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Slamdance keeps focus on filmmakers

Rebel festival touts alternatives to main event

Still a rebel after 14 years, the Slamdance Film Festival is gearing up for its 2008 edition with hopes to match the sales success of recent go-rounds.

The fest, which runs nearly concurrently (Jan. 17-25) with Sundance and shares the same city, has grown in size and clout thanks to some key deals. Last year’s vidgamer docu “The King of Kong” struck a distribution deal with Picturehouse and sold its feature remake rights to New Line. In 2005, opening-night docu “Mad Hot Ballroom” sold to Paramount Classics.

Culled from more than 3,500 submissions, Slamdance 2008’s program includes narrative and docu feature competitions, shorts, animation and experimental categories plus the Twilight horror pics.

With several selections already garnering some early buzz, fest prexy Peter Baxter points to Oren Peli’s horror pic “Paranormal Activity” as likely to attract attention. He notes the pic is a great example of a Slamdance film: “It was made for a really small amount of money and shows what a new talent can do with limited means to attract a broad audience — a really large audience if a marketing company gets behind it.”

Programming director Sarah Diamond adds to the buzz list with competition feature “Fix,” a darkly comic road picture by first-time helmer Tao Ruspoli. Another feature Diamond predicts could break out is “Trailer Park of Terror.” “It’s one of our Twilight films, and I think it’s going to be a big hit.”

“Obviously, last year one of our biggest success stories was ‘King of Kong,'” Diamond adds, “so people are really looking at our documentaries.”

From a competition slate of 10 docs, Diamond points to some of the ones she thinks will get noticed: Wesley Willis’ “Joyride,” about the underground rock icon; “I Think We’re Alone Now,” concerning obsessed fans of ’80s pop diva Tiffany; and “My Mother’s Garden,” an intensely personal film about a woman afflicted with hoarding disorder and her children’s efforts to clean her house.

The fest also is known for showcasing short film talent. Past successes include 2000’s “The Accountant” by Ray McKinnon, which went on to win the short film Oscar; and Jared Hess’ “Peluca” in 2003, the basis for “Napoleon Dynamite,” featuring much of the same cast and crew. For 2008, Diamond points to shorts “Tripp,” by Slamdance alumn Alex Rojas, and horror-comedy “There’s a Werewolf in My Attic,” by Sam Thompson, as potential breakouts.

Filmmaker tradition

Though Slamdance has had its successes over the years and served as a launchpad for talents such as Christopher Nolan and Marc Forster, Baxter is quick to point out that the fest’s longevity and its alternative offerings are the product of its fastidiousness to its creed: By Filmmakers, for Filmmakers. Slamdance alumni select the initial round of films, and no one Slamdance exec has the final word.

“It’s the backbone of the festival,” Baxter says. “Without democratic programming, we wouldn’t be Slamdance.”

Outside of the January festival, Slamdance holds a screenplay competition that awards winners in four categories: feature, short, teleplay and horror. In partnership with Angel Baby Entertainment and Maverick, Slamdance now produces the winning horror script. A feature called “Slaughter” is currently in the works.

The Slamdance Media Group and Slamdance.com, meanwhile, offer indie filmmakers distribution opportunities in both traditional and alternative media. And the Slamdance Games Festival, launched during last year’s fest, is slated to take place in Los Angeles in the spring or summer.