A Brief History of the Slamdance Film Festival

The Slamdance Film Festival is an annual film festival. It focuses on low-budget independent films and emerging artists. The mantra that it lives by states “By Filmmakers, For Filmmakers.” It is a unique festival which is not similar to others out there because filmmakers fully program the event. It adamantly encourages self-governance among independents and only delivers what filmmakers attend the festival to see. The week-long celebrations take part every January in the astonishingly spectacular snow-capped mountains of Park City in Utah.

Four gentlemen were behind its foundation in 1995 namely:

  • Dan Mirvish
  • Peter Baxter
  • Shane Kuhn
  • Jon Fitzgerald

They had different talents, i.e., producers, writers, and directors. They also teamed up with Paul Rachman who was a co-conspirator. Its primary focus is to champion developing talent and new work in the filmmaking industry. Since 1997, Peter Baxter has been in charge of the Slamdance.

The Festival was born out of rejection. It goes back to when a group of subversive and cheerful filmmakers did not get a chance to be part of Sundance Film Festival. They could not accept “no” for an answer, thus, decided to start their event they called Slamdance: Anarchy in Utah.

It was highly successful running for over twenty years. It showcases emerging and independent storytellers, artists, and filmmakers. Over the years, it has managed to create a name in the industry for premiering independent movies that first-time directors who are working with limited funds make. It runs simultaneously with the Sundance Festival in Park City in Utah.

Many notable directors and writers count as members of festival’s alumni. These are professionals who first gained recognition at the event, and some of them include:

  • Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace )
  • Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight)
  • Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
  • Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite)
  • Lena Dunham (Girls)
  • Lynn Shelton ( Your Sister’s Sister)
  • Oren Peli (Paranormal Activity)
  • Seth Gordon (Horrible Bosses)

Other renowned alumni include Jonathan Demme, Larry Clark, and Steven Soderbergh. Paranormal Activity from Oren Peli initially acquired from Slamdance did exceptionally well at the Box Office grossing more than $190million. Recently, there are also many Slamdance competition features that are picked up for different forms of distributions.

The festival has a history of linking finalists to useful production agreements and management representation. Competitions usually consist of four categories where the top three scripts receive awards i.e.

  1. Horror
  2. Short
  3. Feature
  4. Original Teleplay

Slamdance always presents a Grand Prize for the best screenplay regardless of its category.

Since its inception, it has recorded tremendous growth becoming a year-round organization that fosters continued career development of independent filmmakers at varying stages of the creative process. These consist of Screenplay Competition, Film Festival, and Slamdance Studios. Slamdance on the Road is also part of the organization. It is a traveling theatrical showcase that takes favorite Slamdance films to people who would have otherwise not gotten an opportunity to view them. Worth noting is that Slamdance Studios signed a distribution partnership with Microsoft in January 2010. It was for year-round Slamdance programming on Zune and Xbox.

New writers and filmmakers realize today that Slamdance is an excellent place to launch their careers. It accepts films in all genres from every country on any topic. They select programs using blind submission 100% and never disqualify the movie based on the date of completion or status of their premiere.


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