Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Slamdance 101

Now when you mention the word "Sundance" not many people know about or even think about the other film festival that is going on at the top of the hill in Park City, Slamdance. I don't know if I can call it a sister fest, but there is something amazing going on at this festival, a real testament to the indie filmmaker. Something that everyone should participate in.

Slamdance is in its 16th year. The story goes that it was started by three filmmakers that were rejected from Sundance in 1994. In 1995 "Slamdance '95: Anarchy in Utah -- The First Annual Guerrilla Intl. Film Festival" was created and the projection booths were run by the filmmakers. This is a festival that have dedicated filmmakers like Steven Soderbergh supporting it and participating (his first documentary "Everything is Going Fine" premiered here last Friday), where Christopher Nolan played "Following" and where two years ago "Paranormal Activity" was picked up.

It now takes place at The Treasure Mountain Inn, which is located at the very top of Main Street. There are two screening rooms...which are really like large dining rooms that now have a classroom projector set-up with a max capacity of 130 people on bleacher-raised chairs. The air conditioning never works and you are always viewing a movie with a neck ache because you are struggling to see around the heads in front of you. But it's always a great way to meet people, because you might be sitting on them.

Here is where the true independent film making is seen. Here are where the low-budget, well written, projects of passion are being shown. This really is a festival that embraces the filmmaker and creates a community of friends and family in the week that it goes on. All of the films are attended by cast/crew of other films in the festival, you begin to see familiar faces. Audiences sit on the ground to catch a screening and you have to watch yourself if you leave to go to the restroom because you might block the projector.

Is this exciting yet?

The films really speak for themselves at Slamdance. They are the more offbeat. Check out one of the shorts programs, as they all tend to stray from Hollywood story arch, but are visually beautiful. That is not to say that all films are quirky. This year some of my personal favorites include "Drones", about aliens and humans that interact in an office space and "The Four-Faced Liar" about young couples in New York that are figuring out what they want out of their relationships and themselves. More in-depth reviews to come.

Soderbergh did his Q & A from Skype in his hotel room in Berlin at 4am to an audience no bigger than 150 people. You try seeing something like that at Sundance.

*Please note that I am not discrediting Sundance, but when your film is up against Phillip Seymour Hoffman's directorial debut film, you could be overlooked. It is just something completely different.

There is life after Slamdance. A story that I enjoy telling is about the filmmaker Drake Doremus, who directed "Spooner" that premiered at Slamdance last year. It went on to play the festival circuit, picking up audience and festival awards wherever it went. It was a great success and this year he premiered his latest project "Douchebag" as part of the Narrative Competition at Sundance. Great things with great films do happen here.

I enjoy both festivals for different reasons. I just wanted to give you a taste of what it is like at the top of the hill. Along with filmmaker sled-races and hot-tub filmmaker chats, it has kept an independent feel and a love of cinema that leaks from the doors of the Treasure Mountain Inn.

Monday, January 25, 2010


As many of you know, I am hiking the the hill (Main Street, that is) of Park City and covering both Sundance and Slamdance film festival. This is my second year and I can't wait to make this a yearly excursion.

This has been a dream of mine since I had first realized that I loved films. This little dream of mine has become more complicated with time and revisions had been made to the original idea. Not only did I want to get to participate in Sundance/Slamdance, but I wanted to be paid to go. I wanted these trips to be because of my job and this year I did it again. Not only am I covering both festivals for press, but I get to scout for films to bring to Newport. It's pretty awesome.

With that being said, already coming back for my second year I feel that I have removed the "I can't believe I'm at Sundance" glaze and been able to really hit the streets with confidence. It is an exciting festival this year, with a theme of "rebel" and the idea that they are really returning to the independent cinema. Whether or not they are actually doing that (the films I have seen thus far make it true) it already seems to have a different feel to it.

To prove it, the reviews coming out of Sundance are all praising the smaller budget, non talent heavy films. Look up reviews from "Waiting for Superman", a documentary backed by Bill Gates that has been all the rage here. Phillip Seymour Hoffman's directorial debut "Jack Goes Boating" is the major star-studded film that people are liking. That is besides "Howl" and "Get Low"- both films that will surely see the light of distribution.

As for Slamdance, I just love it up there. When I say "up there" I am referring to the two tiny screening rooms that are erected in an Inn, located on the very top of the Main Street hill. It is a trek to get up there, but worth it. The filmmakers and films at this festival (now in its 16th year) are the independents of the "indie film" category. Here Christopher Nolan got his start and films like "Paranormal Activity" were picked up. And this year, I have not yet been let down-the production value of all of the films are phenomenal and the writing is spot-on. I will have reviews up of these films soon.

I know that this is not much of an update, but there is not a lot of time between screenings and social events to write. The photo above is of Banksy artwork on the streets of Park City...there is a documentary on Banksy premiering here, "Exit Through the Gift Shop", and my ticket is for Wednesday. I'll let you know how it is.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Good friends. Great artists.

My amazing friend in Greece decided that she wanted to give me a new look. What do you think? If it were not for people like you, Helena, I would not be doing this. Thank you so much!