Storytelling is the key to Slamdance films
Over the past 25 years, Slamdance has grown in popularity as an organization that supports and nurtures first-time independent filmmakers, said co-founder Peter Baxter.
This is evident in the amount of submissions this year, he said.
“We now receive more than 10,000 submissions a year, and that includes screenplays for our essay contest,” Baxter said. “We are a yearround organization, and have created the ability to review all of these submissions amongst our alumni and programmers.”
Of those submissions, the festival’s programmers have selected 11 narrative features and nine documentary features that will screen this year from Jan. 25-31 at Treasure Mountain Inn.
Of those films, 18 will be premieres, according to Baxter.
Ten of these films were submitted by international filmmakers from Argentina, Belarus, Brazil, Germany, India, Italy, Kenya, Poland, South Africa and the United Kingdom. Four were submitted by North American filmmakers, and four were from the United States, he said.
“We had 199 programmers who looked at all the films, and we also have a coverage team that gives constructive feedback to writers for the screenplays,” Baxter said.
Keeping tabs on the submissions was a difficult yet exciting job, said festival director Alina Solodnikova.
“After reviewing the submissions, we all gathered in and fought for our favorites,” she said. “Even though there are so many opinions in the room, there is a clear understanding of the democratic way we select the films. We defended our favorites and pitched them to our teams, and everybody voted.”
The focus was on first-time filmmakers and storytelling, said Solodnikova, who is in her second year as festival director.
“There was no pressure, just our 25th anniversary,” she said. “A big chunk of what we wanted to showcase were these original stories that need to be told.”
One of these stories was Ronny Sens’ “Cat Sticks,” Solodnikova said.
The film is about substance addicts who live in Kolkata, India, and how their stories weave together as they seek to score a strain of heroin called “brown sugar,” she said.
“This unique film is from India, and it has beautiful cinematography,” Solodnikova said. “This is filmmaker’s debut world premiere, so the whole crew is coming in from India.”
Another unique international film is Darya Zhuk’s “Crystal Swan,” a film shot in Belarus, Russia and the United States, according to Solodnikova.
“Crystal Swan” is about Evelina, played by Alina Nassibulina, an educated young disc jockey from Belarus whose dream is to go to the birthplace of house music: Chicago.
“I think this is will be an audience favorite because of the story and characters,” Solodnikova said.
This year’s Slamdance also features a merger of the Anarchy and Documentary Features slate with Stuart Swezey’s “Desolation Center.”
The film is about the guerrilla punk rock gatherings of the Reagan era that inspired music festivals like Burning Man, Lollapalooza and Coachella. It combines interviews and rare performance footage of Sonic Youth, Minutemen, Meat Puppets, Swans, Redd Kross, Einstürzende Neubauten, Survival Research Laboratories, Savage Republic, among others, Solodnikova said.
Slamdance’s Anarchy Program is traditionally a collection of eclectic shorts, Solodnikova said.
“When the documentary team programmers saw this film, they decided it would be a presentation that will be part of the Anarchy Program and Documentary Features slate,” she said.
Another change this year is the evolution of the former Beyond program into the Breakouts program, Solodnikova said.
The Beyond program was created to support emerging filmmakers who have made more than one film.
“While Slamdance focuses on first-time filmmakers, we’re always interested in supporting filmmakers who aren’t necessarily working on their first feature, but still taking big risks,” Solodnikova said. “We feel they deserve our attention; documentaries and features.”
An example of a Breakout program film is Patrick Creadon’s documentary, “Ski Bum: The Warren Miller Story” (see story on C-4), which will open this year’s Slamdance festival with a look into the life of the eponymous, late ski film icon.
Creadon is known for his 2006 documentary “Wordplay,’’ which covered New York Times Crossword editor Will Shortz and the puzzle community.
“Park City is an exciting place to open ‘Ski Bum,’” Solodnikova said. “I just heard from Patrick that many of the athletes and skiers from the film will be in town.”
Another experienced filmmaker in the Breakout category is Alexandre Franchi, whose 2009 thriller, “The Wild Hunt,” won a Slamdance audience award.
Franchi’s new film, “Happy Face,” is about a teen who deforms his face with bandages and attends a therapy workshop for disfigured patients to reconnect with his manipulative mother, living with illness.
“Once again, it’s the stories that make these films interesting and unique,” Solodnikova said. “And storytelling is the most important part of Slamdance films.”
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Park City Film’s in-person screenings will include a string of Academy Award-nominated films.