Slamdance 2018 ends with a celebration |

Slamdance 2018 ends with a celebration

John “Faahz” Merchant, center, beatboxes while Rickerby Alexander, left, and Rhaechy Walker listen during the Slamdance’s Sparky Awards. The three accepted the Beyond Feature award for Gus Krieger’s “My Name Is Myeisha.” (Tanzi Propst/Park Record)
Tanzi Propst/Park Record |

Slamdance Film Festival 2018 ended with a raucous chorus of cheers and tears when filmmaker Trevor Stevens, writer Bomani Story and actor Heston Horwin accepted the Sparky Award (Slamdance’s highest honor) for Best Narrative Feature for the film “Rock Steady Row.”

The film, which was described as being “sharply directed” by Stevens, featured a “strong ingenuity not commonly seen at this budget and experience level,” according to jurors.

“Rock Steady Row” is about a college freshman, who, after his bike gets stolen, lands in the middle of a fraternity turf war and the crosshairs of a corrupt dean.

The three had a hard time getting to their acceptance speeches because the crew kept hugging each other.

“Holy [crap],” Stevens said. “I want to say to all you guys is to keep making [stuff], and go out there and change the world. We have important things to say and important stories to tell.”

Story took the more humorous approach.

“I just want to say that this film was born out of tragedy — when I got my bike stolen in college,” he said to the audience’s delight.

Horwin thanked the Slamdance staff and, while looking at Steven said, “I cannot wait to see what you are going to do next.”

Pablo Bryant’s “Mr. Fish: Cartooning from the Deep End,” took home the Sparky for Best Documentary Feature.

The film is about editorial cartoonist Dwayne Booth, known professionally as Mr. Fish, who has an acute perception of life.

“Fish is a man who is true to his creativity, despite of the monetary value,” Bryant said. “We so need that in our culture right now. We also need a dose of reality in our heart to ground us out of the superficial wonderland that is most of pop culture.”

A unique acceptance speech came from actor John ‘Faahz’ Merchant, who beatboxed after he, writer and producer Rickerby Alexander Hinds and fellow actors Rhaechyl Walker and Dee Dee Stephens, accepted the Sparky for the Beyond Feature Award.

The Beyond category represents filmmakers who continue to take risks well after making their first films.

“My Name Is Myeisha,” directed by Gus Krieger, is based on a play that was written by Hinds in 2004. It was inspired by the police killing of a young African-American woman in 1998.

“We’ve been on a very long journey,” Merchant said. “I hope each and every one of you continue to take those chances, despite where you come from [and] despite what your ideas are. Keep going.”

In addition, a curated Acting Award was presented to Walker for her breakout performance in, “My Name Is Myeisha.”

“We’ve been doing this for seven years now with no stage and one mic,” Walker said as she thanked Slamdance and the film’s crew. “This is for Myeisha.”

A poignant moment came when Slamdance cofounder and president Peter Baker announced the name change for the Spirit of Slamdance Award.

“We renamed it the George Starks Spirit of Slamdance Award,” Baxter said. “George died in the late summer of 2017. Without George we wouldn’t be here tonight. George proved year after year what mentorship meant in our community.”

Baxter then announced Wendy McColm, director of “Birds Without Feathers,” as the award’s winner.

“I thank you all for just being ourselves,” McColm said. “I think it’s so important to express yourself always, in real life and in movies. And I think it’s great we’re all doing that.”

Baxter also announced the recipient of the highly anticipated inaugural Russo Brothers Fellowship to Yassmina Karajah, director of the narrative short “Rupture.”

The $25,000 prize, presented by AGBO Films, is designed to enable a deserving filmmaker the opportunity to continue their journey with mentorship and development support from Joe and Anthony Russo, who are Slamdance alumni.

“The Russos have never forgotten their roots,” Baxter said. “They came back as programmers and then as mentors.”

Park City Mayor Andy Beerman, who, along with his wife Thea, owned the Treasure Mountain Inn for years, spoke before the ceremony.

“I wanted to welcome you here, but the festival is already over,” he joked. “It’s been an honor to be a part of the Slamdance family. I hope you had a wonderful week and go on to better things.”

Alina Solodnikova, the new festival manager, also took time to thank the filmmakers, staff and audiences.

“What a week,” she said with emotion in her voice. “I just want to thank you all for spending it here with us. If you really enjoyed the festival, you must know that it wouldn’t have happened without you.”

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