“If the organizers of the Slamdance Film Festival wanted to capitalize on the current industry zeitgeist, they couldn’t have done much better than programming documentary Dennis Rodman’s Big Bang in Pyongyang right alongside James Franco’s Yosemite, with the Interview actor appearing for a Q&A with Variety’s Scott Foundas,” writes Andrew M. Barker at the top of his preview—in Variety. “The ripped-from-the-headlines timing was purely coincidental, of course, and that’s precisely how the fest’s leaders like it.”
The most extensive previews of this year’s edition, opening tonight and running through Thursday, come from Slamdance features programmer Paul Sbrizzi at Hammer to Nail and Twitch. Sbrizzi has notes on Perry Blackshear’s They Look Like People, Pavan Moondi and Brian Robertson’s Diamond Tongues, Patrick Ryan’s Darkness on the Edge of Town, Alexandre Paschoalini’s Asco, Johanna Moder’s High Performance, Jiyoung Lee‘s Female Pervert, Gary Walkow’s The Trouble with Dot and Harry and Stephen Richter’s Birds of Neptune, plus two documentaries, Maurizius Sterkle Drux’s Concrete Love – The Böhm Family and Paul-Julien Robert’s My Fathers, My Mother and Me.
Twitch has brief interviews with Branden Kramer (Ratter), Steve Yu (The Resurrection of Jake the Snake), Michael Steves (Clinger), Colin Offland (Dennis Rodman’s Big Bang in Pyongyang), Jeremy Royce and producer Jerry White Jr. (20 Years of Madness) and Dan Berk and Bobby Olsen (Body). Plus “10 Must-Sees.”
Meantime, the Playlist has been posting trailers and clips all week: Body, Birds of Neptune, Clinger, 20 Years of Madness, Britni West’s Tired Moonlight and Gabrielle Demeestere‘s Yosemite with, as noted at the top, James Franco.
Update, 1/24: Jake “The Snake” Roberts “remains one of [wrestling’s] most popular figures,” writes the Playlist‘s Kevin Jagernauth, “and to any casual observer, not only seeing him on TV, but spun off into countless toys and video games, the 59-year-old wrestler is at an age where he should be comfortably retired. But that’s far from the case, and The Resurrection of Jake the Snake is a sympathetic, often unflinching look at Jake’s battle overcome his biggest opponent yet: himself.” More from Justin Lowe in THR.
Update, 1/25: “Shot to mesmerizing effect on 16mm by Adam Gingsberg, Tired Moonlight effortlessly marries the intimate documentary work of Albert & David Maysles and Les Blank with the more playful fairy tale charms of Czech New Waver Jaromil Jireš,” writes Ben Umstead at Twitch. “For there is magic in the mundane. Something very human, in all its little quirks, and intangible gestures, arises in the sparse dialogs and summer night partying of [Britni] West’s film.”
Also: “Female Pervert isn’t afraid to laugh at itself, for [director Jiyoung Lee] knows that if we’re gonna get anywhere in the talk about sexuality and gender, laughter is the best medicine to uproot and examine such things. While Phoebe [Jennifer Kim] and her book club obsess over morals and ethics in various cultures, the film also isn’t afraid to play into crass bodily humor. From the awkwardness that comes from farting on the massage table, to that one time ants were lured to Phoebe’s childhood box of earwax balls, Female Pervert is filed with delightfully awkward asides that adds to its charm.” More from Joe Leydon (Variety).
And: “Branden Kramer’s cyber-suspense story Ratter is cultivated from research done on groups of hackers trading hijacked camera feeds in underground ‘Ratting’ communities. The film is shot entirely from the viewpoint of a smart phone, laptop and Kinect-style video game console camera being controlled and recorded by one of these ratters. What stuns about Kramer’s film is the fact that this cyber world isn’t one of global hacking crises and mysteries à la the recent, and abysmal Blackhat. Nor is it sensationalistic Hollywood horror using the gimmick of a laptop camera for some cheap scares. The film’s strengths, why it works so much better than most cyber-centered offspring of the found footage genre or any similar ilk, is because it is grounded in a realism that is not close to home… it is home.” More from Kevin Jagernauth (Playlist, F) and Stephen Saito.
Justin Lowe in the Hollywood Reporter on Michael Steves’s Clinger: “A hapless, lovelorn ghost haunts his former high school sweetheart to distraction in this lame DIY horror comedy. Lacking the type of casting or directorial experience that could actually make the film’s goofy premise pay off, Clinger appears destined to wander the digital afterlife in search of late-night Internet surfers.”
