Indie fest wraps eighth year

PARK CITY — The eighth edition of the Slamdance Film Festival boasted another strong cross-section of films from across the American indie and world cinema spectrums, most by first-time filmmakers working on budgets well below $1 million.

Slamdance has expanded into a year-round globe-spanning operation, which in August 2001 launched a sister festival in Germany, Slamdance-Cologne, which unspooled a dozen Teuton pics by filmmakers meeting the Slamdance criteria.

And while the fest continues to lack an industry presence anywhere near that of Sundance, the two festivals now seem less like rivals and more like cordial neighbors quietly going about their respective business.

Impressive roster

By now, Slamdance can sport its own roster of impressive alumni, including Christopher Nolan (1999′s “Following”) and Marc Forster (1996′s “Loungers”), as well as Anthony and Joe Russo, whose 1997 entry, “Pieces,” brought them to the attention of Steven Soderbergh, who in turn exec produced their upcoming “Welcome to Collinwood.”

And while this year’s competition may have been short of any obvious breakout pic or director, there were extraordinary visions elsewhere on Slamdance’s screens.

Screening out-of-competition, Brian Flemming’s “Nothing So Strange,” with its anticapitalist fever-dream premise about the assassination of Bill Gates, created heavy buzz all up and down Park City’s ski slopes before it even premiered. The film itself is more than just a novel premise, going off in myriad unexpected directions and setting something of a high bar for the mockumentary subgenre.

Docus shine

But the best efforts on display were unquestionably the straight documentaries, which accounted for five of the 12 competition features. (Unlike Sundance, there aren’t separate docu and narrative competitions.) Among them, Mark Moskowitz’s “Stone Reader,” which won both the Audience Award for best feature and the Special Jury Prize — the fest’s top award — is a masterful piece of nonfiction filmmaking on the order of Terry Zwigoff’s “Crumb,” while Lucia Small’s “My Father the Genius,” winner of the Jury Prizes for documentary and editing, has the raw emotional power missing from “A Beautiful Mind.”

Among additional prize-winners: Jury Prize for best narrative feature went to Eitan Gorlin’s “The Holy Land,” and Jury Prize for cinematography to Przemyslaw Wojcieszek’s “Louder Than Bombs.”

Fest wrapped with a 33rd anniversary screening of Michael Ritchie’s “Downhill Racer,” helping to usher in the forthcoming Winter Olympics while making a hat-tip to pic’s star (and Sundance founder) Robert Redford.

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