the spirit and dedication that all the filmmakers share. Each had found a story that they were committed to tell and had decided to tell it, no matter what.

Lead photo: