Slamdance bounces up its offerings for the virtual 2021 event
‘Unstoppable’ program debuts this year
Slamdance 2021 will be the biggest and most accessible film festival of its 27-year history.
The virtual event, which will run 12 days rather than the traditional six, is scheduled to start on Feb. 12, and will offer passholders on-demand access to more than 100 independent films, including 20 feature-film premieres, as well as filmmaker and industry panel discussions and other special events, said Slamdance President and Cofounder Peter Baxter.
Moving the festival from it’s home in Park City to an online platform was not, however, dictated solely by COVID-19, he said.
“Going back after Slamdance 2020, and actually before then, we decided we were going to do something online as a boost to the 2021 festival,” Baxter said. “We had no idea about how things were going to turn out, but once we began to see what was happening with the pandemic, we put a lot more energy in crafting what you are about to experience for this year.”
In doing so, Baxter and his staff decided to reevaluate what independent film is, what it can be and who (independent film) can serve while supporting independent filmmakers.
“For us, it came down to one world that sums it all up — accessibility,” he said. “We really wanted to create an environment of sharing for our filmmakers and audience in the independent film experience that is Slamdance, and also reach a younger, new audience around the world. And I think we’re on track to doing that, because we are knocking on the door of 15,000 passholders, with two weeks to go before the start of the festival.”
Accessibility also meant selling Slamdance passes for $10.
“Independent film is for everyone, and because it’s art, it needs to be shared,” Baxter said. “We were determined to make this whole thing affordable, and we asked our filmmakers to embrace this, which they have. And the result is an online film festival that is far more inclusive than we’ve ever been before.”
In keeping with the accessible theme, Slamdance will debut “Unstoppable,” a new program created for filmmakers with disabilities by filmmakers with disabilities, according to Baxter.
Unstoppable will feature 22 short films from up-and-coming filmmakers that either feature actors with disabilities or highlight the conversation of disabilities in today’s world, he said.
“For example, we’ve been working with the University of Utah, who has helped with the effort to provide services for American sign language and closed captions,” Baxter said. “We’re not saying it’s perfect, but it’s a real attempt to open ourselves up to a wider, global audience.”
Moving Slamdance to an online format falls into the wheelhouse of the festival’s new director, Adele Li, who succeeds former Festival Director Alina Solodnikova.
“While this year is my first as festival manager, but before this, I was doing marketing and social media for Slamdance,” Li said. “So this is a perfect transition, because I have always looked at our online presence to figure out how to reach our audience and filmmakers and how to expand that reach.”
Even with the technological background, Li found the pivot challenging because she and her crew invented a whole new way of putting a festival together.
“All of us are still learning what independent film on the internet looks like and what people are responding to,” she said. “We did a lot of brainstorming about everything from production, marketing and organization to figure out the best way we can do this and still stay true to what Slamdance has always been in the past. And everyone has been so enthusiastic about making this virtual festival the best it can be.”
Li is grateful for the groundbreaking work Solodnikova laid down in the past.
“Alina had built a super solid foundation for the in-person festival, so I just needed to build upon her foundation to adapt it to our new platform this year,” Li said.
Li and Baxter wondered how the new format would affect submissions, but those concerns were quelled after filmmakers sent in 7,300 films a few weeks after Slamdance put out the call.
“We were wondering how many entries would receive, and if there would be a standard drop,” Baxter said. “It didn’t drop, and has grown nearly 15% from where it was last year. And that helped us make the decision to run the festival for two weeks, instead of one, because it will be online.”
Expanding the festival also allowed more time for panel discussions and Q-and-A sessions, Li said.
“We were able to prerecord them with the filmmakers over Zoom, and that’s exciting because we could reach more people around the world,” she said. “I was able to conduct Q-and-As with filmmakers in Taiwan and Poland, those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to make it Park City.”
While the online festival has its pros, Baxter said it won’t replace hosting the festival in Park City once it’s safe to do so.
“We love being in Park City, and we love that intimate surroundings,” he said. “So our goal is to eventually host virtual and physical festivals, but we have to be practical and adapt as we go. We will be looking at the results of this year’s festival, and we will work on our next event.”
Continuing an online element to the physical festival will require a greater infrastructure, Baxter said.
“We put in a lot of time in forming this year’s virtual festival, and we have to make sure we have the infrastructure to continue this,” he said. “That would rely on more sponsorship and how the economy is doing, but this is something that excites the Slamdance community.”
When: Feb. 12-25
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Proponents say S.B. 167 would put Utah back on the film industry’s competitive map by increasing the pool of tax incentives to $10 million for projects that film in Utah.