By Sean Boelman
When cinephiles think of January film festivals, the first one that comes to mind is obviously Sundance, but it’s important to also remember its more indie, also Park City-based cousin Slamdance which runs concurrently and focuses exclusively on films without distribution. Slamdance is always an exciting showcase for new, independent talent, with a majority of the films playing there being directorial debuts.
We at disappointment media will be covering the 2022 virtual edition of the Slamdance Film Festival, and we will be bringing you our reactions to some of the films we see throughout the festival. Be sure to check out this article to read our thoughts, as we will be updating it throughout the week as we watch more films!
Adrian Murray’s Retrograde is the type of movie that one wonders why they are watching it, and they are profoundly uncomfortable doing so, but it’s a satisfying experience nonetheless. Following a woman who receives a (purportedly) senseless traffic ticket and decides to fight it out of principle, there are some interesting things going on in the film thematically, but it’s so ambiguous in its approach that it doesn’t always pay off. Still, despite the somewhat mundane nature of the story and the annoying central character, it manages to be a surprisingly compelling watch.
The international films that play in the Slamdance lineup are always a trip, and Ultrainocencia definitely lives up to the wild factor of things. Following a quirky duo who sets out on a series of experiments to prove the existence of God, this is a fascinating premise, but the film doesn’t make much more of it than a series of wacky and vaguely philosophical scenes. There are definitely some very memorable bits that will stick with viewers (espipi-espipi-espipi-piritual!) but it far from lives up to the tremendous amount of potential it had.
The youngest film in the Narrative Feature lineup, Therapy Dogs follows two high school friends as they set out to make the ultimate senior video before they graduate. As an ode to youthfulness and doing stupid shit with your friends, it’s charming. There’s not much of a clear narrative here, and it’s definitely rough around the edges, but the imperfections are a lot of what make the film feel so authentic and lovable. Yet despite the issues with the film, it’s nice to see something as unfiltered and raw as this getting made by voices as real as Ethan Eng and Justin Morrice.
Kit Zauhar writes, directs, and stars in Actual People, a charming little dramedy that sets out to reinvent mumblecore for a younger, more diverse generation. It’s not a perfect film by any means, but Zauhar’s script is genuinely insightful at times, and legitimately funny at others, making it a mostly enjoyable watch. It almost falls apart with a climax that is contrived and over-the-top to the point of feeling melodramatic, and probably would have been better off with someone other than Zauhar in the leading role, the film works well as a whole.
The Civil Dead
The Slamdance lineup is often filled with films that defy traditional narrative structure, and so it is a surprise to see something like The Civil Dead playing there. A pretty standard quirky comedy with some horror elements, the film definitely has a very indie vibe to it, and thinks it is more profound than it is, but it’s charmingly slight nevertheless. Clay Tatum and Whitmer Thomas have some very good chemistry together, and it is a big part of what makes the film work well despite the fact that the script itself is pretty light in the laughter department.
One of my favorite things about Slamdance is that it often features fascinating documentaries about the most unlikely subjects, and Alex Nevill’s film Ferroequinology fits that bill. Drawing a connection between the motion of trains and the motion of society, the film’s central thesis is certainly very compelling. Although a few of its observations do end up being a bit on the pretentious side, a majority of them are legitimately insightful and sometimes even genuinely profound. It definitely rambles a bit more than it needs to, but for the most part, it’s a nice little documentary with some solid commentary.
Continuing an apparent trend of featuring documentaries about disabled theater performers (last year’s Me to Play was quite good), one of the highlights of this year’s festival is Imperfect, a documentary which follows a troupe of disabled actors putting on a stage performance of Chicago. The film discusses a lot about why representation and advocacy for artists with disabilities is important, but beyond that, it is also inspiring to see how these people are proving society wrong with their extraordinary talents. Although rights issues prevent us from seeing much of the actors at work, enough is there for us to get an idea of how impressive of a feat this is.
The 2022 Slamdance Film Festival runs virtually from January 27-February 6.
The Snake Hole
Retrospectives, opinion pieces, awards commentary, personal essays, and any other type of article that isn't a traditional review or interview.