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Sundance's Next Weekend film fest to reel in a Los Angeles crowd

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The Sundance Film Festival takes place every January in the small, snowy ski town of Park City, Utah. So the bright sunshine and palm trees featured in the advertising for Sundance's inaugural Next Weekend festival in Los Angeles announce straight away that this is something a little different.

The new event is based on the section of the Utah festival called Next that aims to showcase emerging filmmakers, adventurous storytelling and general risk-taking; movies such as "Compliance," "Bellflower" and "Sound of My Voice" all debuted in Next.

The L.A. event will kick off Thursday night at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery with a double bill of the classic 1999 Sundance documentary "American Movie" and the homegrown horror film it is about the making of, "Coven." Shifting over to the Sundance Sunset Cinema on Friday, the main Next Weekend program consists of 10 feature films, including two world premieres and eight Los Angeles premieres. There will also be 10 short films, a pair of panel discussions and a full-day ShortsLab workshop.

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Among the films on offer are the Sundance narrative features "A Teacher," "It Felt Like Love," "Blue Caprice," "This Is Martin Bonner," "Newlyweeds" and documentary "Cutie and the Boxer."

"The Foxy Merkins" and "How to Be a Man" will have their world premieres during the new festival. The film "Stand Clear of the Closing Doors" premiered this year at the Tribeca Film Festival, while doc "12 O' Clock Boys" first showed at South by Southwest.

"We were looking for films that were worth celebrating in this way," John Cooper, director of the Sundance Film Festival, said of picking selections for the inaugural event. "And we knew we weren't going to care if they played Sundance or not; it was really about the types of films that we wanted to support."

The program spreads out on Sunday to include events at four additional venues. Though many of the films showing as part of Next Weekend already have distribution in place and will be coming back to local theaters, with their lack of recognizable names they all face a challenge in breaking through to audiences. The idea of Next Weekend is to use the Sundance brand to shine a spotlight in L.A. on these films.

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"Honestly, that's the reason we wanted to do this festival," said Trevor Groth, director of programming for the Sundance Film Festival. "These films are not the most obviously commercial films, but we do know that there's a hungry audience for them. ... We know once they see them, they'll love them and spread the word about them."

Here's a look at three of the offerings:

•"Newlyweeds" is set against a bohemian vision of life in Brooklyn that stands apart from gritty tales of African American life that more often make their way to the screen. In the film, a love triangle emerges among a globe-trotting young woman, her boyfriend and her co-worker. And there's a lot of bonding over pot smoking too, with its depiction ranging from benign to problematic.

"It was sort of a conscious and unconscious effort on my part," said writer-director Shaka King, 33, of the film's portrait of contemporary city life. "For me it was unconscious in that all I was really trying to do when I made this movie was make a movie for my friends. Really my audience was the people who live in my building.

"We're always talking about how we feel like a lot of art that really appeals to our sensibility just isn't really out there in the mainstream," added King. "I understood I was making a film you don't typically see."

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•"How to Be a Man" is one of two world premieres in the festival. A comedic look at modern masculinity starring Vice co-founder Gavin McInnes as a man making a series of instructional videos for his unborn son, the film looks to push both boundaries and buttons.

"What's cool about this project is it's a very new world kind of model," said director Chadd Harbold, 26, by phone from New York. "We shot the movie in 15 days and edited it pretty quickly. We've been trying to find the right festival for it. We weren't quite ready for Sundance in January and we're really thrilled that they've taken us as part of this new venture and chosen us to world premiere there.

"Basically it's a cool, edgy festival and that's what we want the movie to be."

•For Hannah Fidell, writer-director of "A Teacher," the fictionalized story of a female high school teacher having an affair with one of her students, the experience of simply having her film play at Sundance was already more than she could have imagined. Being at the fest in January as part of Next jump-started not only Fidell's own career but also that of her lead actress, Lindsay Burdge.

"I don't know what I expected," said Fidell, 27, of her Sundance experience. "But the film has exceeded any expectations I could have possibly had. The probability of getting into any major festival is so hard, I feel so lucky."

"It did everything. It was incredible."

For more information, visit http://www.sundance.org/next

mark.olsen@latimes.com

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