Go Indie Now takes you through the 2022 Slamdance Virtual Film Festival: Part 1 - When Real Life gets a Movie
Hello everybody, another year and another virtual version of the one of the best film festivals there is in the world. This is our look and coverage of the 2022 SLAMDANCE FILM FESTIVAL. On the back of the launch of a fully streaming platform in The Slamdance Channel, which you can subscribe to in the same place you will purchase your Film Festival Pass, this Tour De Force of Independent Cinema never ceases to amaze in both artistic value and innovation. In 2019 it was Slamdance that really brought in the Episodic programming that now prevails in virtually every film festival. Last year Own Voice moviemaking made a bold statement online. This year, well I think there is a shift tonally that is occurring and of course Slamdance and the many artists that help put this festival together are challenging each and every one of us to recognize and see that the future is not as bleak as it seems but that we still have some way to go.
So here in this Part 1 of our look at many of the films we have seen and want to talk about we will focus inward and talk about films that are talking about themselves in many respects.
No better place to start than with the film we just released our first interview from....
SYNOPSIS: Jazmine Faries, a 32-year old woman with Down syndrome, is obsessed with soap operas, Barbie dolls, and Matthew McConaughey. For the past 5 summers, her family has performed her original stage plays for a small audience in their town of Iron River in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. In this sixth season, we follow the creative process of writing, rehearsing, and performing the play. Family bonds between her brother, Chad, and her mother, Kate, are strengthened and put to the test by the mishaps and chaos of coordinating a production with limited resources. Along the way we see Jazmine's personal struggle for independence, her yearning for a romantic partner, and how a single spark of creativity can spread joy throughout a community.
DIRECTED, CO-PRODUCED, and EDITED by Patrick Longstreth, CO-PRODUCED AND CO-STARRING Chad Faries
STARRING JAZMINE FARIES
WHAT THIS MOVIE DOES WELL: Right from the start you understand and are reminded of what a small world we really live in and within that context, that ideal, that there is always room for hopes and dreams. Not just willy nilly ones either, but actual realized hopes and dreams. I think the combination of Chad Faries' conceptual design instinct and Patrick Longstreth's filmmaking prowess really do give a great sense of today's small town living while highlighting and promoting the star of the film, Jazmine. Make no mistake about Jazmine from frame one radiates off the screen and in front of the subtext and narrative highlighting Jazmine and her family's journey there is these incredibly poignant, impressive resolute philosophies that just snare you out of the entertainment and into a deep thought or emotional heartstring pull. This film is gorgeous, for as little equipment and as small a crew as there could be (essentially just Patrick and his wife). The Longstreths' sense of framing and movement really incapsulate not just the small town feel on a grander stage but it allows for incredible moments that are moved by Jazmine's interactions and thoughts out loud. Smart editing also really allows the vulnerability and authenticity shine through.
WHY CHAMPION THIS MOVIE: Look its easy to say, this is a movie that shows you a dreamer who has all the odds stacked against her but perseveres because it is that exactly at its core. It also is not done with a pie in the sky idealism that often feels like patronizing more than a real narrative. It is so true to life, and love, and loss as much as anything and while there are plenty of documentaries out there that just are meant to push an agenda and a lot people like those, at a time especially right now when doom and gloom fill not only our news cycles but our Documentaries this is a welcome flight of fancy that doesn't shy away from being a real, well done documentary. Also you get to meet Jazmine and I guarantee you, something she says or does in this movie will not just surprise but never leave you. I think we could all use a little wisdom when we least expect it.
YOU CAN FIND THIS FILM IN THE UNSTOPPABLE FEATURES PROGRAM
SYNOPSIS: A professional company of actors with disabilities defies expectations by taking center stage in Chicago the musical.
