Heidi Van Lier, author of The Indie Film Rule Book 

Slamdance captures the spirit of independent films

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Heidi Van Lier’s Chi Girl won Slamdance’s Grand Jury Prize in 1999. Since 2000, she has been programming for Slamdance. Her successes and failures helped her create a guide for aspiring filmmakers: The Indie Film Rule Book. She is attending this year’s Slamdance $99 Series to see The Secret Love Crush, the screening of her 7-year-old daughter Maisy’s first film.

Describe the spirit of Slamdance.
It’s truly indie films, by filmmakers for filmmakers. We are the anarchy that comes with the underside of [Sundance] film festival. The competition is only open to first-time filmmakers. Because of this, our ragtag traveling roadshow can find artists that we want to help promote and find an audience.

What’s so great about being indie?
I ask myself this daily. We definitely have control over our products. As a result, there’s a lot more interesting voices and interesting stories being told. We’re able to stretch out and reach for new things.

However, it’s a hard, hard life. Everyone is trying to pull themselves out, saying “I can still make indie movies, but I want to earn a living.” Sometimes, I have to sell out a little.

Where’s the indie-film industry headed?
That’s a toss-up. It’s changed a lot in the past year. Hopefully, we are headed toward filmmakers making a living. The whole indie-film community fell in on itself. With all the strikes and the recession, things are a giant mess. All we can do is keep making films and making films. The system will be put back in place, but I have no idea what that’ll be.

What are some festival rules to live by for filmmakers?
Wear warm clothing—not sure if that’s a rule, but us Southern Californians freeze in Park City. Mainly, keep yourself open to all the possibilities—don’t be a jerk, don’t have an arrogant attitude and meet as many people as possible. Finally, don’t have grandiose expectations; this keeps you level-headed in the midst of all the chaos.

How do filmmakers cope with rejection?
Realistically, failure is a part of the game. They should accept it and grow from it, instead of being completely depressed. Slamdance was created out of failure—for those who didn’t get in Sundance. It took me years to even get into festivals. Chi Girl didn’t get in Sundance, then it won Slamdance the next year. Maybe we should start a support group when we’re up there; we could read from my book about all my failures.

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