Slamdance Film Festival: A Brief History

By January 17, 2013

Most people associate the month of January and Park City, Utah with Sundance Film Festival…but how much do you know about the Slamdance Film Festival?

Don’t panic, I’m here to help!

Founded in 1995 by filmmakers Dan Mirvish, Jon Fitzgerald, Shane Kuhn, Paul Rachman and former BBC producer Peter Baxter (festival head since 1997), Slamdance was the answer to Sundance’s increasing popularity and first-time filmmakers finding themselves slowly being pushed out for bigger budget films made by high-profile directors.

Slamdance emphasizes “self-governance amongst independents, and claims to deliver what filmmakers go to festivals for: a chance to show their work and a launching point for their careers.”

Earning a WELL deserved reputation for premiering films by first-time writers and directors working within limited budgets,  Slamdance also has the distinction of being the ONLY film festival that’s fully programmed by filmmakers and film submissions MUST be made by first-time directors and the entire budget must come in under $1 million.

Although they’ve gained massive popularity throughout the years, they have adamantly stayed true to their roots and as a result, have been responsible for discovering some massive talent; past Slamdance alumni include directors Christopher Nolan (Memento, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight/TDKR Rises), Marc Forster (Monster’s Ball), Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite), Seth Gordon (The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters) and screenwriters Joshua Marston (Maria Full of Grace) and Nicole Kassell (The Woodsman).

Other milestones in the festival’s history include Paramount Pictures’ immediately buying the documentary Mad Hot Ballroom for the “largest amount ever for a feature-length documentary” after its screening in 2005 and Seth Gordon’s The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters bought by New Line Cinema after a bidding war in 2007.

One of the most notable films to premiere at the festival was 2008’s Paranormal Activity which (after being made for $10,000) went on to break the 2009 box-office record for a “film playing at fewer than 200 theaters” by making $7.1 million their opening weekend and made $193 million worldwide by 2010.

But it’s not JUST about directing; Slamdance also has the Screenwriting and Teleplay Competition, dedicated to discovering and supporting up-and-coming writers.

Consisting of four categories (Feature, Short/Webisode, Horror, Teleplay), the competition welcomes screenplay submissions from anywhere in the world, any budget and any topic with awards to the top three scripts from each category and a Grand Prize to the best overall screenplay.

I like to peruse their official website’s Showcase section every now and then to see what hilariousness, trailers, interviews short films or tongue-in-cheek pieces of advice are up for grabs on Slamdance TV.

One of my fave shows on the channel has to be Modern Imbecile’s Idiot’s Guide To Making Movies For Dummies.

After learning the festival lineup includes films about “disco, porn, hacking and three virgins inspired by J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher In The Rye“, I WISH I were going this year!!

*Bonus Slamdance Fun Fact: co-founder Dan Mirvish is one of the minds behind Martin Eisenstadt, a.k.a. the Republican Party’s worst nightmare during the 2008 Presidential Election; the discoverer of “The Hathaway Effect” (theory when actress Anne Hathaway is in the news, the share price for Warren Buffett’s Berkshire-Hathaway increases); and in 2004 led a campaign to have the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences bring back the Best Original Musical category – which the Academy promptly canceled the category altogether (even AFTER he and other filmmakers submitted the number of films needed –  two of them by Mirvish).

This year’s Slamdance Film Festival begins Friday, January 18th and ends Thursday, January 24th.

For more info on tickets to this year’s festival, film schedules and when you can submit for next year’s festival, hit the official website.

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Cricket Lee
Star Wars fangirl. Named Best Kisser by Time Magazine. CEO/Host: Girl Gamer; host of Gecken: GeekNation; writer: Dread Central. You'll have a crush on me soon. Vote Quimby. Twitter: @crixlee