Indie spirit, bidding war warm Slamdance

PARK CITY — If there was a single defining moment of the 2005 Slamdance Film Festival, it occurred on the third day of screenings, when simultaneous technical breakdowns in the fest’s two main screening rooms made for an unusually demanding test of co-founder Dan Mirvish’s famous resourcefulness.

After staging an impromptu “mid-screening Q&A” in the theater showing David Greenspan’s “Mall Cop” while an audio problem was remedied, Mirvish quickly shuttled next door to Mark A. Lewis’ “Ill Fated,” where the print of the film had spun loose from the projector just five minutes before the end. With no quick solution in sight, Mirvish first suggested Lewis and the film’s producers act out the film’s final scenes. Then, thinking better of the idea, he popped a DVD copy of the film into a laptop computer, around which the eager audience hovered to view the ending.

While technical glitches are not uncommon at festivals from Sundance to Cannes, rarely are they resolved with such warmth and good humor on behalf of fest, filmmaker and audience.

In the case of “Ill Fated,” Slamdance’s inaugural “laptop love-in” was anything but a bad omen — three days later the film’s Canadian rights were purchased by ThinkFilm.

It’s a winning example of what first-year festival director Kathleen McInnis called “the collective energy about film” that drew her to Slamdance after many seasons on the staff of the Seattle Film Festival. That, and the time she witnessed Mirvish standing in the middle of a Park City street, battling fierce winds as he tried to put up festival posters. “At Slamdance,” McInnis added, “it doesn’t matter how many of the elements are against us.”

A Park City mainstay

So it is that, in 2005, Slamdance has defied all early naysayers to enter its 11th year as a Park City mainstay. “The start of the second decade feels like the start of a new season, a growing up,” noted McInnis, and one doesn’t have to look far to see how.

New venues in Park City and Salt Lake City brought the fest’s total number of screens to five; a competition for original teleplays, sponsored by 20th Century Fox unit Fox 21, showed Slamdance’s interest in screens both small and large; and another competition, for videogames, acknowledged the ever-thinning line between cinema and cyberspace.

As the fest drew to a close, rumors persisted of a bidding war for director Marilyn Agrelo’s hugely popular documentary “Mad Hot Ballroom” that may result in the biggest acquisitions deal in Slamdance history.

That possibility struck a mixture of joy and terror in the hearts of McInnis and Slamdance president Peter Baxter. Like proud but nervous parents, they want to see Slamdance grow while keeping it true to its grassroots ethics and “By Filmmakers, for filmmakers” motto.

“If 2005 ends up being regarded as the year Slamdance came of age, so be it,” Baxter chuckled. “But as far as I’m concerned, we came of age years ago.”

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