Slamdance prepping for round 11
The Slamdance Film Festival started in 1995 because of one thing: rejection.
Several independent filmmakers, including Peter Baxter, submitted projects to the Sundance Film Festival and were promptly turned away. Baxter and his cohorts each felt their films should be seen, and so they got together to watch them.
"We all got rejected that’s how we got started," said Baxter. "Some great things come out of rejection. Instead of just walking off into the sunset with our tails between our legs we decided to collect ourselves together. There were 12 features and 13 shorts the first year. Now we show over 100."
Baxter currently serves as the president of the year-round independent film organization that has continued to hold a festival in Park City at the same time as Sundance.
"It’s something we were doing for ourselves together, but we realized there were other filmmakers like ourselves who wanted places to show their work," he said. "It’s becoming more and more challenging to get noticed."
This year’s festival includes more than 10 divisions: teleplay, horror, $99 short film, anarchy online, dramatic feature, short, documentary, screenplay and video game.
Baxter, a filmmaker who is currently working on a documentary of his own, said this year’s crop of docs shows just how far the festival has come in terms of originality and quality.
"From a documentary point of view, 9/11, Katrina and war documentaries are around, but there was an increase in social documentaries as well," he said. "A lot of filmmakers are following what’s going on the in world and in America and making their films."
"These films are labors of love and the quality shows that," he continued. "The program is at a very high standard right now. It is independent filmmaking as its best. A lot of the films that didn’t make it into the festival this year are very, very good."
In choosing the finalists, Baxter said seven or eight other filmmakers watch each film and decide which to accept. He also said the judging is based purely on quality, not subject or theme.
"It’s funny how themes work at Sundance because we don’t have any," he said. "We don’t have anything specific we’re looking for. All of our programmers are filmmakers themselves and that’s very important to us. We don’t look at themes or fashions the quality of the films wins out."
Despite the fact that the festival was born out of the ashes of rejection, Slamdance does its fair share of dismissal. More than 3,600 films were submitted for the 100 slots the festival allows.
"We received over 3,600 film entries for 100 spots, which made it a very difficult competition this year," Baxter said. "The standard of independent filmmaking has increased its value, and not only independently, but for how well these films can go on to success commercially."
Another high point of the 2007 festival is the Anarchy Online competition where short films are posted online and available for viewing via the Internet.
Slamdance selects three nine-minute films every month from March to November. Each monthly winner will compete against the finalists online at the end of the year as well as screen at twice during the Slamdance Film Festival.
The horror film competition is in its first year. The grand prizewinner will have their screenplay made into a feature motion picture. Angel Baby will purchase the rights to the winning original screenplay and will produce a feature film in association with Liberty Studios, the oldest continually running movie studio in New York City.
"The move we made with the horror competition is a natural progression for us," Baxter said. "It’s something we discussed for a while, but it had to be done in the right time and place."
Back for its third year is the Guerrilla Game Makers Competition, which pits 14 independently made video games against each other. The competition is similar to the film festival in that it features independent works by up-and-coming creators in the industry.
"Video games today are as important and influential as movies have ever been," said Baxter. "The type and standard of creativity we are seeing at Slamdance Games is akin to the trailblazing days of independent filmmaking, a time that artists reacted with more imagination and against the generic fare of the movie studio."
The 2007 entrants have themes ranging from "biting indictments of modern corporate culture to fantastical adventures crashing castles," said Guerilla Games competition director Sam Roberts. "We have interactive fiction, beat-em-ups, non-traditional puzzle games, and experiments in flow theory."
The 14 finalists for the 2007 competition include Book and Volume, Braid, FlOw, and Super Columbine Massacre RPG, which has players reenact the 1999 Colorado high school shooting.
Baxter said he is excited about the quality of the finalists in all the divisions. There are too many quality projects out there, he said, for just a one-week festival. That’s why Slamdance has gone year-round.
"What I’m most excited about is the overall program and the overall quality of it," he said. "The goal is to continue and build on what we have established in supporting emerging talent, not just at the festival but year-round. I am particularly interested in continuing in the physical presence we have in Park City, but also from a virtual perspective and what we can do online. It’s a great time to into independent film."
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Hotel occupancy in the Park City area during Sundance is projected to drop dramatically from a typical year as organizers shift the event online.