Each year Park City overflows with filmgoers and it seems each year more of them are finding their way to Slamdance, the kid brother with an outsider focus and a bit of a chip on its shoulder. A majority of the Slamdance Program (the competition) is made up of first time directors and what the films are lacking in star power, they are often brimming with enthusiasm. Most of these films are low budget affairs, but with great festival potential. In fact, while Sundance films often get snapped up and are unseen again until getting released theatrically like a year from now (or more than likely, mostly just on VOD), most Slamdance films will make a steady journey around the festival circuit for the next nine months.
Looking at this year’s program, I noticed a few more atmospheric pieces, films that seem to rely more on the experience than the story. The genre fare seems a little less direct in its execution than last year – that’s not a judgement at all, I loved Bloodsucking Bastards, but films like LET’S BE EVIL and ALL THE COLORS OF THE NIGHT seem a bit more arty. I will say the documentary offerings at this year’s Slamdance did not appeal to me at all. There was almost nothing that I felt I wanted to spend 90 minutes in the world of. That’s judging purely on the logline and image, but really, what else do we have to go on with most of them? Documentaries have to convince me that learning something is going to be an exhilarating experience, and I’ll be the first to admit I prefer a good narrative (my favorite docs are always the ones shaped like narratives, like Slamdance alum LITTLE HOPE WAS ARSON).
With that in mind, here are my top ten can’t miss picks for this year’s Slamdance, all of which are narrative films.
All The Colors Of The Night
Director: Pedro Severien
Cast: Sabrina Greve, Sandra Possani, Brenda Ligia, Giovanna Simões, Rômulo Braga
Logline: Iris wakes up in her spacious seafront apartment, discovers a body in the living room and enlists the help of other women, setting off a spiral of redemption in an atmospheric drama of dark imagery and questionable reality.
Why You Should Care: This Brazilian film promises to dip into the shadows but also play out against the backdrop of racial and class conflict. With a female lead and supporting cast, and a non-linear storyline, I am betting the film is not going to play out at all like all the ‘what do I do with this dead body’ films that Hollywood has produced over the years.
Director: Marjorie Conrad
Cast: Marjorie Conrad, Ian Coster, Leah Rudick, Michael Lucid, Stephen Saban, Deven Green, Nicolas Coster, Vicki Marlane
Logline: 23-year-old Irene is an artistic misfit turned LA model busy searching for identity, inspiration and a kindred spirit while surrounded by competition, absurdity, and so many nude bras.
Why You Should Care: I really can’t make a better argument than the programmer, Marie Jamora, who says “Writer/Director/Editor/Lead Actress Marjorie Conrad developed the story from her own experience as a former model, and she shows us a world where mannequins are treated better than real women, verbal molestation is palpable, and the scariest predators of pretty girls are the other pretty girls.” Sounds to me like a film we’ve been waiting a long time for.
Director: Adam Rifkin
Cast: Missi Pyle, Penn Jillette, Harry Hamlin, Hayes MacArthur, Lin Shaye, Gilbert Gottfried, Nestor Carbonell
Logline: This ultimate meta-movie is an insane genre-bending cinematic sleight of hand trick about a cineaste stalker who kidnaps his favorite actress and forces her to star in his amateur movie.
Why You Should Care: Penn Jillette wrote and stars in this film about the worst crowd-funding supporter ever. Seriously. Who are you taking money from? Working in several filming styles with intricately crafty murder scenes and great cameos, this great choice for the opening night film for the fest.
Director: Claire Carré
Cast: Jason Ritter, Iva Gocheva, Greta Fernández, Tucker Smallwood, Karl Glusman, Silvan Friedman, Roberto Cots, Dominique Swain
Logline: After a global neurological epidemic, those who remain search for meaning and connection in a world without memory.
