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    SLAMDANCE 2015

    By | January 21, 2015

    slamdanceProgram2015Cover_500

    The truly independent, punk rock, bastard step-cousin of the concurrently running Sundance Film Festival, Slamdance takes place “up the mountain” from Sundance at the Treasure Mountain Inn. Slamdance might have started with a ragtag group of subversive filmmakers who were rejected by the Sundance Film Festival, but it has evolved into a first-class film festival.

    During its 21-year history, Slamdance has proven itself to be one of the most indie-centric of all film festivals. Unlike other festivals, Slamdance has never really concerned itself with premiering “marquee” films with A-list talent just to sell more tickets; instead, Slamdance continues to stay true to its vision of showcasing emerging artists.

    After binge-watching over half of the 27 feature-length films (admittedly, I have not screened any of the 50-plus short films) screening at Slamdance 2015, I feel quite confident in proclaiming that this is the strongest slate of films that Slamdance has ever offered. (And I ain’t fibbing!) So, if you are in Park City between January 23rd and 29th, I strongly recommend walking up Main Street to check out some of these films.

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    20-Years-of-Madness

    20 Years of Madness

    30 Minutes of Madness was a sketch comedy variety show in the 1990s hailing from Metro Detroit Public Access Television. An anarchistic assemblance of high school misfits, 30 Minutes of Madness provided a much needed creative outlet for its cast. When the show dissolved, everyone went their separate ways… As if taking a cue from his high school class of 1993’s upcoming 20-year reunion, Jerry White Jr. decides to reassemble the cast of 30 Minutes of Madness to see if the wild and wacky weirdness can still be sparked. Director Jeremy Royce follows White as he contends with the quirky personalities and strong opinions of his cast in an erstwhile attempt at bringing the cult VHS show back to life.

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    Across the Sea

    Across the Sea

    Damla (Damla Sönmez) is a Turkish immigrant who lives in New York City with her husband, Kevin (Jacob Fishel). Unconvinced that Damla does not want to see her family’s vacation home before it is sold, Kevin pressures Damla into making her first trip home since she left Turkey to go to school in the United States several years ago. What Kevin does not realize is that Damla’s hesitancy is due to haunting memories of her first (true) love and Damla’s pregnancy seems to have exacerbated the stress of her return. Co-directors Nisan Dag and Esra Saydam present us with an intensely emotional narrative that reveals just how harrowing it can be to confront the past.

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    Alpha

    Director Stathis Athanasiou’s Alpha is contemporary presentation of the ancient myth of Antigone; but whereas Antigone was willing to sacrifice her life for her beliefs, Alpha (Serafita Grigoriadou) has chosen to conform to the tyrannical government’s rules. A true bourgeoisie, Alpha focuses solely on self-preservation, yet she lives in constant fear. When a fugitive surprisingly appears at her front door, Alpha’s quiet and reclusive life spirals out of control. Sometimes mysteriously oblique, other times viscerally poetic, Athanasiou’s post-apocolyptic film artfully discusses the inherent existential struggle of living in fear of everything.

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    Copy of Birds of Neptune Program _ Rachel and Mona_

    Birds of Neptune

    Mona (Molly Elizabeth Parker) and Rachel’s (Britt Harris) parents died a few years ago, but they continue to live in their parents’ house. Surrounded by memories of a past they would prefer to forget, the sisters dull their senses with drugs and alcohol. A psychology graduate student, Zach (Kurt Conroyd), makes his way into the household as a regular fixture, infringing upon their eccentrically broken lives, forcing them to confront their past and disrupting their ambivalence. Steven Richter’s Birds of Neptune observes the dysfunctional family unit formed within Mona and Rachel’s household with a profound psychoanalytic perspective, giving us a sublimely intimate insight into these lives.

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    Body

    It is 9:30 on a Friday night, the eve of Christmas Eve, and three best friends – Cali (Alexandra Turshen), Holly (Helen Rogers) and Mel (Lauren Molina) — are lazily playing Scrabble at Mel’s parents’ house. Rather than going to bed early, Cali convinces them to move girls’ night to her extravagantly wealthy uncle’s mansion which has been vacated for the holidays. When someone else enters the mansion, there is an accident. Interested only in self-preservation, morality is tossed to the wayside. Perhaps their sense of good judgment has been hindered by booze and drugs, or perhaps this situation brings out their true selves. Co-writers-directors Dan Berk and Robert Olsen present us with a morally discomforting film that rests soundly upon the shoulders of Alexandra Turshen, Helen Rogers and Lauren Molina’s impressive performances.

