As Sundance racks up more and more high profile ‘indies’ with big names and distribution deals already on the table, Slamdance, running simultaneously in Park City, has become the home for ‘true indies.’ These are often films that settle in for a long run on the festival circuit before snagging a VOD release and have few recognizable faces in them. But they also take a lot more chances, sometimes being really, well, bizarre. Last year I saw a great documentary at Slamdance about an MMA Fighter/Mom called GLENNA (you may have caught it on Showtime recently). This year I grabbed press credentials for Slamdance and I hope to catch a bunch of films in and around my Sundance schedule – in fact there are several I made my top priority. This year’s Slamdance looks to have programmed a lot of thrillers and horror, more so than I remember in past years, so if my Can’t Miss Picks tend to draw heavily from those, I guess my preferences will be obvious.  Remember to follow me on twitter @bearsfonte for my up to the minute Slamdance and Sundance reactions.

  Bloodsucking Bastards
Director: Brian James O’Connell; Screenwriters: Ryan Mitts, Dr. God
Cast: Fran Kranz, Pedro Pascal, Joey Kern, Joel Murray, Emma Fitzpatrick, Yvette Yates, Justin Ware, Marshall Givens
Logline: When an office worker at a soul-crushing company loses his coveted promotion to his longtime nemesis, he begins to fear for more than his job as strange disappearances and bizarre deaths suggest the office is turning into a haven for the undead.
Why You Should Care: Clearly this is Shaun of the Dead meets Office Space. It’s such a great premise it’s amazing it hasn’t been done yet. It reminds me of my favorite Jonathan Coulton song “Re: Your Brains:”

Heya Tom, it’s Bob from the office down the hall
It’s good to see you buddy, how’ve you been?
Things have been OK for me except that I’m a zombie now
I really wish you’d let us in

Fran Kranz made a spectacular unlikely hero in A CABIN IN THE WOODS and had an amazing cameo in festival favorite PUTZEL, so I’m excited to see him take on a company of undead.

  Body
Directors & Screenwriters: Dan Berk, Robert Olsen
Cast: Helen Rogers, Alexandra Turshen, Lauren Molina, Larry Fessenden
Logline: After three twenty-something girls break into a mansion and inadvertently murder the groundskeeper, they slowly self-destruct as they decide what to do with the dead body in the living room.
Why You Should Care: Did anyone else see the BLING RING and wish it was, well good? Here we’ve got a cabin in the woods style set-up, with an isolated location, and ‘Donkey Punch’ dead body. With a cast of newcomers and directors with ‘Funny Or Die’ credits, this wintery thriller looks to have plenty of surprises.

  Clinger
Director: Michael Steves; Screenwriters: Michael Steves, Gabi Chennisi Duncombe, Bubba Fish
Cast: Vincent Martella, Jennifer Laporte, Julia Aks, Lisa Wilcox, Debbie Rochon
Logline: When her possessive high school boyfriend dies in a gruesome accident, Fern Petersen’s life is thrown into turmoil. Things go from bad to worse when he returns as a love-sick ghost to kill her so they can be together for eternity.
Why You Should Care: I believe on the poster that is a teddy bear holding a bloody knife?  The film was also shot in Houston at the production team’s high school.  Martella is best known for those over the age of 14 as the kid who got the entire prison compound sick in The Walking Dead.  For those under 14, he is the voice of Phineas on Phineas and Ferb

  Darkness on the Edge of Town
Director & Screenwriter: Patrick Ryan
Cast: Emma Eliza Regan, Brian Gleeson, Maura Foley, Emma Willis, Sam Monaghan
A troubled teenage sharpshooter decides to avenge the death of her estranged sister after she is found murdered in a public bathroom.
Why You Should Care: After playing a couple festivals in its home country of Ireland, the Springsteen-titled revenge thriller makes its international premiere at Slamdance. The two leading characters are both women (I’m sensing a theme at this year’s Slamdance – at least in the films I’m interested in) and from the get go, you know who the killer is, so the movie is all tension. So excited for this one.

  Dennis Rodman’s Big Bang in Pyongyang
Director: Colin Offland; Screenwriter: Matt Baker
An intimate behind the scenes look at Dennis Rodman’s unlikely friendship with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and the staging of the most controversial game of basketball the world has never seen.
Why You Should Care: North Korea seems to be having a bizarre influence on film right now, so it will be interesting to see not just the film, but the reaction the film gets. I doubt Dennis Rodman will be there, but he has certainly showed up in crazier places.

