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Slamdance success story

Growing festival tries to stay true to its mantra

Since its inception in 1995, the Slamdance Film Festival has adhered to a basic mantra: “By filmmakers, for filmmakers.” This year, delegates from around the world plan to workshop strategies to keep that goal intact.

During a three-hour event called the Filmmaker Summit on Jan. 23, panelists will address changes in the landscape of independent film for a mass audience: While Park City attendees converse about the future of the industry from a room on Main Street, others can see the discussion via live stream on the fest’s site. Anyone watching can submit questions to the speakers, who include Steven Soderbergh — whose Spalding Gray docu, “And Everything Is Going Fine,” will preem at the fest later in the day — and DIY filmmakers from Finland and the Philippines.

Slamdance co-founder Peter Baxter says he hopes the summit helps the fest to reach beyond its geographical limitations. “It’s not just about being in Park City,” he says. “It’s about how we connect with filmmakers around the world.”

Veteran director and DIY activist Lance Weiler, whose online hub the Workbook Project is co-sponsoring the new media-centered event, says the festival provides the right venue for such an event. “With the DIY growth the festival came from, it’s a great place to take this discussion,” he says. “Now that indie film is so democratized, the (goal) is sustaining it.”

The glut that democratization has created is a challenge for Slamdance programmers. Launched in the shadow of Sundance by filmmakers who were rejected by the larger fest, Slamdance has itself grown competitive. Baxter says the fest received more than 5,000 submissions this year, a significant increase from a submission pool that numbered less than 4,000 in 2008. Fest breakouts like “Paranormal Activity” — which DreamWorks purchased after it screened at Slamdance — continue to raise its profile.

The documentary section, where “King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters” unspooled, has already generated interest: Anticipation is swirling around Yony Leyser’s “William Burroughs: A Man Within,” and Baxter singles out “Mamachas del Ring,” which examines the lives of Bolivian female wrestlers.

Despite the overtures from the industry, however, Baxter says the 10 narrative features and eight documentaries in competition reflect creative, rather than professional, agendas. “We have films where it really is art for art’s sake,” he insists. “They’re not being made specifically to be sold to a studio.”

Nevertheless, “Down Terrace,” a dark Brit comedy that premiered at London’s Raindance and shows as a Special Screening, already has been picked up by Magnolia Pictures. And sociopathic-killer drama “Tony” — also from the U.K. — has been gathering buzz.

Magnolia exec Tom Quinn says the fest provides an ideal venue for the launch of the company’s latest acquisition. “It’s the perfect place to bring it to international buyers,” he adds. “It’s cramped but intimate. You can’t beat that.”

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