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Slamdance Hits 21 With Sense of Anarchy Intact

If the organizers of the Slamdance Film Festival wanted to capitalize on the current industry zeitgeist, they couldn’t have done much better than programming documentary “Dennis Rodman’s Big Bang in Pyongyang” right alongside James Franco’s “Yosemite,” with the “Interview” actor appearing for a Q&A with Variety’s Scott Foundas. The ripped-from-the-headlines timing was purely coincidental, of course, and that’s precisely how the fest’s leaders like it. Fest runs Jan. 23-29.

Taking place once again at Park City’s Treasure Mountain Inn, Slamdance still entrusts its lineup selection to an ever widening corps of programmers — more than 100 participated this year, looking at more than 5,000 submitted films — drawn from filmmakers who’ve participated in the festival before. Providing what president and co-founder Peter Baxter calls the “organized chaos” of the festival, the diffuse array of programming voices is essential to the fest’s mission.

“We allow our filmmakers and our programmers to make all their own decisions, and that creates this sort of film democracy, if you will,” Baxter says. “The chaos is upheld throughout all the programs.”

According to Anna Germanidi, a vet Slamdance staffer in her first year as festival director, themes nonetheless tend to emerge, organically and “randomly.” This year, she cites a number of documentaries that focus on comebacks — “characters who used to be famous, now getting back to doing what they knew how to do best” — as well as a preponderance of horror pics and thrillers in the narrative competition.
Keeping the festival program in the hands of filmmakers is one way that the fest has retained a spirit of independence, maintaining an anarchic vibe even as it enters its second decade. It also fosters a sense of community among participants.

“We work very closely with the filmmakers themselves so that they can get the most out of Slamdance,” Baxter says. “A lot of them have never been to a film festival before, so we try to support them in guiding them and letting them know how to navigate the experience. ”

Having marked its 20th anniversary last winter, Slamdance has grown increasingly active in promoting films during the rest of the year, particularly through its On the Road traveling theatrical showcase program, and its VOD platform Slamdance Studios. It’s also grown from a rough-and-tumble competition to the contemporaneous Sundance Film Festival into something of a wilder, weirder complement, though Baxter confesses the two Park City fests could work better together.

“There has been some thawing, if you like, over the years in (the relationship between Slamdance and Sundance), but we’re not quite there yet,” he says. “There’s a lot more we could do together in better supporting independent filmmakers. But in general, I would say that about film festivals all over the States — I think there should be more cooperation in supporting filmmakers. And that is the most important thing, at the end of the day. The filmmakers come first, not the festival.”

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