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Slamdance—the ‘other festival’ offers good vibes and good films

By Noelle Johansen

PARK CITY—If the Sundance Film Festival isn’t independent enough for you, the concurrent Slamdance Film Festival should do the trick. Slamdance, a festival for and by filmmakers, is like the friendly kid sibling to Sundance—less pretentious, more approachable.

MV5BMTk4NDY0ODkyNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTg2MzYwNDE@._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_AL_Case in point: While Sundance redefined Jesus Christ’s persona in “Last Days in the Desert,” Slamdance showcased “Bloodsucking Bastards,” a comedy resembling “Shawn of the Dead” with vampires in lieu of zombies.

Movie snob or not, you might find “Bloodsucking Bastards”—directed by Brian James O’Connell and starring Fran Kranz, Pedro Pascal and Yvette Yates—well written and hilarious. The premise itself—a lowlife employee begins noticing increasingly suspicious, undead activity in and beyond his cubicle—is perfectly absurd. The dialogue is quotable and the characters have quirky traits that make them seem real.

In the midst of a fake blood-splattered climax (no spoilers, no worries), two coworkers, one turned vampire and one still human, discuss the pros and cons of one killing the other and vice versa, all the while nonchalantly tossing vending machine snacks back and forth.

At the premiere of another film, psychological thriller “They Look Like People” (director Perry Blackshear, starring MacLeod Andrews, Evan Dumouchel and Margaret Ying), the familial vibes of Slamdance thrived. Some of us sat in the aisle of a small theatre room during the film, trying not to be spooked by the dark, and the empty space around us. The story follows two longtime friends, one of whom begins to notice unnerving, demonic changes in the people around him. The result is terrifying, and also surprisingly meaningful.

When it ended, members of the audience hugged and congratulated each other, as if the entire group was made of close friends. Maybe they knew each other from college, as the director and actors of “They Look Like People” did. Or, maybe they all bonded at the roaring Slamdance opening night party two days prior.

Either way, everyone was friendly and relaxed, with none of the celebrity-stalking haze that can be seen in the eyes of nearly everyone on the streets of Park City during Sundance. Because all the Slamdance films are screened in the same building, there is little chaos involved in getting from one screening to the next.

The 2015 festival guide boasts that the likes of Christopher Nolan and other directors got their starts at Slamdance. And so, hipster cinephiles can rest assured that as Sundance becomes ever more mainstream, Slamdance still screens it before it was cool.

TP