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    Clinger Slamdance Still #2 5x7

    Clinger

    Robert (Vincent Martella) sits with an acoustic guitar in the bleachers, Fern (Jennifer Laporte) runs around the track; they meet cute, and quickly become each other’s first boyfriend and girlfriend. As you can probably guess by the poster and images for Michael Steves’ Clinger, things do not remain all hunky-dory for very long. Robert becomes oh-so-clingy, writing songs for Fern, buying her presents on their weekly anniversaries; but once he is gone, Fern feels unbelievably guilty, to the point that Robert begins to haunt her. Clinger offers a gleefully nihilistic perspective on high school relationships, specifically the psychopathic tendencies of young love.

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    ConcreteLove

    Concrete Love: The Boehm Family (Architektur einer Familie)

    At 92 years of age, world renowned architect Gottfried Böhm is still actively working. His three sons — Paul, Peter and Stephen — all work in his firm now, each managing their own projects, fostering an intense air of competition and rivalries among the siblings. While Gottfried has always placed his career over his family, his wife Elisabeth was left to raise the kids and serve as the matriarch. Now, Elisabeth never leaves Gottfried’s side, serving as both his muse and sternest critic. Elisabeth’s constant presence is also due to her ever-declining health. With Elisabeth’s death unavoidable, Maurizius Staerkle-Drux’s documentary focuses on the influence that the strong and intelligent matriarch had on the Böhm clan. You might say that she was the concrete foundation of the family; whereas Gottfried’s love for his wife and sons was as cold and stubborn as concrete.

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    DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN - CLEO BED

    Darkness On the Edge of Town

    Patrick Ryan’s Darkness On the Edge of Town opens with a girl and her gun — Cleo (Emma Eliza Regan) is a skilled sharpshooter enjoying target practice. Next, two girls armed with knives are tussling in a dark bathroom stall; one of whom is left dead in a pool of blood. After school, Cleo and her best friend Robin (Emma Willis) discover that the dead girl is Cleo’s estranged sister. Like the hero[ine] of a classic western, Cleo decides to avenge the death of her sister. Set in the fog-soaked, rolling moors of Ireland, Darkness On the Edge of Town is dark and moody, lending it a noirish charm. The plot is filled with lies, deceptions and ulterior motives, which are all accented by the fact that we know precisely who the killer is the entire time.

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    Diamond Tongues

    Diamond Tongues

    Very early in Pavan Moondi and Brian Robertson’s Diamond Tongues, the film’s protagonist Edith (Leah Fay Goldstein) states, “I think this going to be something really special…” Whether purposeful or not, that serves as a perfect synopsis of Diamond Tongues. A quirky, struggling actress, Edith has been “busy” auditioning for “real stuff,” though she seems destined to be cast as an extra, if anything at all. All of Edith’s friends are landing great roles, so she starts to make up her own success story just to fit in. Those lies evolve into Edith stabbing friends in the back to sabotage their careers. In the midst of an emotional breakdown, Edith is making all the wrong choices. Edith comes off as evil, mean spirited, and bratty; yet in Leah Fay Goldstein’s hands, Edith is not entirely unsympathetic. Thanks to Goldstein’s soulful and multifaceted performance, we come to understand the reasons for Edith’s delusional state, as well as the impatience, insecurity and frustration that she feels.

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    Female Pervert

    It is not often that a theremin and dildo are given the opportunity to share the same scene in a film, but Jiyoung Lee’s Female Pervert finds an incredibly humorous set-up for those two props to collaborate with each other. The situation is just one example of how Phoebe (Jennifer Kim) often sends guys running away from her, sometimes with their pants off. Guys seem to find Phoebe attractive, but her “abnormal” sexual behavior scares them away. Female Pervert is a sincere examination of sexuality and the roles that we are “supposed” to play in relationships. First and foremost, Lee’s film acutely contemplates just how difficult it is to find a mate with similar sexual desires, especially when those desires could be considered perverse.