Co-Directed by Brian Malone & Regan Linton (who also stars)
WHAT THIS MOVIE DOES WELL: Anyone who follows this blog knows I am a sucker for featured art in a movie, whether its a movie about a movie, or in this case a theater production in a movie. Add on it takes place, in a place I know very well, in Denver, I am all about it. Still though what wins me over is the heartbeat in which this movie moves at and is driven by, the sense of community that resonates with the folks within it. This is less about overcoming and more about overachieving. A welcome aim that really sells the opportunity to see the engine that runs this play be built from the ground up. Don't get me wrong, the human elements, the stories of those involved interwoven in here has a profound impact as much as anything but the manner in which Brian Malone and Regan Linton designed the approach layers these incredible stories around the process. So in a sense you feel like you are on a journey rather than an expose or visual essay that sometimes these films can come across as. Brian and Regan really hone the narrative a lot through the editing which reflects in the pacing being smooth, the transitions being almost being so natural there becomes this layer of transparency that not only feels seamless but looks it as well. Maybe the best edited film I have seen thus far in the festival. Capturing the richness of each person's journey doesn't create forced parallels which I think is unique and appreciated but moreover really important as we watch each character go through this process. It's that type of fly on the wall approach that really keeps this movie Imperfect and yet super entertaining. In lesser hands that wouldn't have been possible.
WHY CHAMPION THIS MOVIE: Theater was hit hard by this pandemic, outlets are important for human beings and this outlet being highlighted even more so because it sharing the human experience beyond just seeing how a play is put together. I think if you are an artist you will have some appreciation of that. That being said, this is also an interesting look at how to put on a grandiose production and the riches, the struggles, and the unique pitfalls something like that presents and how it effects every person different. If you are wondering about that process then this is good movie to give you some idea of it.
YOU CAN FIND THIS MOVIE IN THE DOCUMENTARY FEATURES PROGRAM
SYNOPSIS: A raw and intimate portrait of motherhood, acceptance, and navigating love during an unprecedented time in history.
Co-Written and Directed by Sasha Levinson, Co-Written by Jonathan Sanford, Starring Sasha Levinson and Sylvie Bellanca
WHAT THIS MOVIE DOES WELL: I think these stories need to be told and they will be hard to do in this format from now on. Especially since we don't look to, at least in the foreseeable future, be in an every person is in an isolated starkness situation as we did back in 2020. So I think the brave and bold manner in which Sasha Levinson's constructs a narrative around that idea, one that has many twists and turns, mostly unexpected, but not surprising given the nature of isolation, loss, and love evolving that this time period brought for many of us, is both heart wrenching and hopeful. In many ways it may be hard to see the hopefulness here but with the earnest approach Sasha takes and allowing herself to detach with a documentary director's keen sense of capture to be as vulnerable as one of her many past documentary subjects might have been, really gives the narrative breath and take it into its most truest shape. Any skilled filmmaker can tell you that you can shift the narrative if you really wanted to but part of what makes documentary so powerful is the selfless boldness of its contrasts and subtext. Which is only captured by real time truth and vulnerability. This is an emotional rollercoaster of a movie, showing the ill effects of the results of being isolated and insulated within the confines of the same doldrum daily montane activities and sometimes stuck within your thoughts. It's even more smartly captured with a 9 year old perspective in Sylvie who really gives you an unique look that most of us haven't had. Sharing this experience, not just the real one we see on camera, but the "behind the scenes" with her daughter, teaching her how to construct a narrative and trust in the process of really allows a fourth wall break that speaks for us at times when we are just looking at them as subjects. Its hard to believe that sometimes a 9 Year Old is the truest voice of reason. This film is well edited and the narrative paces nicely into a unexpected character shift that tailors a 3rd act that leaves us with a sense of hope, layered as it might be but that's real life, complicated and complex. Hence setting the documentary's aim to where in that sense it doesn't miss.
WHY CHAMPION THIS MOVIE: I don't know many who won't relate to this movie and the time it takes place and the unique challenges that time presents because we all are living it. Maybe not to the extent that Sasha and Sylvie are but it certainly will have some sort of recognition to most everyone. That being said having lived it, is it an experience worth living through again? Well I do think when it is all said and done you will feel this film more than you might any others on this year's Slamdance slate. Whether that is in a therapeutic capacity or an existential one is up to each viewer.
YOU CAN FIND THIS MOVIE IN THE DOCUMENTARY FEATURES PROGRAM
SYNOPSIS: Two best friends set out to create the ultimate senior video for their graduating class of 2019.
