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Pierre Vinet, New Line Cinema
Sean Astin, Elijah Wood, Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan play hobbits in "Rings."

The characterization may not be fair, but for 11 years the Slamdance Film Festival has been seen by many movie-industry types as merely the Sundance stepchild.

Or maybe step-sibling.

Or maybe petulant step-sibling, since the festival was founded by filmmakers Dan Mirvish and Peter Baxter after both had features rejected by Sundance.

And the notion is only reinforced by the two festivals' concurrent scheduling in Park City each year, as if Slamdance is merely riding on Sundance's considerable coattails.

But as Hobbits invade this year's festival, Slamdance may finally get the respect it deserves.

Slamdance has scored what is arguably the biggest star event in Park City this year — the documentary "Ringers: Lord of the Fans," a look at J.R.R. Tolkein fans, narrated by "Lord of the Rings" star Dominic Monaghan, who is also a star on the new hit TV series "Lost."

Monaghan is expected to be in attendance for some of the film's screenings, along with "Rings" co-stars Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Viggo Mortensen and Billy Boyd.

Of course, over the past decade, this "festival of filmmakers, for filmmakers" has developed its own identity and has a number of success stories to its credit:

Christopher Nolan, whose 2001 thriller "Memento" debuted at Sundance, first emerged at Slamdance with "Following" in 1999. (Nolan is now directing this "Batman Begins" for release in July).

• Utahn Jared Hess used the success of his Slamdance-selected short film "Peluca" in 2003 to make a longer version of the same story, which eventually became "Napoleon Dynamite," the sleeper hit of the 2004 Sundance Film Festival.

Filmmaker Marc Forster, whose "Finding Neverland" is expected to be a strong Oscar contender this year, was at Slamdance in 1996 with the Audience Award-winner "Loungers."

Slamdance award-winning films "The Daytrippers" (1996), "20 Dates" (1998) and "Man of the Century" (1999) all received studio distribution.

The 2005 Slamdance Film Festival starts its eight-day run on Friday and will feature world and U.S. premiere screenings of 23 features.

The slate "represents an amazing array of worldwide cinema," according to Sarah Diamond, the festival's director of programming. "We have come into our 11th year with a film program more diverse than ever. True to form, Slamdance will introduce the Class of 2005 as strong, vibrant and talented filmmakers."

Like Sundance, Slamdance has also placed an added emphasis on documentary features, two of which will bookend the festival — Marilyn Agrelo's ballroom-dancing piece "Mad Hot Ballroom," which will be the opening-night premiere, and "I Know I'm Not Alone," musician Michael Franti's personal video diary shot in Israel, Iraq and Palestine during the summer and fall of 2004, which will be the closing-night event.

"We feel the documentary film to be the last stand of truly independent filmmaking," said festival director Kathleen McInnis. "It's not yet co-opted by studios or the mini-majors but instead provides fresh voices from filmmakers almost always nearly shy of resources but rich in stories.

"We couldn't be more excited to bookend our festival with two such strong films. They will encapsulate an extraordinary lineup of films that showcase remarkable risk-taking, passion and cinematic verve."

New Slamdance events this year include the BIG C Gaming Competition and the Teleplay Competition. The former is a contest for independent game developers and includes opportunities for the general public to play the games along with competition judges.

E-mail: [email protected]