Pandemic provided Slamdance the time to create new programs for the 2022 virtual film festival
This year’s event runs Jan. 27 through Feb. 6
Although the coronavirus has forced the Slamdance Film Festival to pivot to a virtual platform for a second year, co-founder and president Peter Baxter looks forward to showcasing some new offerings and expanded staples that will change the festival and reach bigger, more inclusive audiences.
“If you took a bigger picture of the (film) industry, it’s based on an 100-plus-year-old business model, and I think the pandemic has really accelerated the change of this older business model and allowed new perspectives and new ideas,” Baxter said in an interview leading up to the start of the festival, which is slated to run Jan. 27-Feb. 6
One of these new ideas is the new Slamdance Channel.
“We announced a full-fledged Slamdance Channel that will showcase the entire festival, and after that we’ll have year-around programming of Slamdance films,” Baxter said. “We’re doing more to support our filmmakers and make Slamdance accessible and inclusive.”
Making independent films more inclusive to filmmakers and viewers is something Baxter has thought about for years.
“Independent film, since I’ve been involved, tends to be exclusive, and it tends to have limitations in its ability to really share (stories) to wider audiences,” he said.
The Slamdance crew began working on the Slamdance Channel, which will stream films online and on Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV Stick and Roku, right after they wrapped last year’s festival, according to Baxter.
“We saw the direction we wanted to take and we doubled down on building this new channel for 2022,” he said. “It’s a bold statement for Slamdance to go year-round, but it’s also like an obligation. Slamdance has faced industry gatekeepers in the past who limited our filmmakers from getting to the next level of finding a wider audience. So I think what we’re doing this year builds on our support in the types of films and filmmakers, which become the future of filmmaking.”
Baxter likes the do-it-yourself approach of creating the channel, which is how he, Dan Mirvish, Jon Fitzgerald and Shane Kuhn put together the first Slamdance Film Festival in 1995.
“It’s part of our DNA, and this is what we must do,” Baxter said of the Slamdance Channel. “It’s not easy, because there’s a lot of competition out there. But we’re really excited about this new platform and what it can do for filmmakers.”
In addition, Slamdance will debut another program called Blockchain Fairy Tales this year, and the program, known as BFT, will be accessible to all Slamdance Festival registrants, Baxter said.
Developed in partnership with Columbia University’s School of the Arts’ Digital Storytelling Lab Blockchain Fairy Tales is a new storytelling platform that examines the fairy tale “happy ending” through the lens of the current climate crisis, he said.
“It’s about the future of storytelling through a shared experience,” Baxter said. “We will invite storytellers and the audience to take part in crafting their own visual storytelling for one virtual story in the end.”
The idea for Blockchain Fairy Tales, which will take place over Zoom and Miro, a collaborative virtual whiteboard platform, came from the idea of using blockchain technology for creative purposes that go beyond commerce, according to Baxter.
“We’re looking at the future of media as a decentralized thing,” he said. “Today, the web is governed by big companies and driven by analytics and algorithms, but if we look at the original intention of the internet as a sharing community, here lies the opportunity of what we can do. (Blockchain Fairy Tales) is very much suited for the Slamdance sensibility of creating a decentralized platform in its own autonomy.”
Of course, the Slamdance Film Festival is a place where independent filmmakers screen their creations, and Baxter is eager for audiences to see more than 23 premieres, which include 13 international films, six North American films and four United States debuts.
These films were selected from more than 1,124 submissions that are directorial debuts without U.S. distribution, created with budgets of less than $1 million.
“We had more than 250 programmers take part in programming Slamdance 2022, and were able to get together online to discuss these films,” Baxter said. “Each and every one of the films is voted on by each and every one of our programmers who have equal say in the films getting in, and what is wonderful is we can include filmmakers from other parts of the world online to discuss these films.”
One of these films, “Snow White Dies at the End,” made Slamdance history by being the festival’s first submission from Macedonia.
The film, by director and screenwriter Kristijan Risteski and produced by Darko Popov, takes place in a society where almost everybody passes gas backwards, and six proper-flatulating citizens pay a harsh price for staying true to their own values, according to the Slamdance description.
Slamdance also has expanded its Unstoppable slate of films to include features, Baxter said.
The Unstoppable program consists of films by or about people with disabilities, and one film that Baxter is excited to present is Kristen Abate and Steven Tanenbaum’s “Straighten Up and Fly Right.”
The film is about a physically disabled New York woman, who walks dogs for a living, but dreams of being a writer. As her life unravels, she must make a choice to fall apart or straighten up, Baxter said.
“This (and other films) are really important as the contribution of artists who have disabilities in a world of entertainment is sorely underrepresented,” he said. “Bear in mind, one in seven people in the world have a visible or physical disability. Yet, the number of creators and storytellers we see is woefully underrepresented in terms of that number. These are our future stories, because they haven’t been told in the past, and (Unstoppable) is a grassroots effort to support change.”
While COVID-19 has given Slamdance the opportunity to advance its mission of creating a film festival for filmmakers by filmmakers online, he still can’t wait for the festival’s return to Park City when it is safe to do so.
“We’ve all been challenged, no matter what we do in our daily lives at work and family, with the pandemic,” he said. “For many of us it’s been a struggle, but I think it’s important for us to stay positive and look at what we can do and look at how we can adapt. We’re building our own model for the future, and I think this is really exciting. But we’re also looking forward to coming back to Park City.”
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