For a period in the late 1990s and early 2000s, coattail festivals--loosely organized collections of film screenings formed to draw on the crowds assembled in Park City for Sundance--were as common as press lines and paparazzi. But over the years, dwindling screening space has squeezed out most of these renegade fests, except for one: Slamdance, which runs today through January 26 at the Treasure Mountain Inn.
Based on the premise of creating a film festival "for filmmakers, by filmmakers," Dan Mirvish along with John Fitzgerald, Shane Kuhn, and Peter Baxter, launched "Slamdance: Anarchy in Utah, The First Annual Guerilla International Film Festival" during the opening weekend of the Sundance Film Festival 1995. Since then, Slamdance has developed into a year-round organization fostering the continued career development of independent filmmakers at all stages of the creative process, now consisting of the film festival and also a screenplay competition and Slamdance Studios.
Mirvish is not only responsible for helping create Slamdance, but is also a 25-year veteran filmmaker whose credits include Between Us, Omaha (the movie), Open House, Wall Pass, Stump & Deliver, and the forthcoming Bernard and Huey. Mirvish draws on his adventures in both filmmaking and running Slamdance in his new book, The Cheerful Subversive's Guide to Independent Filmmaking.
We caught up with Mirvish earlier this week as he drove across Nevada on his way to Park City and Slamdance 2017. He talked about why his renegade fest has survived for more than 20 years, the evolution of his infamous opening night poems, and why the Slamdance's hot tub summit is an essential part of filmmaking.
Park City Magazine: Slamdance started with just a few films and a lot of luck. Now your fest receives more than 6,000 submissions that get whittled down to a 100-film program. In light of how many renegade festivals have come and gone over the years, why has Slamdance survived?
Dan Mirvish: A couple of things. First is that from the beginning we've maintained our criteria of accepting only films made by first time directors with a limited budget and no distribution. I think some of the other bootleg fests have not has as specific of a niche and have tended to get distracted from what their mission is along the way. And second, our annual budget has never been dependent on sponsors. We operate mostly on submission fees and ticket sales which as the economy has ebbed and flowed over the years has made us more resilient.
PCM: Slamdance is a film festival now frequently recognized in it's own right. Would you consider moving it off the Sundance time period and let it stand on it's own?
DM: No. Our co-dependency with Sundance is the reason Slamdance exists. There's plenty of other film festivals in America but none attracts people from the film community from both coasts, as well as internationally, the way Sundance does. If we held Slamdance at a different time or place, we wouldn't be able to provide our filmmakers with that kind of exposure. We hope to have a longevity and impact similar to the Director's Fortnight at Cannes.
PCM: Your opening night poems are a Slamdance institution. How did you come up with the idea of kicking off each fest this way?
DM: I'm not exactly sure how those came about. I like to rhyme and it seemed like a fun thing to do on opening night. My book contains most of my opening night poems and this year's poem is about the book.
PCM: Another well known part of the Slamdance tradition is the hot tub summit. How did this event come about and why does it continue?
DM: Again, I'm not sure how the first one started but it's a critical part of what we do at Slamdance which is the cross-pollination of directors with the filmmaking community as a whole. When you're done making a film, you're really just getting started. It can take seven years to make a movie, and then at least that long to get people to see it. At Slamdance, we try to expose filmmakers to that reality and mentor them through all the steps, a big one of which is relationship building. I mean, it's a whole lot easier to call up a distributor and ask them to screen your film if you've sat next to them in a hot tub in Park City.
Mirvish will sign and read from his book The Cheerful Subversive's Guide to Independent Filmmaking at Dolly's Bookstore (510 Main Street) on Tuesday, January 24 from 2 to 3:30 p.m. He will be reading his latest Slamdance Opening Night poem tonight, and will MC the Awards Ceremony on January 26, both held at the Treasure Mountain Inn (255 Main Street).