Almost every year, it seems a film that screened at the Slamdance Film Festival, or an alum who wrote or directed a film there, starts to run with the big dogs.
For instance, acclaimed directors Christopher Nolan (“Memento,” “The Dark Knight”), Marc Forster (“Monster’s Ball”) and Jared Hess (“Napoleon Dynamite”) all first tasted success with films at Slamdance. Then there’s “Paranormal Activity,” which was screened at Slamdance in 2008, going on to become a worldwide hit and later spawning two commercially popular sequels.
Last year, Slamdance alum Seth Gordon was catapulted to the top of the film world, after directing superstars Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell, Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis in “Horrible Bosses,” a dark comedy that become the highest-grossing black comedy film of all time, grossing $209 million around the world.
Gordon, 37, edited and produced the 2005 Sundance documentary “New York Doll,” based on the life of one of the legendary band members of the New York Dolls, Arthur “Killer” Kane, who converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Gordon made his directorial debut with the 2007 Slamdance doc “The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters.”
His experience at Slamdance was formative. “I felt more camaraderie and support at Slamdance,” Gordon said. “They made a special effort to make us comfortable.”
So the annual question at this festival is: Who among these Slamdance writers and directors will become the next Christopher Nolan or Seth Gordon?
Slamdance was founded in 1995 by independent filmmakers whose works were rejected by Sundance. This year, from Jan. 20 to 26, the festival will screen 18 competition films — 10 narrative features and eight documentaries — at Park City’s Treasure Mountain Inn on Main Street. In addition, the festival will screen 75 short films, plus special screenings of documentaries, including the final part of a Neil Young trilogy directed by “Silence of the Lambs” director Jonathan Demme.
In addition, Slamdance co-founder Peter Baxter will screen his Sean Bean-narrated documentary, “Wild in the Streets,” a look at an English town where an ancient form of football is played.
“This is a game where it all came from,” Baxter said, alluding to the game that is thought to have inspired soccer, rugby and American football.
Although Baxter is proud to be screening his film, he’s more excited that this year’s festival received a record number of submissions — nearly 5,000. That’s a far cry from the first year, when 48 films were submitted.
Among this year’s highlights, Baxter noted “Made in Iran: 7 Short Premieres,” featuring shorts never seen outside the country, curated by Iranian-American filmmaker Ehsan Ghoreishi; and “The First Season,” a documentary, about a family fighting to create a thriving dairy farm in a tough economy. “The daily challenges in our world provided inspiration to filmmakers this year. 2011 was a challenging year,” Baxter said.
Another theme among this year’s Slamdance submissions, said Josh Mandell, narrative feature competition programmer, were films featuring strong characters who didn’t necessarily meet the definition of being likable.
Mandell touted the film “Bindlestiffs” as an example of creative, guerrilla filmmaking that seems to encapsulate the mission of Slamdance. It’s an example of how, in the digital age, anyone with a unique voice can be a filmmaker. The movie was written, directed and acted by teenagers. It’s an inside story of the high school experience, which promoters describe as “Superbad” meets Catcher in the Rye.
It’s also evidence that the Slamdance anthem — by filmmakers, for filmmakers — is true, Gordon says.
Slamdance Film Festival
The 18th annual festival plays Jan. 20-26, coinciding with the Sundance Film Festival, at the Treasure Mountain Inn, 255 Main St., Park City.
For film descriptions, see David Burger’s overview at http://bit.ly/zmaiNv.
For schedule and ticket information, visit www.slamdance.com.