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Sundance NEXT Lineup: The Speculation Ends

Yesterday, the Sundance Film Festival released the final list of films to be included in their 2010 edition, which will run Jan. 21-31. That batch included the lineup of films in their newly created NEXT section, a part of the festival that, according to Sundance, aims to spotlight “innovative and original work in low- and no-budget filmmaking.”

That announcement of the actual films in NEXT ended the speculation I started back in September about whether or not Sundance was going to embrace an “underground” aesthetic in their choice of films for next year. In my original post about NEXT, I was really zeroing in on two words in Sundance’s description of the section: “innovative” and “no-budget.” While I haven’t seen any of the films chosen for NEXT, just from their descriptions, to me they don’t sound particularly “underground” as I had been hoping they might.

Not that that’s a bad thing. I’m not making any value judgments about Sundance or the films in regards to NEXT. “Underground” does not automatically equal “good;” just as “not underground” doesn’t automatically equal “not good.” I’m just curious, especially now that the films have been announced, just what Sundance considers “innovative,” since that’s the word they continue to use to push NEXT.

There are eight films in NEXT. Going by just their one sentence synopses on the Sundance site, six of them sound like romantic comedies and two are about Muslims having cultural identity crises. There isn’t much else info on these films on the web, which I’ve listed below with their Sundance descriptions. All of the films are World Premieres, so they haven’t screened at other festivals, so there are no reviews or reports on them yet. Plus, of the eight, only three have promotional websites and only two have trailers: Bilal’s Stand and New Low.

It’s also not easy, or even possible, to find the budget for these films to see what Sundance considers low and no-budget. But, of the eight films, six are definitely the feature directing debut by the filmmakers. (One is a second film and another one I can’t find any info on.) Plus, the only recognizable name actor in any of the films is Dax Shepard who stars in Katie Aselton’s The Freebie. Shepard has starred in Hollywood comedies like Baby Mama, Employee of the Month and Idiocracy.

Here’s the list of films in the NEXT section. Descriptions come from the festival press release:

Armless, dir. Habib Azar (Screenwriter: Kyle Jarrow). In this off-kilter comedy, a woman comes to terms with her husband’s strange secret. Cast: Daniel London, Janel Moloney, Keith Powell, Laurie Kennedy, Matt Walton. World Premiere

Bass Ackwards, dir. Linas Phillips (Screenwriter: Linas Phillips). After ending a disastrous affair with a married woman, a man embarks on a lyrical, strange and comedic cross-country journey in a modified VW bus. Cast: Linas Philips, Davie-Blue, Jim Fletcher, Paul Lazar. World Premiere

Bilal’s Stand, dir. Sultan Sharrief (Screenwriter: Sultan Sharrief). Bilal, a Muslim high school senior in Detroit juggles his dysfunctional family, their taxi stand, and an ice carving contest in his secret attempt to land a college scholarship. Cast: Julian Gant. World Premiere

The Freebie, dir. Katie Aselton (Screenwriter: Katie Aselton). A young married couple decides to give each other one night with someone else. Cast: Dax Shepard, Katie Aselton. World Premiere

Homewrecker, dir. Todd Barnes and Brad Barnes (Screenwriters: Todd Barnes, Brad Barnes, Sophie Goodhart). The last romantic in New York City is an ex-con locksmith on work release. Cast: Ana Reeder, Anslem Richardson, Stephen Rannazzisi. World Premiere

New Low, dir. Adam Bowers. A neurotic twentysomething struggles to figure out which girl he really belongs with: the best one he’s ever known, or the worst. Cast: Adam Bowers, Jayme Ratzer, Toby Turner, Valerie Jones. World Premiere

One Too Many Mornings, dir. Michael Mohan (Screenwriters: Anthony Deptula, Michael Mohan, Stephen Hale). Two damaged young men recover their high school friendship by awkwardly revealing to each other just how messed up they’ve become. Cast: Anthony Deptula, Stephen Hale, Tina Kapousis. World Premiere

The Taqwacores, dir. Eyad Zahra (Screenwriter: Michael Muhammad Knight). When a Pakistani-Muslim engineering student moves into a house with punk Muslims of all stripes in Buffalo, New York, his ideologies are challenged to the core. Cast: Noureen DeWulf, Dominic Rains, Rasika Mathur, Tony Yalda, Anne Marie Leighton. World Premiere


Underground Film Feedback (8 comments)

  • Keep in mind that Sundance didn’t specifically select “innovative and original work in low- and no-budget filmmaking” for this category, they placed movies that were already selected INTO this category.

  • NIkki says:

    The Freebie is almost totally improvised. Which I think is pretty innovative.

  • qwerty says:

    That’s a good point, Nathan.

    Obviously, we can’t speak to the quality of these films without seeing them, but they don’t sound like anything that couldn’t have played in the traditional sections. Taking into account the various Hollywood pet projects that comprise 90% of the competition slate, the NEXT section feels like a clever way to ghettoize truly independent film art.

    Then again, it’s Sundance. Were we expecting them to program Flaming Creatures or Cowards Bend the Knee?

  • john cassavetes says:

    @2, innovative for 1959, maybe…

  • Hey John, when’s your next movie coming out? And, anyway, everything old is new again to somebody.

    The other question is, based on what you guys are saying, is given Sundance’s reputation, are filmmakers who are making Flaming Creatures-like films even submitting their work anymore? Given certain personal encounters I’ve had, I’d say yes, but I could be wrong.

  • gokinsmen says:

    It seems pretty impossible for a young, unknown filmmaker to have a wildly unconventional film get into (much less premiere at) a major fest. Most of those slots (not unfairly) go to older, well-entrenched avant-garde filmmakers like Ken Jacobs, Kevin J. Everson, and Deborah Stratman, etc. This in turns ensures that less young filmmakers even try to do something like Flaming Creatures.

    I mean, I finally saw Frownland recently, and though I liked and admired the film, it’s certainly not the crazy, underground, near avant-garde work that most film writers had made it out to be. It was a pretty straightforward, episodic character piece — Lodge Kerrigan played as dark comedy. In fact, a lot of the comedy reminded me of “The Office” — awkward, dead-air moments by weird/pathetic characters.

    Indie film is so milquetoast.

    • Based on what gets sent to me to review on this site, I don’t agree that young filmmakers don’t attempt to make Flaming Creatures-like films. I don’t know what’s truly innovative myself these days, but I do see a good share of interesting, original work by the young’uns. (Although, I don’t know really what to define as “young” either since I don’t particularly see myself as “old,” tho’ in certain regards I probably am.)

      I haven’t seen Frownland, but the cinematographer on that film, Sean Price Williams, also shot two films I enjoyed at AFI. Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo, a feature documentary, had an unconventional bent to it; and John Wayne Hated Horses, a short narrative, was fairly conventional, but played interestingly with structure.

  • holly says:

    I’m sorry GoKinsman, did you just compare FROWNLAND to THE OFFICE? Given that dangerously bold statement, can you clarify which recent films you consider truly innovative? thank you.

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