Slamdance continues its mission to support true independent films and their filmmakers
Peter Baxter, cofounder and president of Slamdance, stopped and reflected about how the film festival has evolved and accommodated new filmmakers during the past 23 years.
“When we first started Slamdance we were born out of a determination to show direct, unfiltered voices of independent artists to audiences,” Baxter said. “What we see in independent film these days is that projects may, in many cases, have gone through a filtering process, but still stamped independent. If you look at the organizations or platforms involved at making these films, you will see they are not purely independent.”
Baxter said Slamdance, which will run this year from Jan. 19-25 at Treasure Mountain Inn, has always strived to bring unfiltered voices to Park City.
“Our lineup this year, as it has in the past, embodies an artist-led, artist-driven organization that, I think, influences media culture, as well as discovers new trends, because of how independent film has developed since that time,” he said. “And that’s what stands us apart.”
Part of that comes from what the film festival’s alumni have achieved. Those alumni include Dark Knight trilogy director Christopher Nolan, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” directors Joe and Anthony Russo, “Paranormal Activity” creator Oren Peli and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” director Rian Johnson, to name a few.
“These are filmmakers who first showed their works at Slamdance, and it goes to show that the quality of their works are just as good as anyone else’s,” Baxter said. “Of course through time, the studios have worked with these alumni and found they are to be the very best in filmmaking in general. And I think this is the type of thing you can get out of Slamdance.”
This year Slamdance will honor the Russo brothers, who will take time from their current project, “Avengers: Infinity War,” to attend the festival.
The siblings will present the inaugural Russo Brothers Fellowship to a Slamdance filmmaker, according to Baxter. The fellowship will include a $25,000 prize consisting of filmmaker support, an office at the Russos’ new Los Angeles-based studio, mentoring, and a cash stipend for one year.
“Joe and Anthony embody what Slamdance’s community is all about.” Baxter said. “Their artist driven partnership and open studio environment takes our support for emerging filmmakers to the next level. We thank them both for this fantastic Fellowship and growing our organization.”
In addition, to alumni support, networking and mentoring, Slamdance also offers filmmakers educational programs that address legal issues and distribution.
“The whole sense of do-it-yourself distribution is a dirty word to speak about within the film industry, but look what independent authors and independent music publishers have been able to do for artists,” Baxter said. “This is something we want to embrace.”
After sifting through more than 5,000 entries, which included features and short films, Alina Solodnikova, the new Slamdance festival manager (see accompanying story), was amazed at not only the number of film submissions Slamdance received this year, but also the talent and diversity of the filmmakers.
“I feel like Slamdance is doing a really good job at bringing all of those points together, but being fair to all the entrants,” she said. “This year, we received so many submissions from all over the world. It’s overwhelming how much talent and diversity there is.”
Solodnikova mentioned a surge in female filmmakers as well as more independent action films and documentaries.
“The filmmakers in our Anarchy program are the most revealing at times,” she said. “They decided for themselves how to battle society that doesn’t care about them. They’ll do what they want to do in spite of everything in a celebration of noncompliance.”
The festival manager said all of the Slamdance films tend to see their subjects in a skewed and interesting way.
“I feel like there is a limited amount of stories in the world, so the thing is to keep exploring them through different angles, voices and perspectives,” she said.
Solodnikova said she continually marveled at the dedication of each filmmaker.
“Some filmmakers don’t have many people on their crews,” she said. “The just have their own voice and a little support from friends, and somehow with that, they manage to bring some great amazing stories into the world that address issues such as race, identity, the LGBT community, and other topics.”
Solodnikova said these topics are pulled from the news.
“This year we are faced with a very intense political climate in the United States and the rest of the world, and that may inspire people to make more artistic choices,” she said. “There is definitely a strong theme going on about survival or changing our perspective.”
Baxter agreed and said independent film, especially documentary filmmaking, is more important now that it has ever been.
“Documentary filmmaking is journalism,” he said. “It’s been a struggle for mainstream journalists to write stories about issues, because they haven’t been given opportunities to do that for whatever reason. And we have seen, more and more, truly independent artists who create investigative pieces that are documentary pieces, which are incredibly important to our culture. They enlighten us. They help uncover things we didn’t know about.”
Baxter said the essence of truly independent films is interesting storytelling.
“It’s not about movie stars and big-name filmmakers,” he said. “Essentially when it comes down to it, independent films are about our humanity and issues that are important, personal and unique to these artists. And these films, in the end, are films that audiences really want to experience and enjoy.”
The 2018 Slamdance Film Festival will take place January 19-25 at the Treasure Mountain Inn in Park City. For more information, please visit http://www.Slamdance.org.
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