DIRECTED & CO-WRITTEN, AND CO-STARRING ETHAN ENG, PRODUCED BY MATTHEW MILLER & MATT JOHNSON, CO-WRITTEN & CO-STARRING JUSTIN MORRICEWHAT THIS MOVIE DOES WELL: It's auteur, avant-garde, mockumentary filming approach not only lends this sense of authenticity that is all to relatable to the High School experience for many of us, and from many different angles, but its put you through the paces of a movie that becomes a movie through its own devices. That clever idea kind of always not only keeps you engaged but plays with your sense of loyalty to a conventional narrative movie. Much like a Blair Witch Project in that small subtle sense, where it wants you to perceive reality and fiction as one in the same, Therapy Dogs surpasses those expectations and brings that style to a whole new level by incorporating the actual events that help move the narrative along enough to where you start to question it at some point along the way. Staying close to the vest and sticking to its guns makes Therapy Dogs that much more compelling, as we wait to when the turn might happen. Ethan Eng has a real good feel for when to make the absurd more absurd and when to pull back and let the emotional wave and true to life aspects linger. It's storytelling a 3d chess level that plays to the strengths of all involved. Even when Morrice and Eng are called upon to "act" it never truly shifts tone wise and thus that plays so well at the moment when you were just about to think about where this all goes and it takes you there. It's like watching a good magician. You know its a trick but with the subtlest of slight of hand you question the very nature of knowing its a trick and are left to feel like you are never quite sure. All that to say this is the smartest narrative fictional film I have seen in a while.
WHY CHAMPION THIS MOVIE: High school is a such a memory for us all and the exploring nature of this might just bring you back or make you feel like a weird sense of comfort that it hasn't, at its core not changed all that much. Sometimes we like feeling that, and you can deny that all you want, but its true of most if not all of us. Plus this really a fun exercise in trying to figure out what your brain is telling you to process in watching this. So if you are someone who enjoys when a movie fires up your synapsis then this is the film you need to see. Also if you like jackass type, absurd sketches, this film has a few of those for you to sink your teeth into too. It's a the feature length version of Teen Spirit really, so if you remember high school like that, this is the movie you might be talking about for years to come.
YOU CAN FIND THIS MOVIE IN THE NARRATIVE FEATURES PROGRAM
Lastly I want to talk about a few short films that capture this theme, all are documentaries per say (although one of them really has a much more narrative feel to it).
WHY CHAMPION THIS MOVIE: There are a lot of folks out there that hold a certain stigma and polarizing opinion about Documentaries and then also about short films. This may be the piece that changes your mind. We can call it your gateway drug into some more documentaries (some of which I have already reviewed on this blog) that speak in the daring and bold fashion Xenia's does. This may require a couple viewings to find all the buried treasures here but it's short enough to do that and interesting enough to want to do that no matter how long it was anyway. This is a mind that is going to be innovating in this space and beyond for a long while, so its best to familiarize with her work right now.
YOU CAN FIND THIS MOVIE IN THE DOCUMENTARY SHORTS PROGRAM
WHY CHAMPION THIS MOVIE: If we aren't daring the youth of this world to express themselves with the power and grace that are both on display in this film, we are suppressing a generation that has so much to say and offer us older generations. Wisdom isn't powerful if its hidden from the ones who seek it. These types of films are the ones I hope everyone gives a chance to because I think it really does open your eyes to an idea that compassion embraces and we need to have more of that in our world.
SYNOPSIS: An animated reflection on Hannah’s parent's gender transition and the evolution of their relationship.
WHY CHAMPION THIS MOVIE: Awareness is so important in the world right now but I think tolerance and love are as equally important and there are a few of those films here at Slamdance, but this one is animated. Actually it is heartfelt and as self aware as much as it is aware. I think that's all ideas to champion for sure. Beyond all that it is a neat conversation to be a privy to and one I think a lot of people will enjoy.
YOU CAN FIND THIS MOVIE IN THE DOCUMENTARY SHORTS PROGRAM
Well if these films aren't sounding worth the $10 for the full access of the festival, maybe tomorrow's look into the Festival will be more of what you are hoping for? We will be highlighting a few more films, mostly in the narrative feature programs but we have a little something from everything tomorrow too. So Stay tuned for Part 2.