more sundancing
issue no.
  january 15
c o n t e n t s
RED Reviews
'Torque' Runs Out of Gas, Explodes, Cuts to T&A
Opening this Weekend

It's a Wonderful Ken: RED Locates Cool-Lookin' Ken Just in Time for the Holidays

Slamming the Critics
10 Years of Alternative Filmmaking at Slamdance
by Jamie Gadette


fter a decade of independent filmmaking, Slamdance no longer resides in the shadow of Sundance.

Unlike its older, more prestigious forefather—which has been criticized for “selling out”—the alternative to Robert Redford’s creative vision offers more consistent possibilities for the little guy. Such lasting commitment is endearing for those left jaded by Hollywood hype. Slamdance co-founder Peter Baxter, who formed the event after his work was rejected by Sundance, is decidedly loyal to his original intent of creating something “for filmmakers, by filmmakers.”

“The films may be flawed—rough around the edges—but if it’s something that the programmers like, then we’ll program it.”

This year’s festival, which runs from Jan. 17 to 24, will feature increased venues in Salt Lake City, an addition that speaks to its accessibility. Both Madstone Theatre and Brewvies will be hosting screenings throughout the festival, with the former featuring an expanded documentary section.

Many locals have chosen to eschew Sundance due to the difficult nature of obtaining passes to competition screenings. Such qualms are echoed in Baxter’s own philosophy.

“Why should you stand in line at 1 o’clock in the morning and freeze your backside off? That doesn’t sound like a lot of fun,” Baxter says. “We have sold out in the past, but it’s pretty easy to get a ticket for Slamdance, by comparison.”

Madstone’s Rebecca McLoney heralds Slamdance as the “easier” event to attend. “I don’t think it’s as hectic,” she says. “It’s harder to get tickets for Sundance—this offers an alternative, as well as a first choice for many (due to its convenience).”

Devotion to the general public is readily apparent in this year’s accompanying festivities.

Events are particularly geared toward the underground, with several unsigned New York City punk bands helming the opening and closing ceremonies. On Thursday, Jan. 16, Radical Records’ touring acts Slunt, Joker Five Speed, Queen V, Skum, and the Sex Slaves will join local bands Stiletto and The Wolfs to kick off the competition with a performance at The Vortex.

“Putting on these music events in conjunction with the film festival is a tremendous amount of work—but it’s worth it,” Baxter says.

The music is often an extension of the films themselves, such as this year’s “Bruce Hack: The King of Techno.” The piece, directed by Phillip Anagnos, focuses on Hack’s influence on artists such as Beck and Money Mark, the latter of whom will show his support with a number of in-town performances.

“That’s usually how we bring in music to the festival,” Baxter says. “We don’t just pluck something because it’s popular and is going to please an audience. We really try to do it so it helps the filmmaker and the filmmaking process.”

Although this year’s punk bands are not actually affiliated with any Slamdance entries, their presence reflects the festival’s devotion to independent art.

“We’re coming from the emerging filmmaking perspective so it makes sense to relate that to emerging music talent as well.”

Steven Blush, author of American Hardcore, is responsible for incorporating the New York City bands. The content of Blush’s book, a comprehensive history on the underground punk scene, helps explain the reasoning behind the musical lineup. Each group exudes an irreverent attitude typical of early hardcore. However, unlike the predominantly testosterone-driven sounds of aggressive punk, the Radical Records crew is fueled by fierce females who know how to wield an axe. Their raucous, raunchy vibe is unlikely to appear in conjunction with any Sundance-sponsored venues that tend to showcase established acts.

Howie Goldklang, Slamdance NYC events coordinator and events producer, shakes off the notion that Sundance is somehow a better lure for quality talent.

“Save the guest lists and velvet ropes for other festivals,” he says. “We have kick-ass music and will party till victory.” While a boost in nightlife might prove enticing for the average local, Goldklang believes the two festivals are on relatively equal footing regarding their emphasis on showcasing independent film and media. “Slamdance has found a niche and exists side by side with Sundance.”

Baxter places great emphasis on the growing number of people outside of the festival circuit who are craving quality, independent film.

“The On The Road screenings have showed that there are audiences for these films outside of the industry,” he says. However, his interest in bringing material to the general public is belied by the filmmakers’ desire to gain professional credibility. “They are trying to get to the next stage,” he says. “They’ve made these films—most of them are in debt, most of them are trying to get a break—and they need the industry to get that recognition.”

Baxter understands that artistic integrity is only one key aspect of filmmaking—that its creators don’t necessarily have to starve in order to stay true to their craft. His appreciation for financial success informs a continued respect for the festival’s predecessor.

“I think that Sundance has matured and I think it’s done a great job of helping filmmakers move more toward a middle marketplace.”

That said, Slamdance still functions on a grassroots level. Programs are selected by other filmmakers looking for a solid story. The criteria by which films are judged is fairly simple—flashy filler pales in comparison to compelling content
“It’s void of fashion,” Baxter says. “It’s just what comes in through the doors.”

Baxter admits that star power is a great enabler in helping programs get noticed, but it is not by any means a final determinant.

“We try to make it as objective as possible,” Baxter says. “No program is less important than any other.”

Programmers screen films several times before discussing their respective choices. Deliberations often result in heated arguments over which entries truly deserve a slot. Members of the judging committee must walk a fine line between entertaining the unknown and rejecting the unworthy. Their primary goal, however, is to be straightforward and democratic. Even seasoned artists find these valiant attempts enticing enough to completely bypass the bigger festival.

“There are those filmmakers now who just submit to Slamdance,” Baxter says. “I think they find it difficult to relate to Sundance programming and how competitive it is.”

Whether audiences prefer Sundance over Slamdance or vice versa is a moot point. The festivals are both aligned against homogenous cinema—something everyone should be willing to support.

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