PARK CITY 2001: Slamdance Movin' On Up; Alternafests Form United Front
by Jessica Hundley
(indieWIRE/01.27.01) -- Since its inception seven years ago, the Slamdance Film Festival has been growing from the feisty adolescent upstart of 1995 to a year-round organization that features a production wing, a screenplay competition and films both on the road and online. Yet Slamdance's centerpiece remains its seven days in Park City each year. The festival's original intent was to feed off the industry overflow by setting up shop simultaneously with one of the world's largest festivals -- the first to stake a claim in what would subsequently become a fecund film festival breeding ground.
This year, however, Slamdance took its first step towards its own emancipation by moving its facilities away from the hub of Main St. and up into the hills, setting up headquarters in a former silver mine. A sprawling, wonderfully funky space, with large screening rooms, and a fantastic view, The Silvermine may become both a blessing and a curse to the festival. While its isolation provides Slamdance with a distinct identity apart from the, Dance swarm, its semi-remote location may also discourage curious industry bigwigs with precious little time to kill.
"It's so far proving successful," claims festival founder Peter Baxter. "We had to move away from our prior location because we simply couldn't provide room for all the people who were coming to the screenings."
The filmmakers, some of whom are drawn to Slamdance due to its proximity to Sundance (and its hordes of distributors), seemed to have mixed feelings about the move. " The whole experience has been fantastic," says "American Chai" director Anurag Mehta, whose film is in the Slamdance competition. "I really love the space" Brian McDonald, director of the popular short, "White Face" said the location was great, but that he wasn't sure if it wasn't a bit too far out of town. "I think it may be hard to draw a lot of the industry people who before would have stopped in at Treasure Mountain," said McDonald. Baxter claims that the Silver Mine hasn't harmed the filmmakers' opportunities to hobnob. "We actually have more distributors showing up this year than last," said Baxter. "And several shorts have been sold." Rumor also has it that HBO has shown an interest in Kenny Goldstein's feature documentary, "Prophet Speaks."
Despite the doubts over the new location, the festival started off with a bang with an opening night party attracting an enormous crowd of 3,000. The festivities reached a fever pitch with a fantastic performance by hip-hop masters, The Roots. A lack of mixers for the nearly endless amount of Skyy Vodka added edge to the atmosphere.
The following day Artisan announced it would pull the opening screening of Marc Levin's "Brooklyn Babylon." "Babylon" was caught up in contractual red tape and the last minute decision threw a substantial wrench in the festival gears. After some deliberation, the director and festival decided to screen the film. "We felt it was really important to stand by the filmmaker, regardless of the controversy," says Baxter.
With submissions up substantially from last year, the Slamdance screening committee was forced to choose it's twelve 2001 competition films from a record number (2,326) of hopeful entries.
The line-up was marked by a distinctly international flavor, which included two Korean entries, "Barking Dogs Never Bite" and "Memento Mori;" Sweden's "The Shocking Truth;" the British short, "The Caller;" and the Australian entry, "Days of Being." "What we found," continued Baxter, "is that European and Asian filmmakers are just now embracing low budget filmmaking, so as a result we're beginning to receive more and more entries from abroad."
Of the American entries, themes of obsession seemed to be popular. The gorgeously shot black and white documentary "Hybrid" details one man's fascination with genetics and corn. The fiction feature "Paul is Dead" explores the protagonist's fixation with a particularly attractive corpse and "The Trouble with Lou" investigates, via a mock 1950's educational film style, an obsession with, how shall we say it, self-love?
The documentaries this year were particularly strong, with first time director Duane Graves' "Up Syndrome" winning audience affections. With a kinetic editing style and a contagious fondness for his subject, Graves chronicles his relationship with a childhood friend afflicted with Down Syndrome. The feature was matched with Brian McDonald's short, "White Face," which uses mockumentary style and sharp wit to subtly explore race issues. "It's been great," McDonald commented. "Audiences really seem to love the film."
Also making a strong showing was the short film, "Here," starring former "6 Million Dollar Man" star Lee Majors and "Daydream Believer," the digitally shot, wonderfully acted feature from actress Debra Eisenstadt.
The special screenings this year included (in addition to "Brooklyn Babylon") "Falling Like This" by Dani Minnick, "Wendigo" directed by actor Larry Fessenden and an animation showcase featuring work from Slamdance alums compiled by the infamous Spike and Mike. By mid-week it appeared that despite the move, Slamdance headquarters would have plenty of action, what with screenings, panels and the multitudes of weary partygoers lining up for $1 a minute massages.
The festival also kept one foot in the door at its former location, with the Treasure Mountain Inn hosting a new media lab, panel discussions and screenings. Shorts programs, a few features, concerts and plenty of free beer helped maintain the festival's presence at the top of Park City's Main Street.
Yet with the bulk of Slamdance's activities moved further up the mountain, the occupation of Treasure Mountain Inn was left primarily in the hands of several other smaller festivals. The newly minted Scamdance shared space at the Inn and made a successful first impression despite the fact that it was conceived of a mere three weeks before arriving in Utah. The fledgling festival got the seal of approval from audience member/actress Amy Smart ("Road Trip"). "It's a wonderful festival," Smart gushed, "[with] true artists showing their work for free."
Jake Boyd's No Dance remained in its coveted position at 333 Main, which now includes a larger screening room featuring numerous films and panels. Expanding its space and upping the ante, No Dance seemed poised, along with its neighbor Slamdunk, to pick up where Slamdance had left off -- defending the outposts of indie cinema within the very heart of Park City.
Slamdunk, now in its 4th year, moved its headquarters from Harry-O's to the newly renovated Club Creation. Now officially a production company with six scripts in development, Slamdunk rolled smoothly into Utah, bringing with it several shorts and features. Slamdunk's closing night screening, "The Independent," included a discussion with the film's director Steve Kessler and star Janeane Garofalo. Speaking to a packed house, Garofalo and Kessler were joined by veteran actress Karen Black in congratulating the festival crew.
"I'm so glad that independent film continues and persists and that there are venues like this to support them," Black raved.
Also joining the ranks of the alternate fests this year were all-digital Digidance, the DIY line-up of Lost Arts, the high camp antics of Lapdance and the motley crew of Tromadance. 2001 marks the first time these disparate festivals combined forces. A huge Summit party was planned for Friday night at Slamdance headquarters, providing at long last an opportunity to show a united front.
"We used to feel like a bunch of guys with a rocket launcher in a pick-up truck going against a Russian tank," says Slamdunk co-founder Cabot Orton. "Now we feel like a sub-tropical nation just asked to join the UN." True indie film, it seems, lives on.