Slamdance film festival continues to make its DIY mark
05:00 AM, Jan 18, 2013
Filmmakers and movie lovers from all over the world have descended again on Park City, Utah, for Sundance, but the most independently minded of them are keeping their eye on that other film festival in town.
Founded in 1995 by a group of filmmakers who had their movies rejected by the high-profile festival, the Slamdance Film Festival runs through Thursday and acts as an event programmed by filmmakers themselves for the DIY crowd.
“Every year we get stronger,” says Slamdance president Peter Baxter, who co-founded the alternative festival after having a movie he produced, Loser, rejected by Sundance.
“Slamdance is an ongoing experiment that has proven year after year really that when it comes to recognizing talent and launching careers, the independent and grass-roots film communities can really do it themselves.”
The festival received more than 5,000 submissions from first-time filmmakers for the 19th annual Slamdance, and while there are very few Slamdance rules for in-competition selections “We believe in maximum freedom,” Baxter says one written one is that the movie needs to be made for under $1 million.
That sometimes took a Herculean effort back in the fledgling days of Slamdance, but now with where technology is, filmmakers can put together an impressive work on their desktop computer.
“It used to be you worked with bigger film crews and had all kinds of restraints, but that’s all gone now with new technology,” Baxter says. “It’s made indie film a lot better.”
This year marks the debut of the Slam Collective, which features seven Slamdance alumni who’ve created a single documentary feature over five continents. The rules were actually inspired by the Surrealist parlor game Exquisite Corpse: One filmmaker would pass on a central image to the next, becoming the center point of the next story.
The individual segments have been pulled together to comprise the film I Want To Be An American, which will premiere at Slamdance and stream online at slamcollective.com on Monday.
“When we put them together, we had no idea what we’d end up with, but it shows in actual fact how connected we are with one another in the world and how wherever we are in the world, we all want to be heard, we all want to be loved and indeed we all want to be connected,” Baxter says.
Because its own reputation has grown over the years, Slamdance has grown ultra-competitive, according to Baxter, but he hopes that the Slam Collective encourages collaboration between the filmmakers who didn’t have their movies selected.
“The life of this collective will live and breathe and hopes to become very popular online,” he says. “It’s a call to arms for other indepepdent filmmakers to come together and create these kinds of anthologies from here on.”
Like the higher-profile Sundance, Slamdance has helped launch the careers of noteworthy filmmakers including Oscar nominees Christopher Nolan and Benh Zeitlin and had its share of success stories, notably Oren Peli’s found-footage horror movie Paranormal Activity, a 2008 Slamdance entry that was made for a mere $10,000 and later spawned the most profitable franchise in Paramount’s history.
And last year, Andrew Hwang won a special jury prize for his experimental short Solipsist, the Icelandic singer Bjork saw it and she tapped Hwang to direct a popular music video for her song Mutual Core.
Baxter doesn’t see Sundance and Slamdance as competitors at all, he says. “We’re not corporate businesses here or political parties. We’re here to support first and foremost our filmmakers.”
However, Slamdance to him is a truer representation of independent film.
“All of these films we have at the festival are made by this small group of filmmaking teams that have made their films without any influence, they’ve gone about it their own way, and they know they have completed and crafted every bit of their film,” Baxter explains. “But of course, at Sundance it’s not entirely like that, is it? You’ve got press juggernauts here that you know are representing films that have already got distribution that are coming out.
“If you put the two of us side by side, clearly what you have at the end is a grander, independent filmmaking experience, and it makes for a very exciting American cultural scene.”
Baxter calls this year’s slate of movies a “classic” Slamdance lineup. Some highlights:
Best Friends Forever. Brea Grant writes, directs and stars in the apocalyptic comedy about two girls who hop in a 1976 AMC Pacer for one last road trip before the impending nuclear holocaust.
Between Us: Taye Diggs, Melissa George and Julia Stiles appear in this dark comedy based on the off-Broadway play about two couples who reconnect but find out that money, kids and success have infected their lives, not always for the better.
Bible Quiz. The documentary features 17-year-old Mikayla Irle, who joins her high school’s Bible Quiz team quest for a national championship due to her massive crush on JP, the club’s captain.
Diamond on Vinyl. Sonja Kinski, the daughter of Nastassja Kinski, stars as an adventurous L.A. photographer who meets a guy devoted to recording his intimate bedroom shenanigans.
Ghost Team One. A sendup of found-footage horror movies, it features two dudes and the woman they both fall for who believes that the poltergeist of a dead madame is haunting place.
Joy de V. An expressionistic noir film about a con artist named Roman who wakes up one morning to discover his pregnant wife Joy has gone missing.
Jug Face. A winner of last year’s Slamdance screenwriting competition, the horror movie follows a young girl bent on escaping her backwoods existence after she learns she’s carrying her brother’s baby and has to sacrifice herself to a pit creature.
Pearl Was Here. A comedic battle of wills commences between a mother and her 7-year-old daughter, who got herself stuck inside a store’s claw game but has made a home amid all the stuffed animals.
Terms and Conditions May Apply. A documentary chronicling what really happens when you blindly accept the terms, conditions and privacy policies of apps, websites, phone calls and other things we take for granted.
Vipaka. In the Southern gothic thriller, Anthony Mackie plays a life coach and author who is kidnapped by an insane client (Forest Whitaker) and turns his karmic teachings against him and his family.