The granddaddy of Sundance counterprogramming heads into its ninth festival this year with 16 feature films—plucked from a record 2,800 submissions—that run the gamut of what you’d expect from an alternative to an alternative film festival. Fictional narratives include the struggle of inner-city life in All Night Bodega, the tragedy of Southern Gothic love in Briar Patch, and the comedy of ribbing Californians in In Smog and Thunder. Competing feature-length documentaries range from the alterna-political—Civilian Casualties: Fragments from the War On Terror, the story of Afghan civilian casualties during Operation Enduring Freedom, —to a celebration of punk underground heroes The Ramones in End of the Century.
While competition films are restricted to first-time filmmakers without U.S. distribution, you won’t find many familiar names in the noncompetitive section, either.
“The festival’s goal is not to continue to showcase the work of the same filmmakers year after year,” says Peter Baxter, Slamdance president and cofounder, “but to reach out to newcomers, and exhibit fresh, raw and largely unknown talent at its best, in the spirit of filmmaking without apologies.”
If guerilla filmmaking means never having to say you’re sorry, the noncompetitive Slamdancers took that to heart, poking fun at cherished institutions in 2 Birds with 1 Stallone and The Real Old Testament, raging against The Man in Culture Jam: Hijacking Commercial Culture, and resorting to the traditionally weird “surrealistic road movie” with The Rise and Fall of the Legendary Anglobilly Feverson, one of the festival’s “Special Screening Shorts.”
As a gateway drug for young filmmakers looking to break in, shorts are heavily featured at Slamdance on multiple tracks, including “$99 Specials” (5-minute shorts with budgets under a hundred bucks) and the monthly winners of Anarchy, the festival’s online shorts competition. Watch on a real screen what you could formerly only see as a postage-stamp-size streaming video, like the charming and delightful Midnight Express, about a young boy haunted by the most unlikely of nighttime visitors.
DVD fanaticism extends beyond your living room and into Park City with Nodance, the world’s first DVD-projected film festival. Nodance was founded not only “in response to the overflow of talent trying to get into” Sundance, says James Boyd, the festival’s founder and director, but to counter the “bias Sundance audiences and buyers have against digital films. They don’t see beyond the low budgets, but these films are a little more exploratory, a little more experimental.”
In this, its sixth year, Nodance offers a small roster of 20 films—out of 800 submitted—most of them in competition: features, shorts, documentaries and noncompeting music videos. Budgets for the features range from a high of $300,000 for Alec Carlin’s neo-noir Outpatient to $100,000 for Audie Harrison’s punk comedy The Last American, which originated on 16mm black-and-white film but will be projected on DVD.
Boyd believes that opening up festival competition to artists working on a budget with readily affordable DV equipment results in programming with “more passion that the traditional Sundance fare. You’re gonna see films at Nodance that you’re not gonna see anywhere else, darker, edgier stuff to balance out the big-budget, star-driven films of Sundance.” But Boyd doesn’t mean to disparage Sundance: “We’re just like a different ice cream flavor.” And this ice cream is free: Nodance screenings are open to the public without charge.
Backseat Film Festival
Doug Sakmann, festival director of the inaugural Backseat Film Festival, has no problem disparaging Sundance: “Sundance owns Park City now—they’ve basically stolen the forum for getting news of new films out there. We’re here to keep raising awareness of true independent film.”
The lineup for Backseat’s two days of programming—which includes screenings, concerts, live stage performances and art shows—is defiantly low-brow and proudly juvenile. Feature films screening at the festival include Steven Grasse’s The Bikini Bandits Experience, with “everybody’s favorite gun-toting, hot rod-driving, bikini-clad outlaws in their action-packed feature film debut!” (according to Backseat’s website) and Nick Esposito’s Four Days in Panties, about Internet porn and the clandestine world of nude models. Also on the schedule are the amusingly named Smoke Pot ’til You Fucking Die, from directors James Lynch and Ben Klein; and Captain Bill and the Rockin’ Buccaneers, from director Zafer Ulkucu. Counter-counter programming, for those uninterested in film, includes James Brown’s Glory Hole, the world premiere of a one-man show written entirely in public restrooms, and bands The Mimsies and Beret, the latter performing “French hardcore music.”
“I’m mainly planning to just have a good time,” says Sakmann. “I’m more excited about the parties than the screenings, actually. But if you don’t want to pay $650 to see a Sundance movie, come and see our stuff.”