Why You Should Care: Fresh off winning the Mary Shelley at Other Worlds Austin (awarded to the artist whose film best furthers the involvement and representation of women in genre filmmaking), Embers closes this year’s Slamdance. Filled with intense performances and breathtaking cinematography, this is the rare science fiction film that excels in its lack of exposition. An atmospheric tone poem in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, EMBERS captures the human condition, stripped away of everything but personality and instinct.
Director: Jeremy LaLonde
Cast: Jewel Staite, Ennis Esmer, Lauren Lee Smith, Katharine Isabelle, Mark O’Brien, Jonas Chernick, Kristian Bruun, Tommie-Amber Pirie
Logline: When a famous sex columnist attempts to host an orgy with old high school acquaintances in her conservative hometown, keeping secrets becomes the least of her problems.
Why You Should Care: LaLonde is a funny, funny director. His last feature, SEX AFTER KIDS was one of the best films I was overruled on when I was programming Austin Film Festival. It was honest, and smart, and at times, pretty darn hot. With this cast, I am sure this will be even better. And strangely, despite being in the ‘Beyond’ section of Slamdance, this seems to be one of the most easily marketable film at the fest.
Director: Ruth Platt
Cast: Evan Bendall, Robert Hands, Michaela Prchalova, Tom Cox, Rory Coltart, Dolya Gavaniski, Michael Swatton, Charlotte Croft
Logline: A grisly study of the relationship between a tormented teacher and the troubled teens who bear his wrath once he snaps; this morally challenging horror film is dark, claustrophobic, and shockingly eloquent.
Why You Should Care: Anyone who has ever taught has dreams of the day they’ll get theirs. I think the getting in this film is going to be fairly disturbing.
Director: Martin Owen
Cast: Elizabeth Morris, Elliot James Langridge, Kara Tointon, Isabelle Allen
Logline: Contained within a secure, underground facility, three chaperones are tasked with supervising an advanced learning program for gifted children, pioneering Augmented Reality Glasses. Events quickly spiral out of control.
Why You Should Care: I love science fiction that just borders on the fiction part, and this Orwellian story promises to hold a mirror up to our own practices.
Director: Robert G. Putka
Cast: Jennifer Lafleur, Maryann Plunkett, Eilis Cahill, Mark Reeb, David Sullivan, Conor Casey, Shaun Weiss, Chris Doubek
Logline: A matriarch past the point of a nervous breakdown, her two daughters that don’t give a damn, and the heat-seeking missiles of resentment they toss at each other create a lively backdrop for this dark and dramatic comedy.
Why You Should Care: It’s the story of sisters and of mothers and daughters and its not nearly as depressing as it sounds. In fact, it’s sort of uplifting in a Todd Solondz dysfunctional family sort of way.
Director: Derek Kimball
Cast: Jane Ackermann, Tony Reilly, William McDonough III, Christine Louise Marshall, Dylan Chestnutt, Maureen Butler
Logline: Set in the late 1980s on an island off the coast of Maine, an orphan girl raised by the church becomes obsessed by the disappearance of a classmate, and her haunted dreams and visions propel her to push past her sheltered life.
Why You Should Care: Beautifully shot and with an amazing performance at the center of it, this coming of age story is the kind of film that film festivals are made for. It’s not an easy story, but its one that really gives back to the viewer, and a director and actress to keep on eye on.
Directors: Bryan Moses, Daniel Millar
Cast: Blair Dwyer, Craig Anderson, Laura Hughes, Kellie Clarke, Dorje Swallow, Grant Dodwell, Gary Waddell, Ursula Mills
Logline: Nicholas hires a taxi driver to follow his fiancé when he suspects her of cheating in this micro-budget comedy action tale that makes every wrong turn crackle with genuine humor and unexpected insight.
Why You Should Care: With characters that play in their own particular ridiculous sandbox, but whose world (and poor decision-making) makes complete sense, this is like discovering Guy Ritchie back when he was great, but with none of the camera tricks, just fantastic dialogue, characters and situations.
And of course, how can you do a film about the modeling world in LA without it looking great, so here is a just released trailer for Chemical Cut: