%uFFFDFounded out of the ashes of elimination in 1995, the little engine that could that has become the Slamdance Independent Film Festival is now celebrating its Sweet 16. My, how quickly they grow up.
What is interesting is how a festival such as Slamdance, literally born from rejection by Sundance and built upon a foundation of rebellion, has not only survived but seems more entrenched than ever in the Park City independent-film-festival establishment—including being the launching pad for 2009’s surprise hit Paranormal Activity. Yet the question remains: How does a film festival with its roots firmly embedded in anti-establishmentism retain authenticity and relevance once it becomes one of the unshakable few left standing?
According to Slamdance founding father Peter Baxter—one of four filmmakers snubbed by Sundance who originally started the alternative festival mostly out of spite—the short answer is community. A slightly longer answer doubles for the Slamdance slogan, “By Filmmakers, For Filmmakers.”
For instance, Slamdance recruits past festival participants to help program the next year’s showcase, and with more than 5,000 film entries—way, way up from an original 48—that is no small feat. It says something that filmmakers from years past are more than willing to, in turn, help out the next generation of emerging filmmakers by wading through the masses and picking out the best of the independent offerings. Perhaps no one personifies that spirit of filmmakers helping other filmmakers more than the original bad boy of independent film, Steven Soderbergh.
OK, you may be thinking to yourself that Soderbergh and Sundance, not Slamdance, are somewhat synonymous. In a way, you are right: Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies and Videotape originally premiered at Sundance in 1989 and went on to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes, helping spawn the modern independent-film movement as we know it. So it speaks to the street cred of Slamdance that Soderbergh decided to submit his newest film: And Everything Is Going Fine, a documentary about the late monologist Spalding Gray, to Slamdance, and not Sundance.
“Well, one of the great things with Steven and his relationship to Slamdance is that it has always been direct and very hands-on,” Baxter says. “We’ve actually showed a film by Steven before, Schizopolis. But I think that one of the reasons he wanted to submit his film to Slamdance this year is because he really has been an integral part of our community. He believes in the type of filmmaker that comes through Slamdance, and has now helped several alumni, either with production or getting other projects off the ground. But I also think that with this film, it very much has to do with a community, and I think he felt Slamdance is an appropriate place to showcase this work, because of the like-minded sense we have.”
This year, Slamdance is also focusing on expanding that independent identity and unity to the world with its Filmmaker Summit. The aim is to bring in filmmaker delegates from far-off places like the Philippines, Finland and Nigeria to speak about how they connect with audiences. For Baxter, it is about pulling together all this filmmaking diversity to be able to learn from one another, how each person is striving to keep independent filmmaking alive and kicking.
“It’s exciting,” says Baxter. “We are able to go outside of Park City and bring in filmmakers from all over the world to share their knowledge. That way, the festival environment is open to everyone and that is something Slamdance has always been about, its openness and non-exclusiveness.”
Perhaps that is why Slamdance has demonstrated some serious stamina in the cutthroat festival market, watching as other “Dance” film festivals have gone the way of the dodo.
“I really think that it’s not just Sundance and Slamdance side by side that can complement what is happening in American independent film,” says Baxter. “Others can join in and contribute to a whole festival environment. That kind of community is a great experience, and it should be celebrated and encouraged.”
SLAMDANCE INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL
Treasure Mountain Inn
255 Main, Park City