- Category: More Top Stories
- Published on Thursday, 14 February 2013 10:44
- Written by Dyana Carmella
Nineteen years ago, a group of filmmakers with work rejected by the Sundance Film Festival pooled their talents to start the Slamdance Film Festival. Slamdance has since come into its own — with more than 5,000 submissions in 2012 — as low-budget independent filmmakers continue to embrace the annual Festival as a new home. For one week in January, Slamdance provides a unique community as filmmakers from all over the world converge on Park City, Utah to show their work in a celebration of independent cinema.
P3 Update Editor James Thompson caught up with Peter Baxter, one of the Festival’s four founding fathers. Baxter elaborated on Slamdance’s road to success, its current status as a “fledging” film festival, and the plans for the future.
P3: I guess you could say that after 19 years, you've made it. What can we expect from Slamdance this year?
BAXTER: This is what I’ve been calling a classic year, because all of our programmers who come back to the Festival to help program the next one have all been very excited about the films that they have decided on. Whether it’s in the shorts program, doc features or narrative competition, a lot of the programmers are here to support the filmmakers. The audience and press have responded. We have the most passes ever distributed at Slamdance.
P3: What have you done this year to help showcase emerging talent?
BAXTER: We have continued on our own terms to support these emerging filmmakers that not many people know much about. We have been able to provide them a platform that they really wouldn’t have had. There is a really good story to tell because all of the filmmakers that have come through the Festival over the years now have an expectation to discover and find the new filmmakers that are going to go on to the next productions and find agents and managers and distribution. Some filmmakers are getting really good distribution deals.
P3: How competitive is today’s market place for independent filmmakers?
BAXTER: [We received] over 5,000 submissions this year. We chose about 100. We have a very popular screenplay competition. Our goal is always to put the filmmakers first and foremost. The uniting theme … within the programmers is the use of technology. Slamdance has always been about a do-it-yourself spirit.
P3: Has technology made it any easier for filmmakers?
BAXTER: Filmmakers are able to buy great equipment now at relatively low cost. [They can] really take control of the whole filmmaking process by themselves, [including] through post with editing software [and] coloring software, which affords them the time to really craft the story in the amount of time they deem necessary. What’s special about that is that if you’ve made a narrative feature, you can spend more time with your actors and working with your screenplay. It wasn’t that long ago when you had much bigger crews [and] much bigger expense in bringing those crews together, whether it’s equipment, lighting or cameras. There was a constant battle working out what time you could spend with the actors and bringing the best out of the written story. It wasn’t that long ago you couldn’t do all these things by yourself. Now it’s very simple and a lot less expensive.
P3: How important is story?
BAXTER: New technology is supporting [and] helping the independent filmmaker experience. But, in the end, it’s the story that’s going to count the most. If you don’t have a well-crafted story to begin with, good use of technology isn’t going to help the story anymore. Story is king.
P3: Where is Slamdance headed in the future?
BAXTER: Slamdance is putting the filmmaker first and foremost and is looking at new ways to do that, [and] not just at the Festival. We have for a long time believed in online exhibition and new technology. One project that we started this year to look at how we can help filmmakers outside of Slamdance is called the “Slam Collective,” and the film we made is called I Want to Be an American. To begin with … we have involved Slamdance filmmakers from five different continents who have made these stories, where, instead of words, we have used images which we share with the next filmmaker. What we’re trying to do here is experiment in two different ways: [firstly] to push the boundaries of what a documentary feature can be and secondly [to] support filmmakers online by coming together as a collective.
Slamdance lives and bleeds by its mantra “By Filmmakers, For Filmmakers.” No other film festival in the world is entirely run and organized by the creative force that can only be found in filmmakers. Slamdance adamantly supports self-governance amongst independents and exists to deliver what filmmakers go to festivals for: a chance to show their work and a platform to launch their careers. The Festival has earned a solid reputation for premiering films by first-time writers and directors working within the creative confines of limited budgets.