  Diamond Tongues
Director: Brian Robertson, Pavan Moondi; Screenwriter: Pavan Moondi
Cast: Leah Goldstein, Nick Flanagan, Leah Wildman, Adam Gurfinkel,
Edith Welland is an actress. Things haven’t been going very well. When her ex-boyfriend becomes an actor on a whim and almost immediately books a leading role, Edith decides if she’s going to get ahead, she’ll need to get ruthless.
Why You Should Care: Leah Goldstein is Leah Fay of July Talk, a quirky Toronto indie band known for sort of chaotic live shows, and a Tom Waits does Americana vibe. This movie has her in a very not so nice role, which she should shine in, despite this being her first acting experience.

  Female Pervert
Director & Screenwriter: Jiyoung Lee
Cast: Jennifer Kim, Skizz Cyzyk, Brian Cafferty, Joshua Mikel, Jesse Price, Kate McManus, Taylor Proctor, Eddie Ray
Phoebe is a lonely video game designer seeking a true connection in the modern world, but her perversions are hard to suppress. Will she be able to change? Or will she accept her fate as a female pervert?
Why You Should Care: Super-low budget awkward comedy about a woman who is desperate to find a connection with the opposite sex but keeps getting in her own way. Lead actress Jennifer Kim is a series regular on the just released Amazon Jason Schwartzman/Roman Coppola series Mozart in the Jungle.

  I Am Thor
Director: Ryan Wise
Cast: Jon Mikl Thor, Rusty Hamilton, Mike Favata, Steve Price, Keith Zazzi
Before Chris Hemsworth, there was Jon Mikl Thor – the original hammer-wielding, steel bending, brick smashing rock star of the 70s band THOR. But does he still have the magic to thunder a comeback?
Why You Should Care: This has the ANVIL documentary written all over it, which completely resurrected that band from the denim and leather scrap heap. Honestly, I’ve never even heard of this band, but I love an underdog.

  Ratter
Director & Screenwriter: Branden Kramer
Cast: Ashley Benson, Matt McGorry, Rebecca Naomi Jones, John Anderson, Kaili Vernoff
Emma is being watched by a stalker who has hacked into all of her personal technology – laptop, cell phone, and other web connected devices – to record her most intimate moments. Eventually the video feeds aren’t enough and the stalker moves from the virtual to the physical.
Why You Should Care: I’m not ashamed to admit I LOVE Pretty Little Liars, it’s gone past a guilty pleasure to must see tv for me, especially now that they abandoned the Ravenswood Spinoff. Ashley Benson has been the most consistently fantastic actress on the show, well, her and Janel Parrish (RIP Mona ☹), she made all she could out of a dialogue-challenged role in SPRING BREAKERS, so this indie thriller is my top pick for Slamdance.

  They Look Like People
Director & Screenwriter: Perry Blackshear
Cast: MacLeod Andrews, Evan Dumouchel, Margaret Drake, Mick Casale, Elena Greenlee
Suspecting that those around him are actually malevolent shape-shifters, a troubled young man questions whether to protect his only friend from an impending war, or from himself.
Why You Should Care: I’m going on title alone here, and the logline. I literally can find nothing else out about this film except that the director is a gaffer and cinematographer. So it should look better than most indie films. Other than that…

Bears Fonté is the Founder and Executive Director of Other Worlds Austin, a new festival in Texas’ capital focused on SciFi.  Prior to that, Bears served as Director of Programming for Austin Film Festival from 2012-14, overseeing some 200 films selected to screen at eight venues over eight days.  The 2013 Festival saw 28 world premiere features and 7 films picked up at the festival or the week after.  His most recent short film, THE SECRET KEEPER, has been selected by over 35 US Film Festivals since September of 2012.  His feature thriller iCRIME, which he wrote and directed, was released on DVD, VOD and streaming by Vicious Circle Films in 2011.  Bears also self-produced two web-series which have been seen by a combined ten million viewers.

Prior to arriving in Austin, Bears wrote coverage for independent producers and coverage services in LA and placed in nearly every single screenwriting contest out there including Screenwriter’s Expo, Final Draft Big Break, Page International, Story Pros and Austin Film Festival.

Bears received his BA from Carleton College in British Studies and Theatre Studies and a MFA in Directing from Indiana University and has directed over forty plays, including the Austin Critics Table nominee Corpus Christi, and the Austin Shakespeare Festival’s Complete Works of Shakspeare Abridged. He studied writing with noted playwrights Jeff Hatcher and Denis Reardon, and directed the first-ever professional productions by Princess Grace Award-winning and Pulitzer Prize-nominated playwright Don Zolidis and up-and-coming playwright Itamar Moses. He is currently working on a new five minute short to submit to festivals in 2015.

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