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Slamdance Film Festival is Online This Year and it is Awesome!

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For the broke-ass film festival lover, the online edition of the 2021 Slamdance Film Festival is the must-see event of the year. From February 12-25, 2021, festival goers can catch any of the 25 feature films and 107 short and episodic films being shown. Access to Slamdance 2021’s offerings requires buying a Festival Pass. If you’re a regular person, the cost of a Pass is only $10. But if you can prove you’re a student (Hint: use an e-mail account where the address ends in .edu), then your Pass will cost only $5.    

Once you get your Pass, it’s easy enough to view the festival films, Q&As, and festival panels. You’re good to go if you can access any of the following: slamdance.com, Apple TV, Roku, Firestick, or YouTube. In non-COVID times, you’d have to personally travel to Utah and arrange housing and other necessities to attend Slamdance. So this online version is your chance to sample this truly indie film festival from the comfort of your home.

Need other reasons to check out the film festival whose slogan this year is “Greenlight Yourself?” There’s the possibility of claiming “I saw them when” bragging rights when seeing a filmmaker’s fiction or documentary film debut. Quite a few filmmakers who made appearances at Slamdance have gone on to bigger things. These Slamdance alumni include Christopher Nolan, Bong Joon-ho, Lena Dunham, and the Russo Brothers. Then there’s the geographic bench of films selected. Aside from films from the US, other countries represented in this year’s Slamdance programming include Finland, Indonesia, Romania, and Taiwan. Besides that, there’s also the “Unstoppable” section, a showcase of 22 short films for disabled filmmakers and other disabled talent to demonstrate what they can contribute to the world of film. Finally, all the films featured in Slamdance’s short film programs are considered eligible for Oscar nomination.  

To get you started for your Slamdance dive, here are some suggestions for films to try out:

18th And Grand: The Olympic Auditorium Story

18th And Grand: The Olympic Auditorium Story–For eight decades, Los Angeles’ Olympic Auditorium served as a massive mecca for violent entertainment of various stripes.  Aileen Eaton took over running the Olympic during World War II, and turned it into a launchpad for such future wrestling and boxing stars as Gorgeous George and Muhammad Ali.  After Eaton retired, the Olympic would find new life as a punk rock venue.  This documentary tells the story of this legendary venue, the city it was a part of, and the unforgettable woman who thrived in the hypermasculine wrestling and boxing worlds.   

24,483 Dreams Of Death–What if your only knowledge of human behavior came from watching an Italian horror movie?  As an experiment, an artificially intelligent computer watched the Mario Bava film “La Maschera del Demonio” for six days straight.  What thought pictures did the computer form as a result?  This unusual “film” shows the answer.  To provide poetic narration for this film, a second A.I. was given 19th century poetry to read before creating its own verse.  But why were the themes of the poetry it produced those of death and loss?  

After America–Is it possible to escape the pressures of the American Dream?  That’s the question a group of Minneapolis criminal justice de-escalation workers wanted to answer.  Their medium of choice was a collaborative film project which used radical theater workshop techniques to draw from their real life struggles.  This project would be finished days before George Floyd’s murder. 

Anatomy Of Wings–”Wings” is the name of an unusual afterschool program mentored by directors Nikieia Raymond and Kirsten D’Andrea Hollander.  It originally began as an opportunity to teach video skills to female students at Dunbar Middle School over a 10-week period.  But the class morphed into a forum for the kids to share their growing-up struggles…and the resulting teacher-student bond would last 10 years.

Anatomy Of Wings

Bad Attitude: The Art Of Spain Rodriguez–Legendary San Francisco underground cartoonist Spain Rodriguez gets his cinematic due in this intimate biographical portrait by Emmy Award-winning director (and Rodriguez’ wife) Susan Stern.  For those who haven’t heard of Rodriguez or his work, imagine an off-kilter artist from a working class Latino background.  Add to the mix Rodriguez’ history with the other side of the law and his left-wing radical politics, and you’ll start to get an idea of how visceral his resulting comics work can be.  (For those interested in actually reading Rodriguez’ work, Fantagraphics Books has released several collections of his comics.)

Blackwater–Alcoholism destroyed the career of once popular Native American country singer Birdie Blackwater.  She returns to the rez to save whatever dignity she has left.  Unfortunately for her, a drunken clash with tribal police officers leads to Blackwater being given a stark choice: do two years in prison or do 180 days of wellness therapy and be under intense probation.  Blackwater opts for the therapy.  But can she handle the “unique” mental issues of her fellow therapy mates?

Bleeding Audio–San Francisco filmmaker Chelsea Christer’s rousing documentary tells the story of The Matches, a Bay Area pop-punk band whose hard work never translated into huge commercial success.  The band eventually broke up, but that breakup would not mean a second act wasn’t possible…  If you’ve missed this Audience Award Winner from last year’s S.F. Doc Fest, don’t miss out on another chance to see this personal look at what success means nowadays for a commercial musician.

