Jason Schwartzman attends Sundance NEXT FEST with Listen Up Philip. Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez / WireImage
Nate von Zumwalt
Vitality reigned at Day 3 of Sundance NEXT FEST. If skeptics needed a testament to the health and diversity of independent film, last night’s display was it, as stories from disparate communities throughout the country hit the screen.
First up was David and Nathan Zellner’s beautifully paced drama Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, which follows a young woman (Rinko Kikuchi) who ditches the austerity of Japanese work life and treks to Minnesota to discover the buried loot from the film Fargo. The Sundance vets and filmmaking brothers fleshed out the narrative after coming across a 2001 news story describing a Japanese woman on an intercontinental expedition to uncover a treasure in Minnesota. The film pays homage to classic adventure tales, but perhaps through a more pensive lens. On hand for a conversation with the Zellners following the screening was film luminary Werner Herzog, whose sharp wit suffused the 1,600-seat Theatre at Ace Hotel. Here’s what was overheard:
Werner Herzog: “I want to thank you for inviting me here. This was a complete blind date. But it has been very rewarding. It’s very moving, a very deep and touching film.”
Herzog on the discovery of the story and the fabricated elements that the Internet contributed: “This was an internet invention. There is a certain beauty about the Internet because there are very, very few true things… I’m not that much on the Internet, but I’m aware that in my case there are a variety of doppelgangers out there – a community of fictitious Herzogs,” he said to audience laughter. “This is all fine because they are like body guards whom I don’t have to pay for.”
On choosing to depict real-life stories as narrative or documentary films: “In Grizzly Man I made a choice. It should not be a documentary of the regular kind. It should contain inventions. In your case, it was the absolutely right decision to do the film as you did it. It wouldn’t make a good story as a documentary. The real film is about solitude… solitude in society that can become frozen over. It’s about cold. About frozen. About loneliness.”
Next up was Alex Ross Perry’s Listen Up Philp, starring Jason Schwartzman as a young novelist with a grave case of misanthropy, and his frustrated girlfriend’s (Elisabeth Moss) adjacent existence. Perry’s brand of cynicism is remarkably endearing and it permeates his intimate comedy, which concluded with a discussion between the director, Schwartzman, and novelist and screenwriter Bret Easton Ellis (American Psycho). Some takeaways from the evening:
Perry on Bret Easton Ellis’ influence: “I was a stupid teenager. When I was a sophomore in high school I probably hadn’t read a book for fun since I was like 9 years old. In my sophomore year I read American Psycho and it blew my mind.”
Bret Easton Ellis on the novelistic elements in the films: “It’s kind of a fusion between a film and a novel, because when you think it’s going one way, that we’re going to be following Philip the entire time, and then suddenly it become focused on the Moss character. In that way it’s very unique… It is a movie, and it seems that the character that Jason plays is sort of a composite of a lot of frustrated writers. It felt real to me – the writer that commits suicide, the way you handled the publishing scene.”
Ellis on the notion of ‘the miserable writer’: “Watching a movie where a filmmaker is fearless enough to put this character in the center of a movie… I start looking beyond the surface of their behavior and start to wonder why they are the way they are. Yes, Philip’s behavior is unbearable in the first 20 minutes or so, but I ended up having some kind of empathy for [Jason’s character]. Sure there are authors that bad, but a lot of writers I know are very solitary people and they just write all day. I don’t’ know if the kind of behavior depicted in the movie is widespread in the writing community.”
Capping the night was the equivalent of a west coast triumvirate, led by Khalil Joseph’s Kendrick Lamar-commissioned short film m.A.A.d, a part-elegiac, part-raucous ode to Compton, California, set to an array of Kendrick Lamar tunes. But the feature performance came in the form of Malik Vitthal’s Imperial Dreams, an incisive portrait of a young writer returning to Watts, Los Angeles after a 28-month stint in prison. The film took home the NEXT Audience Award at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and firmly placed the talented young actor John Boyega on audience’s radars.
Of course, the night wouldn’t be complete without a live performance from one of Los Angeles’ own, and sultry R&B singer and dancer Tinashe perfectly fit the bill. The refreshing young hip-hop talent performed a number of hits from her early mixtape work as well as her debut single “2 On,” which has forcefully climbed its way to ‘Top 40’ charts across the country since its January unveiling.
Tonight, the final day of NEXT FEST wraps up with a double bill from A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night and LA-based band Warpaint, who will perfrom a set of their expansive rock, including hits from their latest self-titled album that Rolling Stone has described as the perfect soundtrack to a “moonlit dance party.”