Upstart fest meshes attitude with altitude

Though it celebrated “Ten Years Underground” this year, outlasting many of its original Park City naysayers, the Slamdance Film Festival proudly maintains a newborn’s insouciance.

Indeed, staffers and filmmakers were gearing up at the fest’s Jan. 24 wrap for “a sled-off” against their Sundance counterparts at a top-secret locale somewhere behind Slamdance’s Main Street headquarters.

But there are undeniable signs of maturity at the fest, and the greatest dilemma for Slamdance in coming years may be staying true to its iconoclastic roots while becoming ever more an institution.

Signs of the fest’s viability and reach abound: In the past year alone, Paul Rachman, head of the fest’s New York-based operations, brought Slamdance films to Delhi as part of the On the Road series. And two top prize winners from Slamdance’s 2002 screenplay competition went on to become two of this year’s most talked-about Sundance hits: “The Woodsman” and “Maria Full of Grace.”

Two other 2004 Sundance competitors, “Chrystal” and “Napoleon Dynamite,” rep the work of recent Slamdance alumni. And attendance and revenue this year were up 15%, even before taking into account the addition of a Salt Lake City screening venue.

All in all, it made for what fest prexy and co-founder Peter Baxter refers to as “a transitional year” — and not just because the prominence of “films” shot and/or completed digitally resulted in a veritable absence of actual celluloid.

“We have created a brand and we do have plans to build on that in a commercial sense,” Baxter says. “There’s the same attention to filmmakers and the competition as before, but we’ve prospered, and we’ve done it on our own terms.”

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