Also in THR, Borys Kit talks with Dennis Rodman, who “doesn’t believe that the notorious hack of Sony Pictures was caused by North Korea in response to The Interview.” Updates, 1/28: “A deftly constructed, consistently engrossing and frequently flat-out-hilarious account of a controversial sporting event with geopolitical implications, Dennis Rodman’s Big Bang in Pyongyang arrives just in time to serve as a stranger-than-fiction companion piece to The Interview,” writes Joe Leydon in Variety. “Director Colin Offland strikes the perfect balance of bemused spectator and impartial commentator while offering an up-close, behind-the-scenes account of the much-publicized 2014 basketball tournament organized by the indefatigably flamboyant Dennis Rodman in the infamously repressive North Korea, during which Rodman and other retired NBA greats were pitted against a dream team of local basketballers as a kinda-sorta birthday tribute to dictator Kim Jong-un, arguably the world’s least likely hoops fan.” More from Justin Lowe (THR).
“Body finds a trio of young women panicking when their pranksome holiday hijinks result in an accidental death—a premise that, while unoriginal, could have resulted in some suspense, narrative twists and macabre humor,” finds Dennis Harvey in Variety. “But little to none of the above materializes in co-writer/helmers Dan Berk and Robert Olsen’s workmanlike but underwhelming feature debut, an uninspired thriller.” And in the Hollywood Reporter, Justin Lowe basically agrees.
Ben Umstead at Twitch: “Birds of Neptune, Steven Richter’s second feature after his Portuguese-language debut Center of Gravity, locks us in a haunted landscape of guilt and apprehension, one that in its very best moments exhibits both a Kieslowskian beauty and a playful tenor reminiscent of the ponderous artists and vagabonds found in the works of Jacques Rivette. It’s a striking balance of sensibilities, upheld by Britt Harris and Molly Elizabeth Parker’s beguiling performances as the grieving sisters at the film’s center.”
“The Slamdance Film Festival’s commercial distribution enterprise Slamdance Studios has announced that viewers can stream a selection of its film on Hulu beginning today.” Casey Cipriani reports for Indiewire.
Updates, 1/30: Awards!
Audience Award for Narrative Feature: Across the Sea, directed by Nisan Dağ & Esra Saydam. From the festival: “Damla is a Turkish immigrant estranged from her homeland; she lives in New York City with her husband, Kevin, and they’re expecting their first child. But Damla is still haunted by memories of her first love and when she returns to Turkey with Kevin she has to confront a troubling secret from her past.”
Audience Award for Documentary Feature: Sweet Micky for President by Ben Patterson. “Music and politics collide when international music star Pras Michel of the Fugees returns to his homeland of Haiti, following the devastating earthquake of 2010, to mobilize a presidential campaign for Haiti’s most controversial musician: Michel Martelly aka Sweet Micky. The politically inexperienced pair set out against a corrupt government, civil unrest, and a fixed election.”
JURY AWARDS: NARRATIVE
Jury Award for Narrative Feature: Tired Moonlight, directed by Britni West. The Jury: “A masterful fusion of cinematic vision and poetic narrative, Tired Moonlight effortlessly transports you from the prosaic surroundings of its poignant characters’ lives into a realm of unexpected beauty and spiritual authenticity with an unforced craftsmanship.”
Jury Honorable Mention for Narrative Feature: They Look Like People, directed by Perry Blackshear. “With rare filmmaking skill, brains, precision and outstanding performances, Perry Blackshear and his cast and crew silence critics who claim very small and contained films like this can’t be riveting and brilliant.”
Jury Honorable Mention for Narrative Feature: Across the Sea, directed by Nisan Dağ & Esra Saydam. “Through transcendent cinematography trained on the mystical Mediterranean setting and wonderful minute of uncertain love, directors Nisan Dağ and Esra Saydam provide a beautiful, intense and honest look at a relationship in peril.”
JURY AWARDS: DOCUMENTARY
Jury Award for Documentary Feature: Sweet Micky for President by Ben Patterson. “Sweet Micky For President takes the audience on an unbelievable, wild ride through difficult Haitian politics, in a story that is both entertaining and educational. The film is an enormous accomplishment for first-time director Ben Patterson and is a great example of why Slamdance exists—to celebrate new works by new directors whose films can help change our perspective on the world—one story at a time.”
