The Slamdance Film Festival aims to separate itself from hometown companion Sundance in any way it can. The “About Us” section proudly states that they are by filmmakers, for filmmakers. The offbeat Slamdance Film Festival was created in 1995 to counter-program the Sundance Film Festival. Ever since the festival has been more than happy to play second fiddle to America’s premier showcase for independent cinema. All that could change though as Slamdance nears its 20th anniversary. As the cost of producing a film dwindles with the availability of more affordable technology, the festival that thrives on the discovery of new talent may soon become the destination for those hoping to find the next big thing.
The Slamdance Film Festival got its start when a group of filmmakers had their films turned away from Sundance in the mid-1990s. Dan Mirvish, Jon Fitzgerald, Shane Kuhn, Peter Baxter formed a collective and with Paul Rachman started their own film festival. They called it “Slamdance – Anarchy in Utah.” Since then, the festival, just like its older sibling, takes place every January in the mountains of Park City, Utah.
The offbeat Slamdance even shares the same dates with Sundance, turning Park City into a week-long celebration of independent cinema. The Slamdance mission has been to provide a more authentic representation of what it means to be an independent filmmaker. The festival’s mantra of “by filmmakers, for filmmakers” alone attracts the top up-and-coming writers, directors and producers every year. Filmmakers come hungry to screen their films in front of a creativity driven community. What started as a punk rock response to the system has since become an institution dedicated to developing unheard and unique voices in the world of film.
Slamdance can certainly find plenty of pride in its long list of impressive alumni. Top filmmakers like Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight franchise, Inception), Marc Foster (Quantum Of Solace, Monster’s Ball), Seth Gordon (Horrible Bosses, The King Of Kong: A Fistful Of Quarters), Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite), Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild), Lena Dunham (HBO’s Girls), and Lynn Shelton (Your Sister’s Sister) all got their first big break at the festival. Slamdance can also lay claim to the fact that one of the most profitable films of all time made its initial sale there.
In 2008, Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity screened at Slamdance and acquired by Dreamworks before they passed domestic control of the film over to Paramount. The film was made for a merger of $10,000 before going on to make nearly $200 million worldwide, spawning an incredibly successful franchise.
Filmmakers that do get the golden ticket to go to Sundance can expect to get plenty of exposure due to the national coverage surrounding the festival. Those that make it into Slamdance, however, get the extremely valuable Welcome Pack. With crucial tips on how to avoid getting arrested when marketing your film, the Welcome Pack becomes a key asset to those on a minuscule budget.
Christopher Nolan, who attended this year’s festival to be the first ever recipient of the Slamdance Founder’s Award, reminisced about taping posters for his debut film Following to every post he could find around the town. Nolan made his first film in over the course of a year back in 1996 for the U.S. equivalent of $6,000. The exposure and recognition from Slamdance gave Nolan the ability to secure financing for his follow-up film Memento.
It is a testament to the fact that the offbeat Slamdance Film Festival purposely sets itself up as the alternative to the glitz and glamour now found at Sundance. They prove that the best films can come from those living out of a backpack on their producer’s couch.
By Benjamin Murray