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This year's Slamdance Film Festival, the upstart counterpart to the larger Sundance Film Festival, promises to instill within viewers confidence that, despite what some may say, film is not dying. New technology coupled with younger generations of storytelling make for what Slamdance president and co-founder Peter Baxter anticipates will be an exciting year of film.
"Our artists don't care how hard it is to succeed," said Baxter. "They're not afraid to experiment. They're not afraid to fail. They are coming from the outset of the beginning of something here. It's a very creative ground to work on if you are open-minded like that."
Slamdance is marking its 22nd year, Friday through Jan. 28, in Park City with a competition slate of 20 films and much more, including shorts and special screenings. The opening-night film for Slamdance on Friday is "Director's Cut," a genre-bending horror movie directed by Adam Rifkin ("Detroit Rock City") and written by Penn Jillette (of Penn & Teller), who also stars.
Open-mindedness is a theme that will carry over to Slamdance attendees who opt to take a glimpse into subcultures featured in documentaries such as "Los Punks; We Are All We Have" out of South Central and East L.A. to a "cast of local eccentrics, survivors and lone-wolves" in "Myrtle Beach." Perhaps the most eyebrow-raising documentary at Slamdance this year is "Fursonas," an 81-minute look into the world of furries a community of individuals from around the world who participate in various forms of furry fandom.
Directed by furry enthusiast Dominic Rodriguez, whose fursona is "Video," the documentary dares to go where most self-proclaimed furries do not venture: the media. "Fursonas" began as Rodriguez's senior thesis project at Point Park University and evolved into a film that attempts to shed humanity on the controversial world of fur fandom.
"To me it was about getting a conversation started and getting people to think about this a little more deeply," he said. "That means presenting people as people."
So what is a furry? Rodriguez introduces viewers to various individuals who are just like everyone else. They have relationships, children, jobs and hobbies. Things get interesting when viewers meet their "fursona," the anthropomorphic character that the film's participants adopt or identify as when in the company of other furries. At anthro conventions, many furries will dress up in mascot-esque costumes designed to resemble their animal character. Fursonas featured in the film range from a raccoon to a fox to a dog.
Viewers learn that some go beyond fur fandom to "otherkin," when a person identifies in all aspects of life as something other than human. A Pittsburgh-based man who identifies as a dog and has attempted to legally change his name to Boomer the Dog is the most extreme example of this genre featured in the film.
Rodriguez said he hopes the film will clear up misconceptions that surround the scene largely, that being a furry is "just a sex thing."
"[Furry fandom] is something that people care about a lot. People assume that it is this sort of behind-closed-doors, disgusting kind of thing. I think, although sex is part of it, it's a really beautiful fandom when you're in it because it's very positive and supportive," he said.
The topic of sex has many furries shying away from revealing their interests in the culture.
"When you start to introduce the media, things get complicated," said Rodriguez, who anticipates a bit of backlash within the community from the premiere of his film at Slamdance.
"I hope [the film] makes for productive discussion," said Rodriguez, who will participate in a Q&A after the film's premiere Friday at 10 a.m. (It also screens Jan. 25 at 10 p.m.)
P Slamdance president and co-founder Peter Baxter and festival manager Clementine Leger discuss some highlights for this year's Slamdance, running Jan. 22-28 at the Treasure Mountain Inn, at the top of Old Main Street in Park City. For schedules and tickets, visit slamdance.com.
Slamdance presents Polytechnic, a workshop that invites filmmakers and festivalgoers alike to participate in a free, open-learning environment to explore new ideas and disrupt existing ones. The workshop also provides insight from filmmakers on what it is like to work in the filmmaking industry, and shares insider knowledge and tips.
"The work we did with Columbia University last year inspired us to do more on the education side of things at Slamdance," Baxter said. "This is about filmmakers that we have heard from after getting their films into the festival. These filmmakers have become very keen to share real-life filmmaking experiences."
• Saturday, Jan. 23, 12:30 p.m.
Baxter and Leger are fiercely proud of all of the films screening at this year's fest, but there are a few standouts they suggest catching if you have the chance.
"Myrtle Beach" • "It's not the kind of storytelling you are used to seeing in documentaries," said Leger. "It follows characters in Myrtle Beach and the stories are told in a unique and quiet way. I am excited about that doc because it's very different. They took the risk of 'people may not get this, but we're doing it anyway.' "
• Saturday, 3 p.m., and Jan. 28 at noon
"Embers" • "What [director] Claire Carré did with a budget under a million dollars, her first feature, is phenomenal," said Leger. "It's a dystopian film that takes place in the future where humans are losing their memory and we don't really know why. It has this 'Children of Men' vibe. It's a strong, powerful film. It's very impressive for a young woman who it's her first feature. I think we're definitely going to see more of her work in the future."
• Jan. 28, 5:30 p.m.
"Let's Be Evil" • "It's a psychological sci-fi by really a bright new talent [Martin Owen]," said Baxter. "In many ways, because of the story's complexity and how well the director worked with the actors, and also the story which he wrote, you can't help but compare him with another Slamdance alum, Chris [Christopher] Nolan ('Dark Knight')."
• Saturday, 3:15 p.m., and Jan. 25, 7:30 p.m.