Slamdance 2013: All Wrapped Up

Ben Umstead, East Coast Editor

The 2013 Slamdance Film Festival has been over for 12 days now and I just don't want it to end, hence no wrap up of the festival... until now. Better late than never then. So without much fuss let's dive into my final thoughts on what turned out to be the best festival experience of my professional writing life thus far -- and that's a statement made nowhere near hyperbole.

Since I went into Slamdance all by my lonesome, I'll be presenting this wrap up a little differently than what my colleagues did for Sundance. Below you'll find links to all of my coverage from the fest, and then closing comments on the narrative, documentary and shorts programs, including thoughts on films I did not have time to give full coverage to previously. But before we get into all of that, the one thing that must be said is this: The biggest thing I will take away from my first Slamdance is the people. From the press office, to the programmers, volunteers and filmmakers, everyone was extraordinarily kind and keen. Why do we go to film festivals? To watch great movies and make new friends. Slamdance gave that to me in spades.

Previews, Features And Interviews
The Programmers Talk The Nuts And Bolts Of Festival Building
10 Films To Catch At The Fest
Director J.R. Hughto And Star Sonja Kinski Talk DIAMOND ON VINYL
The Filmmakers Talk The Festival Experience

News and Video
Pass It On In The Trailer For I WANT TO BE AN AMERICAN
The Trailer For Slamdance Title BEST FRIENDS FOREVER Goes Nuclear
Slamdance Embraces Controcersy With The First Trailer For THE DIRTIES
Meet The Crew Of GHOST TEAM ONE In First Trailer
The Pit Wants What It Wants And It Wants A Trailer For JUG FACE
Haunting First Trailer For Berlin And Slamdance Selected FYNBOS
Check Out The Poster For Noir Flick JOY DE V.
Get A Taste Of Slam Anarchy From The Comfort Of Your Own Home
Forest Whitaker Talks Producing And VIPAKA
Slamdance Comes Home - Part Deux
And The Awards Go To...
Feast On The Anarchy That Is Slamdance!

Reviews
Best Friends Forever
Bible Quiz
Diamond On Vinyl
Domestic
Fynbos
He's Way More Famous Than You
Joy de V.
Jug Face
Kohlhaas
Terms And Conditions May Apply
The Dirties

Narrative_slamdance_wrap_up.jpg

Narratives
A robust, but manageable slate of narrative films were presented in competition for first-time feature directors, as well as the new Beyond program featuring the work of second or third timers, plus a few special screenings along the way. While much buzz surrounded commercial director Harry Patramanis' first feature work Fynbos -- an enigmatic study on human nature and humans in nature -- as well Matt Johnson's deeply intelligent, uproariously funny The Dirties -- about the vulnerability of youth, school violence and pop culture obsession -- there was still plenty more to take in and marvel at. From the Beyond program J.R. Hughto's LA set noir, Diamond On Vinyl remains a vivid experience as does Adrian Sitaru's charming Domestic. Aron Lehmann's Kohlhaas about the power of imagination and the vision one must command when making films is an exceptional example of independent filmmaking, and a film I hope has a strong festival life. Winning the Audience Award, James E. Duff's Hank And Asha has a sweetness to it that is hard to dislike, despite the film's strange construct that these two people with thousands of miles between them would only send video messages back and forth, never once Skyping or chatting live. But that's kind of the old fashion, simple romance of the world Duff creates, or seemingly so. If anything Hank And Asha is a bittersweet tale of love in the digital age.

Also finding favor with their audiences were the raunchy found-footage comedy Ghost Team One and the Linklater-esque Big Words. To their credit Ghost Team One directors Scott Rutherford & Ben Peyser turned what could have been a sophomoric and dumb-as-a-doornail premise into something that feels like a long-lost South Park episode, with a cast that is more than willing to go the distance for the funny. While it wasn't totally my cup of tea, it's a film that most certainly has an audience, and is one of the stronger found footage spoofs I've encountered. Neil Drumming's Big Words takes place on Election Day 2008, intercutting between three friends, once the members of an up and coming hip-hop group, as they come to terms with the lives they now have. There's a tender, open verboseness to Drumming's writing that feels fresh and authentic.

