Slamdance Film Festival continues to be a venue for discovery
After a year of reflection for Slamdance’s 25th anniversary last year, president and co-founder Peter Baxter wanted to set his sights again to looking toward the future this year.
“I’ve been looking at the next 25 years, if you like, and Slamdance has always been a place of discovery,” he said. “Whether it is year 25, year 15 or, now, year 26, I think filmmakers break out of the film festival because the industry at large recognizes the need for new voices. Slamdance has become a place to find those new voices.”
This year’s festival will run from Jan. 24-30 at Treasure Mountain Inn, and Baxter said a group of new voices emerged from a record-breaking 8,230 film submissions this year.
“We try to create a level playing field for all of these filmmakers, and you can see with the number of submissions, it’s an incredibly competitive,” Baxter said.
This year’s slate features 16 premieres, 10 world premieres, 5 North American premiers and one U.S. debut from Belarus, Canada, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Poland, Russia and South Africa, Baxter said.
“We are particularly looking at those from marginalized and underrepresented groups whose stories have often been missed, largely because of a historically Western-dominated medium,” he said. “The exciting thing about Slamdance is that it is a place of discovery, but it also reminds us, when we are looking at these particular types of artists, of the great power of visual storytelling. And this type of storytelling enables audiences to see life through the eyes of others. Since we’re our own community, there is no outside influence that will impact our programming.”
Baxter credited festival manager Alina Solodnikova for overseeing the teams of programmers, all of whom are filmmakers themselves, to create a cohesive and organized program.
“The way Slamdance is programmed and run by filmmakers and alumni makes it so every year we have new energy and new young filmmakers coming to the festival,” Solodnikova said. “With the young filmmakers comes new blood and a new understanding of modern independent film. We are always open to experimentation.”
The festival manager agreed with Baxter and said it is important to look at films from underrepresented countries and cultures, which, she said, is more powerful because one of Slamdance’s alums, Bong Joon-ho, won the Foreign Feature Film Golden Globe for his dramedy thriller “Parasite,” which is about an impoverished South Korean family who cons a wealthy family.
“It’s amazing and encouraging to see how the film is being accepted by the American public,” Solodnikova said. “We totally support and agree with what he said in his acceptance speech, that you have to pass the one-inch barrer of subtitles to discover a whole new world of film.”
In addition to examining the international world, Slamdance is also focusing on the local Utah film community by continuing its partnership with the University of Utah’s department of film and media arts, which gives students a chance to work and train at the festival.
“If we are supporting emerging artists who have made films, why can’t we support filmmakers who will be going to submit films one day to Slamdance?” Baxter said about the partnership. “We bring these students in and pay them because they have a job to do, which is to make Slamdance happen.”
As a result of the partnership, film students benefit by not only seeing how a film festival is run, but by also meeting and networking with other filmmakers who attend, according to Baxter.
“That, in itself, helps these students from a practical point of view of solving production challenges by giving them hands-on experiences with a filmmaker or group of filmmakers who are presenting their work at the festival,” he said.
Slamdance attendees and filmmakers can also learn more about the industry through daily workshop programming, Solodnikova said.
Pierce Law Group will offer legal tips regarding funding, producing and distribution, and the Polytechnic workshops will give filmmakers a chance to hear from industry insiders about various topics related to filmmaking, she said.
Slamdance will also continue its Breakouts Program, which debuted last year, Baxter said.
“This is a program for directors who are beyond their first film who have a healthy disrespect for narrative and documentary convention,” he said. “They are in the middle of establishing themselves as a unique artist with a unique vision.”
Baxter feels it is important for Slamdance to continue its support of these filmmakers for the sake of the future of independent film.
“Very often we have seen over the years, a Slamdance alumni struggling to get that second film or third film recognized,” he said. “We want to support those artists establish their unique vision and distinct visual style and bold story. We are excited for them to move onto the next level of their careers.”
This year’s Breakout program will feature a mix of documentary and features that explore different subjects, including love, fear, betrayal and friendship, Baxter said.
One of the breakouts is “A Film About a Father Who,” a documentary by Lynne Sachs, about her father and Park City businessman Ira Sachs Sr. (See story on page C-1)
“It’s a daring documentary, and what we loved about this film is that we all have family fallouts, but the ruptured and intense one that is in Lynne’s masterpiece reveals how far bloodlines can stretch without losing connection altogether,” Baxter said.
Solodnikova remembered the reactions of festival programmers who first saw the documentary, which took nearly three decades to complete.
“They were all rooting for that film to be programmed,” she said. “Lynne explored her family history for 30-years and was always discovering new facts about a person who is not only her own father, but also someone fairly well-known in the local community.”
Speaking of the local community, Solodnikova is grateful for Park City’s support of Slamdance.
“Last year, we started a program for locals to host filmmakers, who may not have been able to afford coming to the festival,” she said. ‘This year we have three times more hosts.”
Both Baxter and Solodnikova said returning to Treasure Mountain Inn each year is like coming home.
“This is part of my life, and it’s part of Slamdance’s life,” Baxter said. “Treasure Mountain Inn, Park City and Main Street is our home and long may it continue to be.”
“I’m so grateful I get to go back every year,” Solodnikova said. “Because we’re there only a short time, there is so much life and intense emotion. But we get to connect with so many artists, and local attendees who climb that hill. There is nothing that compares to the energy that happens in Park City.”
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