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Sundance Diaries: A brief detour to Slamdance

I step off the bus onto historic Main St. in Park City, UT on Monday not looking for a Sundance venue. There's another film festival going on in town and today I'm headed to support a film with Austin connections at my very first Slamdance screening.

Founded in 1995 by a group of Sundance rejects, Slamdance aims to be a truer representation of independent filmmaking and takes place every year at the same time as Sundance. Their driving mantra is "By Filmmakers For Filmmakers." As such, each year's competition lineup is hand chosen by filmmakers on the Slamdance programming team.

The festival's big discoveries include Christopher Nolan (Inception), Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite) and Oren Peli (Paranormal Activity). 

Each feature in competition must be from a first time director and the budget cannot exceed $1 million. The formula has worked — there are several thousand entries every year and the festival's big discoveries include Christopher Nolan (Inception), Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite) and Oren Peli (Paranormal Activity). 

I head up the steep hill past The Egyptian, one of Sundance's venues, and cross the street over to Treasure Mountain Inn, home of the Slamdance Film Festival since 1997. Differences between Sundance and Slamdance are immediately apparent.

First of all, this building houses the entire festival (Sundance takes over dozens of buildings and rooms across Park City). There's a table that serves as a box office and a merchandise table in the lobby (Sundance has entire rooms dedicated to these functions). Around the corner from that are some roped off stretches of the hallway that serve as the queuing area for the screening rooms (Sundance has massive tents near each venue with space for hundreds of people to wait in line). 

I already have a ticket, which I received from my good friend and online personality Bobby Miller (whose short film Tub premiered at Sundance in 2010 and played SXSW the same year), who had a hand in the film I'm about to see. Produced by Austinite Kelly Williams (former Austin Film Festival programming director, current Director of Programming at Lone Star Film Society and producer of Kat Candler's Sundance short Hellion), Holiday Road is an anthology film in which 13 different directors tak on 12 holidays in short segments not longer than eight minutes and at a budget of $100 or less.

Holiday Road is an anthology film in which 13 different directors take on 12 holidays in short segments not longer than eight minutes and at a budget of $100 or less.

I find the area where I'm supposed to be waiting. It's 20 minutes before the screening and I'm the first one in line (try getting to a Sundance screening 20 minutes early and see how far back you are). A few others join me shortly and a real sense of community becomes apparent.

The people I meet all seem to be filmmakers and true film fans. They've been here all weekend together, seeing the same faces each day and the true spirit of Slamdance presents itself before I'm even in the screening room. 

Once inside the theater (which is really just a hotel meeting room with some chairs, a screen and a projector), people quickly take their places and introductions begin. The last thing mentioned before the movie rolls is that the room will get hot and that, like all Slamdance screenings, this one is clothing optional. 

Holiday Road begins and the irreverent tone is immediately apparent when the January segment (which serves as the anthology wraparound) presents two men who can't stop counting down on New Year's Eve. A brief celebration after reaching 1 is followed by the clock restarting and the year long countdown beginning in the tens of millions.

Like most of the segments, it really is impossible to explain. It's an interesting experiment and the results are frequently hilarious with the humor coming not only from the mostly spot-on writing but also from the creative corners cut by the filmmakers working on such a miniscule budget. The entire room erupts in frequent fits of laughter and applause. 

 Don't get me wrong, I love Sundance and would never think of not attending, but I can already see that next year I'm going to have the difficult task of splitting more of my time between it and Slamdance.

 

The movie ends, people mingle for a bit before the room is cleared out for the next screening. I meet up with Bobby to congratulate him on his segment, an animated piece set on a March holiday he worked on with his talented girlfriend Daron Nefcy. The in-town cast and crew from all 12 segments head across the street to the pub for a few celebratory rounds. I join them for a bit before heading to a Sundance premier.

I leave my brief Slamdance experience feeling quite good. In only a couple of hours I've meet a large number of people, enjoyed a great movie and had unrestricted access to the filmmakers whose work I was there to discover. Don't get me wrong, I love Sundance and would never think of not attending, but I can already see that next year I'm going to have the difficult task of splitting more of my time between it and Slamdance.

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