Bleeding Audio

Dea–Actual Indonesian female migrant domestic workers contributed their insights and experiences to the scripting of this tale.  Dea is happy to live in rural Indonesia and pursue her dreams of singing.  But circumstances force her to abandon those dreams to become a migrant domestic worker in Hong Kong.  Can Dea survive such hardships as becoming a domestic violence victim?

Exquisite Shorts Volume 1–What happens when you adapt to cinema the surrealist game “exquisite corpse?”  The answer is this short created from the contributions of 19 different filmmakers, a combination of stream of consciousness and the juxtaposition of 19 very different visual sensibilities.

A Family–See how odd Craigslist postings inspired this dark comedy set in the Ukraine.  The main character, a man living in solitude, hires low-grade impersonators for his project to create the perfect family via documenting fake family moments.  Trouble erupts when the fake sister he hires decides to create her own record of her fake perfect family.

Full Picture–Societal adaptation to the Coronavirus quarantine gives a new option in life to actress Santina Muha, who’s been in a wheelchair since she was six.  Because classes and even socializing is being done remotely, for the first time she can interact with strangers without having them notice her wheelchair first.  Now Santina has the power to decide when (or if) she will disclose her disability to others.  

Holy Frit

Holy Frit–Talented yet unknown Los Angeles artist Tim Carey managed to bluff his way into winning the commission to create a stained glass window for a $90 billion mega-church.  However, the finished window is intended to be the size of a basketball court and Carey doesn’t have the skills to turn his complicated design from an idea into reality.  Carey eventually lucks out by securing the help of famed glass maestro Narcissus Quagliata.  But will Carey’s and Quagliata’s dueling egos sink any hope of completing the commission before time runs out?  A wild and true story. 

The Length Of Day–This essay film collage offers an emotional history of socialism in the United States.  Director Laura Conway creates a cinematic seance with her long-dead Communist grandparents.  Can they answer her questions about the end of capitalism?  Given their dreams and the struggles and frequent losses they endured, were their battles against capitalism worth it in the end?

Letter From Your Far Off Country–What links together an Agha Shahid Ali poem, interviews with the filmmaker’s father, and a letter sent to Communist Party leader (and the filmmaker’s very distant relative) Prabhakar Sanzgiri?  This experimental documentary won’t come out with a straight answer.  But let’s just say direct animation techniques and digital renderings of the Kashmir mountains play a part in offering clues.  

Mada (Mother)–Director Joseph Elmhirst’s semi-autobiographical tale is his cinematic love letter to the Jamaican women he grew up admiring.  Faith, her mother Ethel, and her son Luther live in rural Jamaica.  Their matriarchal culture is one which runs according to the cycles of monotony and repetition.  The two women clash over the best way to love and protect Luther, whose behavior deviates from accepted social norms.

Man Under Table

Man Under Table (or, “I’m Writing A Movie”)–Think the indie film scene is weird and anarchic?  Wait until you see the demented Los Angeles indie scene depicted here.  Guy just wants to write his movie script.  However, he keeps getting sidetracked and yanked into helping out on the film projects of such characters as the Indie Darling and the washed-up guy with a spectacularly dumb movie idea.

Opera–Former Pixar animator Erick Oh directed this stunning 8K animated installation.  It’s an allegorical rendering of human history as an endless looping and repetition of societal chaos affecting different levels of society.  Who knew the 2017 inauguration of the unlamented Orange Skull would spark something like this?

Progressive Touch–Can you improve the sexual act by complicating its rhythm and choreography?  Here are three sometimes absurd attempts at answering this question.  Perhaps by the end the viewer will be able to answer yes or no to the question “Can you f**k to an irregular beat?”

Sixteen Thousand Dollars–What if the US government decided to pay the descendants of slaves reparations for the generational hardships inflicted by slavery?  Would these descendants’ lives magically improve?  Or will their life situations get more crappy? 

Workhorse Queen

Workhorse Queen–Could “Ru Paul’s Drag Race” and other reality television shows be slowly killing queer performance culture?  This documentary considers that question through the story of Ed Popil.  A 47-year-old telemarketer, Popil takes his acceptance as a contestant by the Ru Paul show as an opportunity to pursue a full time career playing 1960s drag housewife Queen Mrs. Kasha Davis.  Will Popil listen to Hollywood’s siren call?  Or will he stay in Rochester and be the queer role model Rochester’s kids need?

Don’t let the likelihood that you’ve never heard of any of these filmmakers deter you.  Treat Slamdance 2021 as a great opportunity to really liberate your cinematic world from the Hollywood film blanderization machine.

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Peter Wong

Peter Wong

I've been reviewing films for quite a few years now, principally for the online publication Beyond Chron. My search for unique cinematic experiences and genre dips have taken me everywhere from old S.F. Chinatown movie theaters showing first-run Jackie Chan movies to the chilly slopes of Park City. Movies having cat pron instantly ping my radar.

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