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    High Performance

    High Performance

    Daniel (Marcel Mohab) is the black sheep of his bourgeois family. While his brother Rudi (Manuel Rubey) happily toils away his days as a corporate tool for their father’s business, Daniel has opted for a career as an actor in an experimental theater collective (according to his father, Daniel’s hobby is acting but his career is begging). The sharp contrast between Daniel’s economic status and the rest of his family’s is apparent anytime they interact. Relying solely upon his bicycle for transportation, Daniel appears at formal family events disheveled and under-dressed; but Daniel’s elitist persona also sets him apart from his own economic class, so he does not really fit in anywhere. Eventually, Daniel agrees to accept a freelance assignment from his brother; it is purportedly not for the money, but to help his brother with a clandestine investigation of a potential mistress. When Daniel discovers the true intentions of his investigative work, he is left morally confounded. Writer-director Johanna Moder’s High Performance pits Daniel’s economic status against his social status, testing the soundness of his moral fibre and questioning what it means to be free.

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    RATTER

    Ratter

    Via the forced perspective of electronic devices — laptops, smartphones, televisions — Branden Kramer’s Ratter follows Emma (Ashley Benson) everywhere, because just like most millennials, she is hopelessly addicted to connectivity; heck, the laptop even follows her into the bathroom so she can stream music while showering. Little does Emma know, the cameras on her devices are constantly recording everything about her. A stalker has somehow accessed all of her devices; with such easy access to Emma’s entire life, the stalker begins to terrorize her. Emma may never know just how much of her life was infiltrated by the stalker — or, more importantly, their motivation — but she is totally freaked out by the experience all the same. There is something inherently HAL-ish (and overwhelmingly creepy) about the menacing, fixed stare of technology. After watching Ratter it will be difficult not to suspect that someone might be spying on you RIGHT NOW. Eek!

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    Sweet Micky for President

    Haiti gained its independence in 1804, making it the first independent nation of Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as the only nation in the world established as a result of a successful slave revolt. Since declaring independence, Haiti has suffered 32 coups; and a long history of dictatorships has devastated the nation and its economy. The 7.0 earthquake that hit Haiti in January 2010 left it in utter ruins…just in time for Haiti’s next presidential election. Ben Patterson’s Sweet Micky for President follows the very unlikely presidential campaign of Michel Martelly — otherwise known as Sweet Micky, a risqué compas musician who is known for being outrageous, naughty and outspoken. If you followed the Haitian elections in 2010-11, you already know how Patterson’s documentary ends; regardless, Sweet Micky is a very strange trip that follows the beguiling ebbs and flows of politics.

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    TiredMoonlight

    Tired Moonlight

    Shot by Adam Ginsberg, the rural Montana town captured in Britni West’s Tired Moonlight seems to have been stuck in a time capsule for at least a couple of decades. A transfixing snapshot of stilted working class life in an economically destroyed part of the United States, the neo-realist cast of Tired Moonlight dream of hitting the jackpot and escaping; until then, they continue to do what they can to get by, and try to enjoy any downtime. West’s perspective is never condescending or judgmental, instead she focuses on capturing the natural poetry of the mundanity of everyday life.

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    The Trouble with Dot & Harry

    Richard (Neil Morrissey) travels from the United States to visit Diane (Janie Dee) in England, where she raises two children — Dot (Dot Walkow-Foster) and Harry (Harry Walkow-Foster) — on her own. We can only assume that Richard has romantic intentions for this visit, but those hopes are quickly diminished when Diane asks him to babysit her kids for a few days. That means Richard has to juggle babysitting duty with research for his new article on famous coffeehouses and baristas in England. It is important to note that Richard has never taken care of kids before — and Dot and Harry, though excruciatingly cute, are a handful, to say the least. Oh, and Richard does not actually like coffee, he prefers tea. (“Coffee, it is brown and warm… What else could you say that about?”) Gary Walkow’s The Trouble with Dot & Harry is one of those extremely rare family comedies that is funny and sweet, yet so incredibly intelligent.

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    Additional information about the Slamdance Film Festival is available at www.slamdance.com

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