The 20th annual Slamdance Film Festival has announced its awards, so let’s have a look at those first. A few notes follow, wrapping the 2014 edition.
Audience Award for Documentary Feature: Kate S. Logan’s Kidnapped for Christ. “Perhaps Slamdance’s most emotionally intense doc,” writes Paul Sbrizzi at Hammer to Nail. “Logan travels to the Dominican Republic to make a film about a home for wayward American teens, and happens upon evidence of inexcusable abuses of power. She meets and bonds with a high school honors student who was sent there by his parents after he revealed to them that he was gay, and gets involved in smuggling out a clandestine letter in an effort to get him set free.”
Audience Award for Narrative Feature: Mark Raso’s Copenhagen. “William [Gethin Anthony] is a twenty-something American traveling in Europe,” begins Ben Umstead at Twitch. “Copenhagen finds the magic moments without becoming saccharine, cherishing transformation and truth across several striking passages.” At Variety, Joe Leydon finds it all “more intriguing than compelling.”
JURY AWARDS: NARRATIVE
The jury: Tom Hall, Katie Mustard and Matt Harrison.
Jury Award for Narrative Feature: Fernando Frias De La Parra’s Rezeta. Joe Leydon for Variety: “Suffused with an air of freewheeling improvisation, Rezeta is a light and sprightly doodle of a romantic dramedy, at once effortlessly engaging and unabashedly inconsequential as it details a close encounter between an Albanian-born model and a Mexican punk rocker.”
Jury Special Mention for Original Vision: Jay Alvarez’s I Play with the Phrase Each Other. “The expression ‘new voices’ gets thrown around a lot, but Jay Alvarez is the real deal,” writes Paul Sbrizzi at Hammer to Nail. “Alvarez plays Sean, a charismatic and manipulative character… All the conversations in the film happen over cell phones—a story device that works surprisingly well, creating a sense of characters swimming around in their own heads more than actually relating to each other.”
JURY AWARDS: DOCUMENTARY
The jury: Tim League, Monteith McCollum and Herb Stratford.
Jury Award for Documentary Feature: Matthew Bauckman and Jaret Belliveau’s Elliot. The doc “follows the exploits of aspiring filmmaker Elliot Scott, who imagines himself as the heir to Jackie Chan or Chuck Norris,” writes Stephen Farber in the Hollywood Reporter. Scott claims to be a karate champion, though that boast comes to seem a bit dubious as the film goes on. It is true that he has made some micro-budgeted martial arts films, and the doc follows his efforts to complete his magnum opus, Blood Fight, over the course of several months.” The Playlist‘s Kevin Jagernauth gives it a B; more from Christopher Campbell at Movies.com and Ben Umstead at Twitch.
Jury Special Mention for Most Compelling Personal Journey: Chris Furbee’s Huntington’s Dance. From the festival: “The story of one man’s reckoning with his family’s brutal, hereditary disease: Huntington’s Disease. This first person account brings the viewer intimately into their lives.”
Jury Award for Documentary Short: Simon Mercer’s Glass Eyes of Locust Bayou. From the festival: “Arkansas-based film-maker Phil Chambliss documents rural life through a blurred and tangled haze; his films straddle fact and fiction, good and evil, documenting a dark and strange version of Americana.”
Jury Special Mention for Cinematography in a Documentary Short: J. Christian Jensen’s White Earth. From Slamdance: “Thousand of desperate souls flock to America’s Northern Plains seeking work in the oil fields. A tale of three children and an immigrant mother who brave a cruel winter and explore themes of innocence, home and the American Dream.”
JURY AWARDS: SHORT FILMS
The jury: Andrew Edison, Lise Raven and David Greenspan. All descriptions come from the festival.
Jury Award for Narrative Short: Ian Lagarde’s Daybreak. “Growing tension in a group of friends leads to quiet violence and destruction as the children enter adolescence.”
Jury Special Mention for Narrative Short: Max Ksjonda’s The Way. “A neglected teenager makes a bet with his friends that leads him on a dangerous trip to another city.”
Jury Award for Animation Short: Kim Ju-im’s The Path of Wind. “A human office chair unravels its legs and goes on a wildly imaginative psychedelic vision quest filled with both terror and beauty, leading to transformation into a musical instrument of liberation.”
