Slamdance: There’s Still Anarchy in Utah
It all started as a defiant gesture and a refusal to take no for an answer. Slamdance was born in 1995 with the firm resolve of Peter Baxter, Jon Fitzgerald, Shane Kuhn, Dan Mirvish, and Paul Rachman to live and breathe the vision of an independent film festival, one that was For Filmmakers, By Filmmakers. Taking place in Park City, Utah every year since, it’s a must attend event for true independent filmmakers and fans alike.
“Instead of walking away into the sunset when we didn’t get our films into Sundance, a wild bunch of filmmakers got together to change things,” recalls Slamdance President Peter Baxter, “We didn’t know our guerrilla upstart would make it through 1995, let alone begin a 25-year movement in support of new artists. After we got through the first year, we wanted to continue and help other filmmakers like us.”
The film festival provides a counterpoint to the Sundance Film Festival by highlighting a more accurate cross-section of the indie film market and its true hidden talents, while strongly adhering to the ideal that independent film should be self-governed. The festival has a well-respected track record for showcasing films with limited budgets, most often presented by first-time filmmakers.
Slamdance has become a haven for independent artists, filmmakers, and storytellers, providing an annual showcase for emerging talent. It has held true to and grown from its do-it-yourself, defiant film festival roots to much more. The now year-round operations include the Screenplay Competition, Slamdance on the Road, Slamdance Studios, as well as the festival itself. It’s continued to evolve, and for good reason.
“The entertainment industry generally doesn’t invest in developing new talent over a long period of time,” Peter Baxter explains, “it likes to see instant success and few are willing to develop new artists. The benefits of doing that are easy to see at Slamdance. Artists who first showed their works at the festival have gone onto to earn over $17 billion dollars at the box office. Though their talent was immediately obvious to us, few industry members acted on nurturing these artists early on. That’s something Slamdance had to start getting involved with.”
With that in mind, the organization continues to foster young, burgeoning filmmakers through the Russo Brothers Fellowship, started in 2018, and through partnerships like that established with MediaU, which is working with the University of California, Irvine, to reinvent film and media learning. The first online course is “Directors & Actors: Casting!” which begins February 11 and will earn you three credits via the UCI Division of Continuing Education.
“Slamdance’s long-standing commitment to training and open sharing of information makes them the perfect partner for MediaU – our visions are totally aligned,” said Adam Leipzig, Founder and CEO of MediaU. “We are proud to be working with them and look forward to deepening and expanding our collaboration as we grow.”
And on that relationship Baxter adds, “Slamdance does not come from an academic background. Many of us learnt as we went and did not go to film school. Sometimes that worked out and sometimes it didn’t. Those that did study film and television at school often say their education didn’t prepare them for the reality of life as a filmmaker. Based on our own experiences, we began Slamdance’s Polytechnic education program. Its goal is simple. We want to teach others what we wish we knew before picking up a camera. Collaborating with MediaU expands this ambition and brings our community into their organization.”
The 2019 festival runs January 25 – 31, with a slate of over 100 films, documentaries, and shorts that include 18 World and North American premiers. A new category has been added this year as well, the Anarchy Short. According to the Slamdance submission page this category is, “our attempt to recapture the early spirit of the festival.”
Alumnus Steven Soderbergh will be receiving the 2019 Founders Award, and previewing his new film High Flying Bird, which will be followed by a Q&A with Baxter.
Other notable Slamdance alumni include Lena Durham (Girls), Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace), Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite), Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight), the Russo Brothers (Avengers: Infinity War), and Oren Peli, who is part of MediaU’s premier course, discussing how he cast Paranormal Activity.
Here’s hoping that Slamdance continues its tradition of supporting new and emerging artists and keeping the ‘indie’ in independent filmmaking for another 25 years to come.