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Slamdance Film Festival Celebrates 25th Anniversary

Slamdance Festival

The Slamdance Film Festival returns to the Treasure Mountain Inn from January 25th to the 31st. Organizers are celebrating the 25th Anniversary of what started as an alternative to the Sundance Festival.

The director of Slamdance, and a co-founder of the festival, Peter Baxter said it’s amazing to consider what resulted from an event started by some film-makers who weren’t accepted into Sundance.

“It’s hard to believe really that we’ve come this far but yeah instead of walking away into the sunset when we didn’t get our films into Sundance way back when in 1995, a wild bunch of filmmakers got together to do something different. We didn’t know that we’d make it through 1995. Park City Chief of Police at that time was sure we wouldn’t. ‘Your days are numbered,’ he told us. All we knew is we wanted a showcase for new filmmakers like us. After we got through the first year, we decided to continue Slamdance for artists like us.”

He said they’re proud that Slamdance is an artist-led festival, on their own terms, and that they have discovered film-making talents who have changed the industry.

It’s also important, he said, that the event still takes place at the top of Main Stret, at the Treasure Mountain Inn.

“People have often asked us about the size of Slamdance in Park City. We’ve been very happy and very fortunate to be at Treasure Mountain Inn. Do we want to grow the festival? What we’ve always thought is that one of the reasons why we’ve become this strong community is we’ve been able to bring everyone together. We’ve been able to do that at Treasure Mountain Inn and that’s why we’ve always been very careful about growing the size of the festival. We think we might lose that if we start going into too many locations.”

A highlight of this year’s festival is the presentation of their Founders Award, given for only the third time, to Steven Soderbergh.

Soderbergh put independent film on the map when his film “Sex, Lies and Videotap” played at Sundance in 1989. But he also became an early supporter of Slamdance.

“This is around the time when we were trying to establish Slamdance. It’s quite difficult to do and we’re getting pushback, but here was someone who really had become the poster-child filmmaker, if you like, of Sundance he’s supporting us. That really meant a lot. Steven’s executive produced film “The Daytrippers” which he had at Slamdance in ’96. That was a very important film for us because not only was it the first grand jury prize winner it was also a film that showed that it could be as popular as any film presenting itself or selling to the festival around the year. It sold very well that year.”

They are also presenting Soderbergh’s latest film, “High Flying Bird.”

“It’s really about basketball, and yet we never see a basketball game. During a pro basketball lockout, a sports agent pitches a rookie basketball client on an intriguing controversial business proposition. One of the great aspects of “High Flying Bird” is that it shows us how important it is to dream with our eyes open. It’s really about the reality of sports for so many. In this case its to do with NBA and how incredibly competitive it is to be able to make it into the NBA as a player. The reality of that, the challenges of that.”

Baxter said their opening night film “Ski Bum” is about Warren Miller, a pioneer in both the ski world and independent film.

“So, it’s really a driving force in the development of the ski industry in the US and really throughout the world. What is great about this documentary is that its also about a filmmaker who has developed independent film and the challenges that he faced both professionally and personally in order to do that. I think often times with Warren Miller, independent filmmaking as a whole forgets the fact that he really was a trail blazer. Here was a filmmaker that really did it himself. He never asked for anyone’s permission to make his film.”

The closing night film is called, “The Teacher”

“It’s about an immigrant teacher actually that comes to the United States and becomes immersed in our culture and also in the education system. So, it’s a reflection upon that moment and where we are as a society today around education, the challenges a teacher faces. Here is really a great film and it’s not a premiere. It actually premiered at another film festival, but we felt it didn’t really get the recognition that we really wanted to see for our alumni Mark. We’re very proud to bring this film to Park City.”

Known for getting all the facts right, as well as his distinctive sign-off, Rick covered Summit County meetings and issues for 35 years on KPCW. He now heads the Friday Film Review team.
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