The other jury: Skizz Cyzyk, Jacques Thelemaque and Kendall and Joey Shanks.
Jury Award for Experimental Short: Evan Mann’s Real Ethereal. “An otherworldly journey through a fantastical metaphysical realm saturated with mystery and transition.”
Jury Award for Anarchy Short: Steve Girard’s Wawd Ahp. “A man raps, cuts his head off, and has sex with it. There is also a cartoon.”
Spirit of Slamdance Award: Bruce Bundy, Nigel DeFriez, Rob Malone, Kira Pearson, Alex Mechanik, Jessie Levandov and Jonathan Rosenblit’s The Greggs. From the festival: “The esoteric and secluded group responsible for the creation of the world’s standardized tests must find a way to adapt when their way of life is threatened by dissent within their ranks.”
Blackmagic Design Cinematography Award: Aneta Popiel-Machnicka’s Sometimes I Dream I’m Flying. Paul Sbrizzi: Popiel-Machnicka “skillfully alternates gorgeous ballet sequences with gritty behind-the-scenes footage of the tough realities faced by a talented young Polish dancer named Weronika, as she battles disappointments and injuries in her determination to rise to the top.” More from Ben Umstead at Twitch.
Slamdance Trailer Competition Grand Prize, presented by MixBit: Jakob Lass’s Love Steaks. “Clemens, a tall, awkward young man, comes to work as a masseur-in-training at a luxury beach-side hotel and spa,” writes Ben Umstead. “Lara works in the kitchen as a chef-in-training. She’s loud, obnoxious; runs around with a skeleton mask, poking and prodding at her colleagues… Love Steaks may bask in its own bizarreness, but that’s also where it finds its light, its heart, the notion and need to heal and to help.”
A FEW NOTES
“The Slamdance-Nebraska connection has always been slightly more than coincidental.” At Filmmmaker, Slamdance co-founder Dan Mirvish explains.
Dennis Harvey for Variety: “Bill Plympton’s first feature in five years — a fairly long pause for this nearly one-man animation factory—is about l’amour, which of course leads almost immediately to strife and loads of sexual humor. Like most of his efforts, Cheatin’ has a bit of trouble sustaining full interest even over a relatively limited runtime. But it’s also one of his best longform toons, an energetic romp less dependent on grotesquerie than usual (which is not to say that quality is absent), and with distinctive, freewheeling visual imagination on giddy display.”
Also: “Having learned to shake his money maker as ‘Big Dick Richie’ in Magic Mike, Joe Manganiello returns the favor by making his directorial debut with La Bare, a documentary about the titular Texas male strip club that inspired Steven Soderbergh’s fictional feature. Pic doesn’t offer any real revelations or much overall substance, but the personalities and more immediate physical qualities of the joint’s headlining 25 Adonises both onstage and offstage make for a colorful diversion.”
And: “Experimental narrative My Blind Heart follows a man suffering from the effects of Marfan syndrome—a genetic connective tissue disorder that can affect numerous body parts and functions—as he lives a semi-feral life in Vienna after the death of his mother. Visually arresting in high-contrast black-and-white.”
“Reducing the screwball rom-com to some of its most essential elements, filmmakers Dane Clark and Linsey Stewart hit on an engaging premise, but don’t achieve a sufficiently antic level of humor to fulfill the film’s early promise,” writes Justin Lowe, reviewing I Put a Hit on You for the Hollywood Reporter. The Playlist‘s Kevin Jagernauth gives it a C.
Lowe also reviews Little Hope Was Arson (“first-time documentary feature director Theo Love delves into an infamous East Texas case of serial arson and comes up with some curious conclusions”), Wizard’s Way (a “comedic faux-documentary that delves into the insular world of massive multiplayer online gaming”) and The Sublime and Beautiful (a “glaring plot hole late in the second act manages to relieve the narrative tension, but in such a mundane manner that the outcome barely seems worth remarking upon”). More on that one from Ronnie Scheib in Variety. Brandon Harris, writing for Filmmaker, disagrees with both of them: “Blake Robbins isn’t just a skillful character actor in TV shows both half forgotten (Oz) and not (The Office) but a thoughtful and intuitive film director.”