Welcome to Slamdance Film Festival.
Slamdance is a festival that bills itself as “by filmmakers, for filmmakers”. It focuses on emerging talent. The festival was started in 1995 by a group of filmmakers whose films weren’t accepted into the Sundance Film Festival. I usually think of Slamdance as Sundance’s pesky younger sibling—perhaps not as accomplished, but working hard to prove they’re worthy of attention. This year’s festival is all virtual running from January 27 to February 6. It is a true bargain at $10 for a festival pass that allows you to watch as many features, docs, and shorts as you can fit in. Here’s some that I’ve seen so far.
Hannah Ha Ha, from directors Jordan Tetewsky and Joshua Pikovsky, takes us into the life of a young woman who is coasting along in life. She lives in a small town with her aging father. She does a little dog walking, teaches guitar, volunteers at a community farm. When her older brother comes for a visit, he begins to push her to get a real job. Her brother’s perspective is “Most people your age are making strides in their careers”. But another friend asks, “What do you need a real job for?” Her brother thinks she is wasting time. But is getting a fast food job just a bigger waste of time? This is an examination of ennui. Hannah has no real impetus to change, or to find meaning in her life as it is. Hannah Ha Ha is playing in the Narrative Feature section.
Is there a way to prove the existence (or non-existence) of God? In Manuel Arija’s Untrainocencia, a bizarre pair are locked into an isolation capsule as part of an experiment by a strange religious organization to try to find the answer. Orión and Adán are not anything like we’d expect. One is described as “with faith, but without hope”; the other is “with hope, but without faith”. Day by day, they enact strange rituals seeking to reach the divine. There is a ridiculousness about their efforts that is entertaining—at least for a while. It may also lead us to question our own liturgical rituals and if they are in some way as outlandish as what we are watching. When Orión discovers Adán’s secret, things begin to fall apart. Or maybe they were doomed from the start. The concept of the film appealed to me, but it never quite got beyond the visual humor to tap into more interesting aspects of the question. Ultrainocencia is also part of the Narrative Feature section.
In Goodafternoon Sweetdream, directed by Bang Seung Hyeon, we see a series of “dreams” that are made up of conversations between Ye Won, whose father has recently died, and her friends. We aren’t sure if they are actual dreams or if they just represent an aspect of her grief. Each section is a single static camera shot. It is very talky and low key. There is no real through narrative. As such, the film really doesn’t seem to go much of anywhere. Goodafternoon Sweetdream is part of the Narrative Feature section.
A film from the Breakout section, Killing the Eunuch Khan, directed by Abed Abest, was described as “A serial killer uses his victims to kill more victims.” I wouldn’t describe it that way. But it is the most visually interesting film from my Slamdance sampling so far. There are deaths, to be sure, but it is not so much about plot as it is about the interesting shots that have been designed for the film, including a trickle of blood that eventually becomes a torrential river. There is very little dialogue throughout the film. We just watch it play out, fascinated by what we see.
Justin Zuckerman’s Yelling Fire in an Empty Theater follows a young woman who has just moved from Florida to New York City. In the opening scene, set in an airport, she’s told, “I don’t know what you think New York is going to be like, but I have to tell you, it won’t be.” Moving to New York is often an exciting time for young people, but as we meet her roommate in her toxic relationship, and as Lisa really doesn’t seem to be growing, we see that such a move may not be for everyone. Perhaps the theme is best expressed as “New York may be strange, but it is not boring—maybe.” Yelling Fire in an Empty Theater is part of the Narrative Feature section.