For 26 years in a row, independent filmmakers have joined an intimate community of senior film professionals at the Slamdance Film Festival.
The 2020 festival features lineup includes 16 premieres, while the shorts competition includes 81 short films in six different categories from 26 countries around the world.
Headquartered in Park City, Utah, Slamdance brings exposure to filmmakers making their directorial debuts. Ari Aster, Jon M. Chu, Lena Dunham, Rian Johnson, Christopher Nolan, Oren Peli, and the Russo Brothers have shown early short films and debut features at Slamdance.
“Slamdance is above all a place of discovery,” says Slamdance co-founder and president Peter Baxter in a recent press release. “Every year, filmmakers break out of the festival because the industry at large recognizes the need for new voices. With a record-breaking 8,231 submissions this year, our artist-led organization brings a lineup full of wonderful risk-taking and unique storytelling. That’s the spirit of Slamdance 2020.”
How Slamdance started
In 1995, institutions of independent films such as Miramax Films, New Line Cinema and FOX were undergoing acquisition by larger studios such as The Walt Disney Company and Time Warner. In response to the consolidation of the independent film industry, the Sundance Film Festival started bringing in second-time or third-time filmmakers with bigger budgets, recognized stars, and wider distribution rights over their lesser-known counterparts.
At the time, Sundance was seen as an all-or-nothing event in the independent film industry. If a filmmaker’s work was not accepted into Sundance, their film likely wouldn’t get a wider distribution or the attention of producers, agents or other regional and international film festivals.
Dan Mirvish, co-founder of Slamdance, in a 2013 interview with Film Courage, discussed hearing stories about filmmakers such as James Merendino (“SLC Punk!”) and the duo of Trey Parker and Matt Stone (“South Park”) holding “renegade” film screenings in hotel rooms in Park City when their work didn’t get accepted into the 1994 Sundance Film Festival.
The idea of holding film screenings in Park City independent of Sundance brand ultimately led to the creation of the Slamdance Film Festival in 1995, which spotlights low-budget short films, episodes, narrative and documentary features by first-time directors.
“There was this niche of first-time directors [who were] working with limited budgets and who didn’t have distribution that was being left behind by Sundance,” says Mirvish. “If [Slamdance] worked for us, why not [make the festival available] to help other filmmakers in subsequent years?”
Slamdance, at its heart, has always been the opportunity for filmmakers to support one another. This innate ideology is exemplified through the Russo Brothers Fellowship.
Established in 2018, the fellowship sees that one filmmaker receives a $25,000 prize that consists of a cash stipend, mentorship from Anthony and Joe Russo and an office at the Russo Brothers’ Los Angeles-based studio.
“Because we had an experience here at Slamdance, because somebody like Steven Soderbergh saw our movie here and was able to mentor us, we became hyper-aware of the role that artists can play for other artists; [whether that would be] in terms of helping them with their development [or] helping them advance their careers,” says “Avengers: Endgame” co-director Anthony Russo in a 2018 interview with Slamdance TV. “Because we benefited so much from an experience like that, we owe a karmic debt to the universe to continue to do that for other people.”
Slamdance 2020 will take place at the Treasure Mountain Inn in Park City. Tickets are $10 for films in the shorts categories and $14 for films in the feature categories.
For $350, attendees can buy an all-access pass that includes admission to all festival screenings, happy hours, special festival events and the closing night party. Discounted all-access passes are available for local Utah residents ($150) and for students ($125).