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Viral Videos at Sundance: Why Super Deluxe Belongs At Film Festivals (And Watch Their Short, ‘Deer Squad’)

"This is the Dominican Snow White in his natural habitat," said Kelvin Peña from Park City.

Kelvin Peña of “Deer Squad” fame.

Super Deluxe

Super Deluxe has developed a name with its bizarre and often political viral videos, but last week the company made a play for the Sundance Film Festival.

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Three Super Deluxe projects played in Park City: “Bayard and Me,” a short documentary from Matt Wolf about civil rights leader Bayard Rustin and his adoption of his younger lover, long before same-sex marriage was legalized; “The Chances,” a short form comedy about two deaf best friends, directed by Anna Kerrigan; and “Deer Squad,” a short documentary profile of Kelvin Peña, a Pennsylvania high schooler who befriended a family of deer in his backyard.

Peña’s videos developed an online following big enough to get him recognized by the Uber driver tasked with getting him to Park City in time for his Sundance debut. The film was part of the documentary shorts section, and screened before Sydney Freeland’s “Deidra & Laney Rob a Train.”

In the film, Peña explains the genesis of his special relationship with animals. “I named [the deer] Money, just straight off the dome,” he says. “It was the first thing that came to my mind, ’cause I love money and I felt like I loved the deer. I was like, man, this is lit.”

When fans suggested Peña feed the deer healthier foods, he switched it up from powdered donuts. “Organic freshly cut fruits for them, man. Everybody eats.” This last sentiment has become the Deer Squad catchphrase, and Peña sports an “Everybody Eats” hat throughout the film.

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“The day after he started going viral, we sent him an email and shot with him a few days later,” said Scott J. Ross, who directed the film for Super Deluxe with his Public Cinema Club co-founders Pipus Larsen and Kenneth Gug. “I just thought, ‘If we don’t go find him now, then somebody else will probably do it.’ He’s got such a vibrant personality.”

Turner Entertainment first launched Super Deluxe in January 2007 as an ad-supported website for edgy humor, aimed at the 18-34 male demo, but folded Super Deluxe into Adult Swim 18 months later. Turner quietly began to revive the brand in September 2015. It’s led by Wolfgang Hammer, the former CBS Films president who, while a director at Media Rights Capital, developed “House of Cards” before selling it to Netflix.

“It was always intended to be set up very differently from the way everything else is set up,” Hammer said. “It was always intended to be a studio in the truest sense of the word. A company that produces for every single format from the very beginning. It’s not easier to make internet videos — it’s actually quite difficult. But it’s easier from a production perspective, obviously.”

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Hammer is careful to distinguish viral videos from the television series and films under development at Super Deluxe, although he admits to wanting to meet younger audiences where they are watching. “Younger generations are not watching in traditional ways,” he said. “It seems silly to confine yourself to one distribution medium.”

That said, the company’s name recognition is largely gained from the viral videos, which should go a long way toward piquing interest in a 15-minute civil rights documentary like “Bayard and Me.” Hammer is proud to offer that variety. “Show me a digital publisher that has pieces in competition at Sundance,” he said. “You can’t point to one.”

Even Peña has to admit he never thought he’d end up at Sundance. For his trip to Park City, Super Deluxe handed their Snapchat account to the teenager who calls himself “the Dominican Snow White.” The resulting compilation plays out like a comedy of errors worthy of its own Sundance slot. Check it out to get an idea of what a SuperDeluxe video is all about:

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