Sundance Film Festival 2008 | Grand Slam: Slamdance 2008 ditches controversy of the past for a finer focus on film | Film Festival | Salt Lake City Weekly

Sundance Film Festival 2008 | Grand Slam: Slamdance 2008 ditches controversy of the past for a finer focus on film 

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Remember last year when a video game called Super Columbine Massacre RPG spawned a huge controversy at the Slamdance Film Festival?

Based on the Columbine High massacre, the Nintendo-style game was yanked a week before the festival competition. For the first time in Slamdance history, a competition finalist was basically disqualified. Consequently, seven of the 14 gaming finalists removed themselves from the festival in protest. In the gaming suite, the room was nearly barren of games and curious filmgoers.

This year, Slamdance won’t hold its Guerrilla Gamemaker Competition. Instead, that competition will take place later this year in Los Angeles. And Slamdance will still host a gaming showcase, featuring the best games from previous years.

Does the incident indicate that Slamdance has lost its alternative edge? According to the Slamdance Website, there is meant to be a separation between the game and film aspects of the festival “while still focusing on bringing independent artists together.” The films that screen this year will ultimately answer whether that unification happens.

New Executive Director Drea Clark, though, is trying to move past it all, choosing to stress that Slamdance is the home for independent film. “There has been a definite turn-around in style and quality,” said Clark, who credits filmmakers with becoming well versed in the “independent voice,” which makes them more confident.

Consider the festival opener Real Time—a drama starring Randy Quaid as a hit man commissioned to kill a gambler—which actually unfolds in real time. Programming director Sarah Diamond said by phone from Los Angeles, “The film is amazing at being really contained and yet moving forward—all during a conversation in a car.”

In addition to Real Time, Diamond recommends most of the documentary program. Song Sung Blue tells the story of a Milwaukee couple, who attain local celebrity as a Neil Diamond cover band. As their dreams become reality, tragedy strikes when a car hits one band member, requiring amputation of her legs. Meanwhile, My Mother’s Garden explores the mental disorder of hoarding. When their mother’s home is condemned and scheduled for demolition, her children return home to deal with the disease.

But Slamdance may be most infamous for its shorts and animation programs. “This year is our best ever for animation. We’ve been growing every year. But this year I feel like we can rival Ottawa or any other major animation festival,” Diamond said.

Short films also have great appeal in a venue such as Slamdance. “There is a certain virtue in the short film,” Clark says. “The filmmakers get to play more because of less budgetary constraints and shorts take less time to complete.”

But every film is significant at Slamdance. “Sundance screens 150 films. We screen 29,” Diamond says. Fewer films make the festival more manageable, but even more important is the intimacy created within the festival, among the filmmakers and the festival staff.

Clark credits Park City with providing this ideal, intimate setting. “Park City really lets us into their homes, which for many of us is a great escape. We are so grateful.”

Clark realizes that the film festival brings a lot of people in. But she wants to leave a minimal footprint. “It’s the idea of bring it in, bring it out,” she said. Slamdance also plans to donate a portion of all online ticket sales to Recycle Utah.

“The people who live here are very Slamdance,” Clark says. “They love art, nature and beauty.” And they love films. Slamdance has expanded its program to show films during the summer in Salt Lake City, as well as in the Park City Film Series. But starting this weekend, the films will be in the mountains in small theaters where the filmmakers can share their vision shake hands with the audience—and maybe cause a little controversy of their own.

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Tawnya Cazier

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