Jury Honorable Mention for Documentary Feature: 20 Years of Madness, directed by Jeremy Royce. “Reminding us that it’s never too late to chase your dreams, 20 Years of Madness is brimming with stunning cinematography, eccentric characters and a heartfelt story about the desire to do something great while confronting the reality of failure.”
Jury Award for Documentary Short: The Solitude of Memory, directed by Juan Pablo González. “Juan Pablo González paints a vivid and eloquent portrait of a devoted father and the love for his son, drawing deep emotions from the viewer through his use of gorgeous cinematography, moving music and an incredibly honest, trusting main subject.”
Jury Honorable Mention for Documentary Short: Dolphin Lover, directed by Kareem Tabsch. “Storytelling is an art form, and this film is a prime example of using this medium in a beautiful way to tell a seriously fucked-up, but very true and engaging story.”
JURY AWARDS: SHORT FILMS
Jury Award for Narrative Short: Stay Awake, directed by Jamie Sisley.
Jury Honorable Mention for Narrative Short: 09:55 – 11:05, Ingrid Ekman, Bergsgatan 4B, directed by Christine Berglund & Sophie Vukovic.
Jury Award for Animation Short: The Pride of Strathmoor, directed by Einar Baldvin.
Jury Honorable Mention for Animation Short: Hipopotamy directed by Piotr Dumala.
Jury Award for Experimental Short: Red Luck directed by Mike Olenick.
Jury Award for Anarchy Short: Deviance, directed by Aron Kantor.
Jury Honorable Mention for Anarchy Short: Sea Devil directed by Dean C. Marcial.
Spirit of Slamdance Award: Think Ink, directed by Wally Chung.
Digital Bolex Fearless Filmmaking Grand Prize: Coming To, directed by Lindsey Haun, DP Spencer Rollins, starring Jacob Demonte-Finn.
Digital Bolex Fearless Filmmaking Honorable Mention: The Character Study, directed & DP Luke Pelizzari.
Digital Bolex Fearless Filmmaking Honorable Mention: Isobel, directed by Marie Jamora, DP Jason McLagan.
Kodak Director’s Prize: Detritus, directed by T.J. Misny.
And back to the reviews. “Most of us will be remembered by the way we loved, who we loved and how we loved,” writes Ben Umstead at Twitch. “It is what we do spurred on by such degrees of love that sets the rest in motion. Young Swiss Documentarian Maurizius Staerkle Drux measures these motions through the Böhms, a renowned family of German architects in their third generation. The result is Concrete Love, an extraordinary sensory portrait of the family, both intimate and immaculate in design.”
And Perry Blackshear’s feature debut, They Look Like People, “crackles with technical and narrative ingenuity, exploring the fragile state of the schizophrenic mind with micro-budget genre trappings.”
And Umstead reviews Gabrielle Demeestere’s Yosemite as well. “Set in the fall of 1985 in the expanding Palo Alto, California, the film charts three intertwined stories of three 5th grade boys: Chris (Everett Meckler), Joe (Alec Mansky) and Ted (Calum John)…. Demeestere demonstrates a deft touch working with child actors. All three boys give exceptional turns, each distinct in their desires, their fears, while certain big questions haunt them all. The specter of death, signifying change, runs its scythe across each frame.” The Credits interviews Demeestere.
Co-directed by Pavan Moondi and Brian Robertson, Diamond Tongues “isn’t your standard movie about making it, instead, it’s about what happens when everyone else does and you’re left behind.” The Playlist‘s Kevin Jagernauth gives it a B.
Update, 1/31: Justin Lowe for the Hollywood Reporter: “When a five-year-old child recovering from leukemia asks the Greater Bay Area Make-A-Wish Foundation to help him become a superhero for a day, the event goes viral, attracting thousands of volunteers and well-wishers. Equally surprisingly, Julia Roberts’s representatives announced prior to the film’s Slamdance world premiere that she’s attached to produce and star in a remake of [Batkid Begins: The Wish Heard Around the World] as one of the event’s key organizers. Whether that development will drive theatrical response or simply seal the deal for small-screen opportunities, this clearly won’t be the last we’ll be hearing of the young boy’s heroic exploits.”
Updates, 2/28: Erik Childress has an extensive overview of this year’s edition at RogerEbert.com and, writing for Indiewire, Emma Myers argues that “the festival that was once considered Sundance’s rebellious but inconsequential younger sibling has grown into an institution in its own right. Having completed its 21st year… and still true to the idealism of the founding mantra, ‘by filmmakers, for filmmakers,’ Slamdance has carved out a low-key but vital space for emerging voices with limited budgets.”