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Boots Riley to receive Sundance Vanguard Award as Next Fest goes on hiatus

Boots Riley to receive Sundance Vanguard Award as Next Fest goes on hiatus
Musician Boots Riley has written and directed his first feature film, "Sorry to Bother You," and it will premiere locally June 14 at the Theatre at Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

Sundance Institute will present its Vanguard Award to Boots Riley as part of its summer fundraiser on June 14 in an event at the Theatre at Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, including the local premiere of "Sorry to Bother You." Written and directed by Riley, a musician making his feature film debut, the film is an absurdist satire with an ensemble cast including Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Armie Hammer and Steven Yeun.

Previous recipients of the Vanguard Award include Dee Rees, Marielle Heller, Damien Chazelle and Ryan Coogler. The award has for the last few years been given out in conjunction with Sundance's Next Fest, a summer festival in Los Angeles. The official announcement of this year's Vanguard Award presentation includes no mention of Next Fest.

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Indeed, while Next Fest is not officially finished, the event will not be held this year.

In a statement released to The Times, a Sundance spokesperson said, "After a five-year run, Next Fest is taking a hiatus as we continue to focus on and evolve our event profiles to best reach our audiences and celebrate our artists. We've had the summer benefit for many years so we're happy to continue this event and use it as a platform to present our Vanguard Award."

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Next Fest had fast become a leading highlight of the summer film calendar in Los Angeles, following local premieres of movies from the Sundance Film Festival with musical performances or extended conversations with special guests.

Last year's Next Fest program featured Janicza Bravo's "Lemon" paired with the performer Lizzo, Marianne Palka's "Bitch" paired with the group Sleigh Bells, Alex Ross Perry's "Golden Exits" followed by a talk with Peter Bogdanovich, the series "Gente-fied" paired with a mariachi band and a conversation on gentrification, and Justin Chon's "Gook" plus an extended conversation with Ava DuVernay.

Other guests to participate in the festival over the years have included Werner Herzog, Catherine Hardwicke, Nicolas Winding Refn, Craig Robinson, Father John Misty, Sharon Van Etten, Sky Ferreira, Tinashe and the group Warpaint.

Terry Crews, Omari Hardwick, Tessa Thompson, Steven Yeun, director Boots Riley, LaKeith Stanfield and Armie Hammer from the film, "Sorry to Bother You."
Terry Crews, Omari Hardwick, Tessa Thompson, Steven Yeun, director Boots Riley, LaKeith Stanfield and Armie Hammer from the film, "Sorry to Bother You." (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Along with the Los Angeles Film Festival's move to fall, the Next Fest hiatus means that Outfest, running this year from July 12-22, will be the only major film event in the city for the summer. Many films that premiered earlier in the year, at festivals such as Sundance, South by Southwest or Tribeca, will now potentially have no outlet to be seen in the city until months later.

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"Sorry to Bother You," which could have presumably had its Los Angeles premiere as a part of Next Fest, will not have that problem. The event for the film in June will be one of the splashier and highest profile for an independent film in the city during the summer.

Though the film won no awards at Sundance, where it premiered as part of the U.S. Dramatic Competition, with its attractive and buzz-worthy cast and a savvy, catchy promotional campaign from distributor Annapurrna Pictures, the anticipation for the film is sharply on the rise ahead of its release July 6.

"'Sorry to Bother You' exemplifies Boots' uncompromising and fearless independent vision," said Michelle Satter​, founding director of the Sundance Institute feature film program, in a statement. "When he was a Fellow at our 2015 Directors Lab, his official bio noted that he had never won an award for artistic achievement, and we're so pleased to change that with this celebration."

Follow on Twitter: @IndieFocus

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