Sundance Next Fest mixes it up with films, music, talks and virtual reality

This weekend will find the Sundance Next Fest returning to the Theatre at Ace Hotel downtown for an unusual event mixing films, music, music videos, conversations and even a virtual-reality exhibition.

This is the third year that organizers of January's Sundance Film Festival have brought a summertime festival to Los Angeles and the second they have put on the event at the Ace, which allows for pairing a movie followed by a musical act.

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"It's a fun experiment for us. We knew we had to get more clever with the presentation," said John Cooper, director of the Sundance Film Festival. "That's our devious little plan, to mix it up."

Friday's program features Noah Baumbach's "Mistress America," with a performance by Sky Ferreira following. Rick Alverson's "Entertainment" will screen Saturday, followed by Sharon Van Etten, and Sunday's schedule will feature "Turbo Kid," directed by Anouk Whissell, Francois Simard and Yoann-Karl Whissell, with by a performance by Neon Indian and Toro y Moi.

Post-screening guests were announced this week, with actors Aubrey Plaza and Thomas Middleditch joining filmmakers Bryan Carberry and Clay Tweel and subject John Wood from the documentary "Finders Keepers" on Saturday. On Sunday, filmmaker Robert Townsend joins director Michael J. Larnell for a conversation after "Cronies."

Trevor Groth, director of programming for the Sundance Film Festival, said the response to last year's Next Fest events — including musical acts Father John Misty, Tinashe and Warpaint along with Werner Herzog, Bret Easton Ellis and Nicolas Winding Refn as guests — was what encouraged them to try again with the curated pairings. Sundance also puts on regular events in places such as London and Hong Kong, but the Los Angeles festival is unique.

"The feeling at the festival, people weren't sure exactly, 'Am I seeing a movie?' 'Is it a concert?'" Groth said. "And they just clicked into it and got into it. By Sunday night, the energy in the room was explosive. It felt like, 'This is a hot L.A. moment,' and that's what we always wanted a Sundance event in L.A. to be."

This year's Next Fest actually got started Sunday with a screening outdoors at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Screenings there are typically of older titles, but this year included a new movie, "Cop Car," starring Kevin Bacon and directed by Jon Watts, who was recently hired to helm the next film in the "Spider-Man" franchise.

"It definitely had a different energy to it. The crowd was really up for it," Groth said. "And right as the credits were just starting, the intro credits, as the title 'Cop Car' came on the screen, a police helicopter flew right over the venue. It was such high production value. People asked me after, 'Did you guys arrange that?'"

The musical groups Superhumanoids, Health and Flying Lotus will unveil new videos during the festival. There will also be a presentation of the virtual reality experience known as "Birdly," created by Max Rheiner, a Zurich University of the Arts professor, and a Swiss team, which simulates the experience of flying through San Francisco. The installation was part of Sundance's New Frontier section in January and will be available to all ticket holders to the Ace events.

"We also see the festival as creating a community that's really happy for innovation and new experience," said Groth. "And hopefully, the way they are presented, each experience enhances the other; it's the alchemy of it that's really fun for us to play with."

The Montreal-based collective RKSS that made the low-budget post-apocalyptic adventure film "Turbo Kid" — filmmakers Anouk Whissell, Simard and Yoann-Karl Whissell — expressed excitement at being part of the overall event.

"The theater looks amazing," said Simard. "We cannot wait to be sitting in there watching 'Turbo Kid' and the other films. To be selected for Next Fest is humbling."

Alverson, director of "Entertainment," about a lonely stand-up comic on tour, attended a Next Fest event last year and said he was looking forward to being a part of it this year. Alverson has previously directed a music video for Van Etten, who will play after his movie, and the two share a connection with the Jagjaguwar music label.

Alverson agreed that combining his film and Van Etten's music should make for an emotionally intense Saturday night.

"Intense meaning a bummer?" asked Alverson. "That sounds like a party to me. I mean, there's definitely an interest in introspection and melancholy there that's consistent between Sharon's work and mine."

Alverson acknowledged that he too was curious about how the Next Fest event would play out. "I don't know. I guess we're all along for the ride."

mark.olsen@latimes.com

Twitter: @IndieFocus

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Sundance Next Fest

When: Friday through Sunday

Where: The Theatre at Ace Hotel, 929 S. Broadway

Tickets: $15 to $25

Schedule and info: sundance.org/next

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