If there was one film I truly wanted to write a full review on but just had no solid angle to do it from, that would be Jan Eilhardt's mesmerizing The Court Of Shards. A bold piece of programming, Eilhardt's film plays as a fragmented collection of tales, featuring mentally and physically disabled people. Haunting, disorienting and dazzling, Eilhardt's film lives up to its title like few films can. While an absolute challenge to watch at times, The Court Of Shards is also a gift for those that stay with it. There is a soft-spoken humanity and strength imbued here, a sensitivity to subject and willingness to collaborate that feels quite special. A dream in a thousand and one pieces of glass, a life reassembled as a mirror for us to reflect and for us to see the quiet triumphs of the other in, The Court Of Shards remains that fantastic enigma, that startlingly strange piece of filmmaking that reminds me there's always so much to explore out there in the world of cinema.


doc_slamdance_wrap_up.jpg

Documentaries
Winning the Jury Award for Feature Doc (and deservedly so) was Nicole Teeny's coming-of-age film Bible Quiz. Described to me on several separate occasions as a John Hughes film in real life, Teeny's film focuses on 17-year old Mikayla, the intense bible quiz game that Christian teens play all across America, and her crush J.P. Bible Quiz was the first film I saw at the fest and remains a favorite. Over in Beyond was Cullen Hoback's Terms And Conditions May Apply, an in-depth investigation into our rights in the digital age. By no means groundbreaking in technique, Hoback's film is more than up to snuff as a portrait of the death of privacy.

Fairing less well in my book, but nonetheless with merit, was Cary McClelland and Imran Babur's expansive doc on post 9/11 Pakistan Without Shepherds. While the opening sequence had me elated, the remainder of the film never connected for me. My feeling is that McCllenad and Babur's scope is so expansive, our time with the film's six subjects (from an entrepreneurial fashion model to a long-distance truck driver) feels fragmented and limited. Without Shepherds would have worked better as a television mini-series, with an hour devoted to each of its subjects. From what I hear the filmmakers are planning to go back and shoot more, so my sense is that something truly great is on the horizon if presented in the right format.

A highlight of the fest in any category was the collaborative experimental doc, I Want To Be An American. Presented as the first film by the Slam Collective, filmmakers from past Slamdances played a cinematic version of the parlor game 'Exquisite Corpse', taking an image or idea from the previous filmmaker's short to be the impetus for their own. The absolutely anarchic thing is that the final film is not presented in this chronological order and the filmmakers never communicated exactly what images or ideas they used from each others films. We as the audience are left to fill in those gaps, if we so choose, but that is not necessary to the flow of the film we have on hand, which is composed of six eclectic little portraits of people from all walks of life, from all over the globe, including a new piece by Twitch favorite Indian filmmaker Q entitled Suzanne Takes Me Down. Ending on a celebratory note with Rosa by South African Daniel J. Harris, I Want To Be An American is a rousing and ripe bit of filmmaking, encouraging collaboration, experimentation and true DIY aesthetics -- essentially what is at the very heart of Slamdance itself. I do hope they play off this idea or a whole new idea for next year. If you're curious about this one, you can view each segment at slamcollective.com   

Winning the Audience Award for Feature Doc was Jason Banker, Jorges Torres-Torres and Tiffany Sudela-Junker's My Name Is Faith. The film focuses on Sudeka-Junker's daughter Faith, who after a terrifying life with her meth-addled birth mother, strikes out on a path of healing with her new family and the support of a camp designed to help children with violent tendencies due to Reactive Detachment Disorder and other challenges. There's a tenderness to Banker and Torres-Torres' way of handling the camera around the kids and their families, and in turn, an openness that is at times startling from the children themselves. As a child who was emotionally volatile (albeit for decidedly different reasons from these children) , this one struck a deep chord with me.

shorts_slamdance_wrap_up.jpgShorts
Despite their length, there never feels like there is enough time for short films at festivals. From the handful I saw, this year's selection felt more than stellar though. Standouts amongst that bunch include Kate Marks' Pearl Was Here, a very sweet, and then frightfully brutal take on child/parent relations, Ian Wittenber's absolutely absurd, yet miraculously sincere Turtle, a mockumentary about a man who is slowly but surely turning into a turtle, and William D. Caballero's world history spanning Seed Story, shot entirely in micro scale with miniatures. If anything, I promise next year to not to neglect the shorts programs, or else get a teammate for coverage of the fest to help ease the burden...

... Wait, burden? Why did I just say that? From what you can gather quite readily, Slamdance was by no means a burden for me. A whirlwind yes, but one of the happiest, most energizing weeks of my life for sure. I am chomping at the bit to do it all again in 2014 -- Slamdance's 20th year!         

Around the Internet:
  • mightyjoeyoung

    "Winning the Jury Award for Feature Doc (and deservedly so) was Nicole Teeny's coming-of-age film Bible Quiz. Described to me on several separate occasions as a John Hughes film in real life, Teeny's film focuses on 17-year old Mikayla, the intense bible quiz game that Christian teens play all across America, and her crush J.P. Bible Quiz was the first film I saw at the fest and remains a favorite."

    Is it like a christian version of Spellbound (2002), Mr Umstead?
    Thanks for the wrap up.

  • benu

    Not really. Check out the link in the wrap up to my full review. It's singularly focused rather than focused on a group. And the film's Christianity more or less circumstantial.

  • mightyjoeyoung

    Ok.....well...I´ll look up your review, Mr Umstead, thanks.

blog comments powered by Disqus
​​