NEXT – Then, Now and Beyond
Nate von Zumwalt, Editorial Manager
On the final day of NEXT WEEKEND, as screenings expanded to some of our favorite cultural organizations across the city, Festival Director John Cooper hosted a panel at Sundance Cinemas to properly bookend the four days of festivities.
NEXT – Then, Now and Beyond featured four quintessential NEXT filmmakers from various eras of cinema: Gregg Araki (Totally F***ed Up, Mysterious Skin), Allison Anders (Gas, Food Lodging; Mi Vida Loca), Hannah Fidell (A Teacher), and Shaka King (Newlyweeds). The group would be tasked with exploring the parallels and contrasts between being a NEXT filmmaker today, as opposed to the early days of Sundance. Which barricades have been removed and which new ones have arisen?
Naturally, the early part of the discussion was dedicated to the transition from film to digital, along with other technical advancements that have revolutionized the art of filmmaking. “In those days, we shot on 16 mm; my first film I shot and edited myself. The whole process was so much more complicated,” said Gregg Araki. “I think, in a way, it’s good because it really separated out the weak. But now it’s much more democratic.”
Allison Anders touched on the challenges of discovering new styles of filmmaking, and a general unawareness of how other artists were working. “You didn’t even know that there were other people doing what you did. It’s almost like we discovered American cinema through European filmmakers who’d discovered it through American filmmakers.”
Cooper then guided the conversation towards the younger panelists, soliciting King and Fidell to share their greatest filmmaker influences. For King, that meant Alan Arkin’s Little Murders: “To me that movie is so unique and how it plays with tone. I think a movie like that could come out now and still be groundbreaking.” Fidell added, “Cassavetes’ A Woman Under the Influence is kind of the ultimate, for me.”
A common refrain from the weekend involved defining NEXT , but King offered an alternative approach to putting a finger on the genre. “There’s some danger in being quick to classify your work as being indie. The most punk rock thing you can do is have no label.” King’s terse advice to young filmmakers: “Just say, ‘I’m going to make this thing and see where it lands.’”
Of course, it wouldn’t be a comprehensive panel without the seemingly ubiquitous topic of self-distribution, which garnered unique commentary from each panelist.
“That’s a really scary thing, how to support yourself. We were always working on the next thing, when a film came out,” explained Anders. “Now I’ve got a film we crowdfunded, and it’s really a scary world.” King added, referring to some of the larger distribution campaigns of late form The Weinstein Company, “Our distributor doesn’t have pockets like Weinstein, if they do, they ain’t spending that shit on our movie. We gotta do it.”
That’s the notion that fueled the first-ever NEXT WEEKEND film festival through its four days of screenings and events. It was a weekend, ultimately, about artists with an unwavering dedication to their art. From Mark Borchardt’s steadfast vision in making Coven to the seemingly intractable task of financing a first film, these are the filmmakers who will continue to define NEXT.