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Slamdance Film Festival picks 20 films for competition and brings back ‘Breakout’ program for repeat directors

(Joshua Davidsburg | Courtesy of Slamdance Film Festival) Muffy Blake Stephyns, a D.C. bureaucrat by day and drag performer by night, is the focus of the documentary "Queen of the Capital," an official selection of the 26th annual Slamdance Film Festival.

The Slamdance Film Festival, the scrappy companion to the bigger Sundance Film Festival, has announced a slate of 20 competition features for its 2020 edition — half of them never screened before.

“Slamdance is above all a place of discovery,” said Peter Baxter, Slamdance’s co-founder and president, in a statement.

The festival, marking its 26th year, is continuing two recent additions to its slate. One is the Breakouts section, which launched in 2019 to give a platform to directors who have made a feature before and “continue to push cinema boundaries in both narrative and documentary forms.” Three films are in the Breakout section, alongside the 11 narrative features and nine feature-length documentaries.

Back for its third year is the Russo Fellowship, a $25,000 prize to a filmmaker, along with mentorship from Slamdance alums Anthony and Joe Russo, the directors of “Avengers: Endgame.” Last year’s recipient, Hannah Peterson, screened her short “East of the River” at Slamdance and Tribeca, signed with a talent agency, and was hired to direct “Shook,” a web series for the Disney Channel produced by the Duplass brothers.

The 26th Slamdance Film Festival runs Jan. 24-30 at the Treasure Mountain Inn, 255 Main St., Park City. Tickets and passes are available at slamdance.com.

Here are the films picked for the narrative and documentary feature competitions, and the Breakout Features program. All synopses are provided by Slamdance.

Narrative features

“A Dog’s Death” • (Uruguay/France/Argentina) “Veterinarian Mario and his wife Silvia enjoy a bourgeois life in Montevideo but two events will disturb their tranquility. A dog surgery goes wrong for Mario and Silvia discovers retirement. They will be dragged from paranoia to violence and from violence to nonsense.“ Directed by Matías Ganz. Cast: Guillermo Arengo, Pelusa Vidal, Soledad Gilmet, Lalo Rotaveria, Ruth Sandoval, Ana Katz.

“Beware of Dog” • (United States/Russia/Germany) “Three young adults experience parallel struggles with mental health and identity. In Moscow, a woman struggles with severe OCD, while her cousin in Berlin tries to build a romantic relationship ignoring her own mental condition. Meanwhile in New York City, a heartbroken boxer faces addiction and lack of self worth in the aftermath of a breakup.” Written and directed by Nadia Bedzhanova. Cast: Marina Vasileva, Buddy Duress, Paula Knüpling, Marina Prados, Kevin Iso, Pavel Tabakov.

“Murmur” • (Canada) “While performing community service at an animal shelter, an older woman begins compulsively adopting pets to ease her loneliness.” Written and directed by Heather Young. Cast: Shan MacDonald.

“Majnuni” • (Bosnia and Herzegovina/United States) “After stalking a broken family through the night in the war-torn city of Sarajevo, Adnan snaps into an altered state of consciousness where his identity becomes entangled in the lives he is following.” Directed by Kouros Alaghband and Drew Hoffman; written by Kouros Alaghband, Drew Hoffman and Adnan Omerović. Cast: Adnan Omerović, Dina Hebib, Barry Del Sherman, Nela Baždar, Emil Ivancic, Mel Flanagan.

“1986” • (Germany/Belarus) “While Elena repeatedly has to drive into the ‘forbidden zone’ of Chernobyl in order to make deals for her father, her life seems more and more contaminated by a destructive force.” Written and directed by Lothar Herzog. Cast: Daria Mureeva, Evgeni Sangadzhiev, Vitali Kotovitski, Alexei Filimonov, Helga Filippova, Alexei Kravchenko.

“Residue” • “A young filmmaker returns home after many years away to write a script about his childhood, only to find his neighborhood unrecognizable and his childhood friends scattered to the wind.” Written and directed by Merawi Gerima. Cast: Obinna Nwachukwu, Dennis Lindsey, Taline Stewart.

