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Slamdance festival grows as it focuses on emerging talent

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 1 2015 8:48 p.m. MDT

PARK CITY — As Slamdance Film Festival director Peter Baxter sits unassumingly in the back of a Main Street restaurant sipping on a hot chocolate, he pauses to reflect on how much Park City's "other" film festival has grown over the past 16 years.

"Some things are just as they were in 1995," he said. "But I think one of the obvious ways that it's grown is the sheer amount of submissions we get."

Slamdance's mantra is still "By filmmakers. For filmmakers." When Slamdance started in 1995, there were 48 film submissions. This year, filmmakers had to watch more than 5,½½½ movies before selecting the ones that would become part of this year's festival.

Located at the top of Main Street at the Treasure Mountain Inn, 255 Main, Slamdance is stronger than ever as it once again runs concurrently with the Sundance Film Festival.

"It's great both are together. They complement one another. It makes for a great American indie film event," Baxter said.

But whereas Sundance often features already established filmmakers or those who may already have two or three feature films under their belts, Baxter said Slamdance remains committed to new and emerging talent.

"These films come to Slamdance without distribution. They've been made for very, very small amounts of money. Usually they don't have any star names, they're not star driven. They're purely independently made films, 1½½ percent," he said.

This year, Baxter said Slamdance features some outstanding documentary and narrative films. He declines to single out any individual movie, however.

"Each programming voice is as important as the other," he said.

The documentaries this year include "Candyman," about the life David Klein, inventor of the Jelly Belly jellybean; a film about troubled dirt-bike legend Larry Linkogle; and a portrait of Beat author William Burroughs.

National Lampoon, one of this year's sponsors for Slamdance, is using Slamdance for the world premiere of "Snatched," a film starring "Weekend At Bernie's" co-stars Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman, reunited for the first time since the Bernie movies. The film is not an official festival entry.

Both McCarthy and Silverman were on hand for the weekend premiere in Park City.

"So, did you like it? Was it funny?" Silverman asked the crowd after.

Though it was a supposed to be a designated Q&A session with the film's actors and director, all of them were let easily off the hook when no one in the audience had question sans one tongue-in-cheek inquiry which made reference to the movie's premise, which, believe it or not, is more off the wall than "Weekend at Bernie's."

Also in attendance at Slamdance this year is Academy Award-winning director Steven Soderbergh. The appearances by some of Hollywood's best-known stars and directors give a boost to the independent film festival.

"Those types of filmmakers help support our community by bringing exposure for the festival, which in turn supports the whole program," Baxter said. "But I believe increasingly the American public isn't so concerned about (star power in movies), that the American public are quite willing to embrace something that is different and unique and creates an event."

Baxter points to the film "Paranormal Activity," a movie that started at Slamdance. It was made for a "very, very low budget" and eventually grossed more than $1½½ million for Paramount, becoming the company's most profitable film ever.

Part of that, Baxter said, was the hype created on the Internet by the filmmakers before the movie was released. He believes it's a tactic that will become more prominent in the near future.

"What happens after you've made your film is just as important as it was when you're making your film. You really, now as an independent filmmaker, have to take charge of what you've done after you've made it," Baxter said. "Long gone are the days, I think, in which you could expect your film would be picked up for a decent acquisition fee."

What Baxter continues to enjoy about Slamdance and the whole atmosphere of the week is the nurturing environment that is created.

"Anything is possible," he said. "And I promise you, many will go very far."

e-mail: preavy@desnews.com

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