​Shamir, Craig Robinson, Nick Kroll, and Everything Else Going Down at NEXT FEST

Nate von Zumwalt

NEXT FEST is officially going down next weekend, August 12-14 (fun fact: Next Weekend was the name of the first iteration of NEXT FEST back in 2013). We’ve got the original Queen of Bounce (and twerk), a sonically indefinable talent in Shamir, a slate of indie films direct from the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, and a Pokémon Go gym. OK, not that last part.

With NEXT FEST, Sundance fuses the visual and aural for an experience that amplifies each. Below, Sundance Film Festival and NEXT FEST programmer Charlie Reff sheds light on the creative aspects of curating a film and music festival and hints at some can’t-miss artists and acts coming to the Theatre at Ace Hotel in Downtown LA next weekend. View the complete lineup and get your tickets here.

This idea of finding a nexus between a specific film and a musician is a fascinating one, particularly when it comes to cases like this Friday night event. What’s the link between Lovesong and Shamir?

Charlie Reff: This is the very first time where there is a specific connection between this film and the artist. Shamir is actually a part of the Lovesong soundtrack and director So Yong Kim is a huge fan.

Shamir is real fun and moody and has some ballad stuff alongside the more disco, pop, and r&b. There’s also some really interesting thematic connections that work out really well. The film is very much about fluidity between friendship and love and what that means and I think those are themes that Shamir puts out there as well.

Morris From America was one of my personal favorites from this year’s Festival, and Craig Robinson hosts the youth talent show that will follow the screening. What’s the through line there?

CR: We wanted to bring some sort of element from the film to life. A big scene within the film is when young Morris gets in front of his German classmates and raps, and the film is all about finding your voice and expressing who you are, so we thought after seeing Morris From America you’re in the right mood for a talent show.

I started reaching out to different youth arts organizations in Los Angeles, so we’re teaming up with a number of different groups in a variety of disciplines. For the talent show, we have a young filmmaker and their short film, a young poet, a live beat-maker, and then a big dance group.

It sounds like a banality, but White Girl truly is like nothing I’ve ever seen. It might be the most jarring portrayal of a subject that I’ve seen at Sundance.

CR: It’s refreshing to be able to see an American independent film that is this willing to be provocative and look at a subject in such an unflattering and unflinching light. In general, American indie films can be a lot more careful and a lot more hesitant to really go there.

Christine Vachon produced this film, as well as Goat, and both are pretty provocative. But she’s been that person. She produced Kids and has produced Todd Haynes movies and John Cameron Mitchell movies – those American indie films that are willing to go there.

It feels like Nick Jonas makes his first full-fledged go at a dramatic role in Goat. Tell me about that performance as well as how you arrived at choosing to feature Sunflower Bean following the screening.

CR: It made sense for us to program because it’s a provocative look at a disgusting aspect within male culture and this search for masculinity. Goat really depicts this desperate and sad search for masculinity.

All of the acting is really good in this film, particularly the leads, Nick Jonas and Ben Schnetzer. Sundance has this tradition of being a place where you can see young actors proving their ability and their range and holding the screen and your attention with very intense characters.

Sunflower Bean were the big band when I was at SXSW earlier this year. The idea with the pairing was that I really wanted to play something with an attitude to it and something with some intensity to it. Because this film is so fixated on masculinity, it always made sense to me to find an artist that matched that intensity but also brought in a female voice. They’re very young, and I like the idea that they’re about the same age as the characters in the film.

We see a number of Shorts Programs at the Festival in Park City, but Downtown & Dirty Shorts is something new and different for NEXT FEST.

CR: I’ve been trying to come up with a format that would work at the Ace and that would really make an event out of short films. I know that the content of our short films is always impressive, but it may not always be something that everyone knows about.

The idea was to bring a standup comedian to basically to treat a shorts program like a comedy show. We’ll have comedian Nick Kroll start with some comedy himself, and then go in and treat each short film as an act that he introduces. We’re playing five short films, all of which are comedy, and all of which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.

Under the Shadow was a bit of an unheralded film that really broke out at Sundance in January. What’s the story with this film?

CR: This is going to be an incredible screening. It’s such a perfect venue to see this film in. It’s a spooky, opulent kind of environment to watch this movie. We were pretty quick to invite this film and filmmaker after the Sundance Film Festival. It’s a major discovery.

Flying Lotus is quickly becoming a sort of NEXT FEST artist ambassador. He’s back again, but with a short film this time, and kicks things off before The Greasy Strangler and Big Freedia.

CR: This is the wildest programming we’ve ever done. I can’t imagine that there’s anything that has happened in any realm that is similar to what will happen on this night.

Flying Lotus has been part of NEXT FEST every year it has existed, so it’s pretty exciting that he immediately wanted to world premiere his short film with us. He’s always been fascinated by film – that’s how we met, when he came to Sundance as a film fan. Almost no film could match the insanity and hilarity that is The Greasy Strangler, and Flying Lotus’ short does exactly that. They’re very likeminded.

The Greasy Strangler is just such a wild film. You kind of have to go along with it and accept it and its wild vision. It just doesn’t give a shit. You’re supposed to have fun with it and not take it too seriously. Both films align well with Big Freedia because they each have a fascination with asses.

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