“Sanzaru” • “When a mild Filipina nurse is hired by an elderly woman declining into dementia, the walls between this world and the next crumble as she uncovers her employer’s shocking family secret.” Written and directed by Xia Magnus. Cast: Aina Dumlao, Justin Arnold, Jayne Taini, Jon Viktor Corpuz.

“Shell and Joint” • (Japan) “A wild ride into a world of ideas, alternately profound, shallow, funny and horrific, conveyed by outspoken characters in powerful static compositions, in and around a capsule hotel.” Written and directed at Isamu Hirabayashi. Cast: Mariko Tsutsui, Keisuke Horibe, Kanako Higashi, Aiko Sato, Hiromi Kitagawa, Atsuko Sudo, Ayano Kudo, Naoto Nojima.

“Tahara” • “At the funeral for a Hebrew school classmate who took her own life, two best friends find themselves distracted by the teenage complications of lust, social status and wavering faith.” Directed by Olivia Peace. Cast: Rachel Sennott, Madeline Grey DeFreece, Shlomit Azoulay, Daniel Taveras, Bernadette Quigley.

“Tapeworm” • (Canada) “A hypochondriac, a failed comedian, a loner and two naive stoners seek an escape from their pitiful and mundane existence.” Written and directed by Milos Mitrovic and Fabian Velasco. Cast: Adam Brooks, Alex Ateah, Milos Mitrovic, Sam Singer, Stephanie Berrington, Jennifer Mauws, Julie Simpson, Sandro Dibari.

“Thunderbolt in Mine Eye” • “A brainy 14-year-old embarks on an awkward but heartfelt first love relationship with her brother’s best friend while exploring her budding feminism and a gender double standard at their high school.” Directed by Sarah Sherman and Zachary Ray Sherman; written by Jason Loftus and Caylan Ford. Cast: Anjini Taneja Azhar, Quinn Liebling.

Documentary features

“Ask No Questions” • (Canada) “A former Chinese state TV insider is held in a brainwashing camp and compelled to accept the official narrative on a fiery public suicide, which he believes was a government plot.” Directed by Jason Loftus and Eric Pedicelli.

“Bastards’ Road” • “Coming home from war is just the beginning.” Directed by Brian Morrison.

“Big Fur” • “If World Champion taxidermist Ken Walker can’t find Bigfoot, he’ll make one.” Directed by Dan Wayne.

“Higher Love” • “A blue collar father tries to rescue his pregnant, heroin-addicted girlfriend from the dangerous streets of Camden, N.J. Once their son is born, a new journey begins for the fate of the baby and the family’s sobriety that may split them apart forever.” Directed by Hasan Oswald.

“Jasper Mall” • “A year in the life of a dying shopping mall.” Directed by Bradford Thomason and Brett Whitcomb.

“Lovemobil” • (Germany) “Along the country roads of rural Germany, prostitutes from foreign countries work in old caravans when mysteriously one woman is murdered and fear begins to spread into an already dark and surreal world.” Directed by Elke Margarete Lehrenkrauss.

“Maxima” • (United States/Peru) “A multibillion-dollar corporation meets its match in a fearless Indigenous woman who remains uncowed after years of violent intimidation.” Directed by Claudia Sparrow.

“An Ordinary People” • (South Africa/Eswatini/Namibia) “Born out of crime and largely marginalized by mainstream society emerges the story of Car Spinning in South Africa.” Directed by Ernest Nkosi.

“Queen of the Capital” • “DC bureaucrat by day, drag queen by night, Muffy Blake Stephyns follows her dream of leading a group of vibrant drag performers on a crusade for the community.” Directed by Joshua Davidsburg.

Breakout features

“Close Quarters” • (Mexico) “In a time in which it is essential to question gender roles, this film explores, confronts and breaks apart man’s darkest insecurities and vices.” Written and directed by Andres Clariond. Cast: Paulina Gaitan, Jose Pescina, Jorge Jimenez.

“The Penny Black” • “The estranged son of a con man fights temptation, paranoia and his own nefarious legacy as he searches for the rightful owner of a mysterious, million-dollar stamp collection.” Directed by Joe Saunders.

“The Wind: A Documentary Thriller” • (Poland/Slovakia) “A multithread story on a clash between people and the forces of nature, woven into a documentary thriller.” Written and directed by Michal Bielawski.

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