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December 19, 2006

Slamdance, Smogdance, and other answers to Sundance

You've got to admire the resourcefulness some people have. According to the New York Times (H/T Reveries), elitism has its benefits: It fosters innovation in the outcasts, which may lead to some quality art and films.

“It was 1995, and Sundance was getting bigger,” Mr. Baxter explained. And so, with a slim pile of films and a bit of youthful moxie, Mr. Baxter and his buddies decided to do the unthinkable — go head to head with the big boys. Setting up shop in downtown Park City, Utah, just up the road from Sundance’s headquarters, Slamdance ran the same week, marketing itself to guests as the indie alternative to the increasingly celebrity-studded Sundance.

It worked. This year’s 10-day Slamdance festival is expected to draw more than 20,000 film fans. “We’re a very friendly film festival — it’s very inclusive,” Mr. Baxter said. “That’s a very important thing because it’s not just about the industry responding to it. Filmmakers need a general audience of people who would normally go and see a movie.”

... When Roger Durling took over as director of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival four years ago, he found a mid-spring film festival with shaky attendance. He couldn’t understand why a festival wouldn’t thrive in beautiful Santa Barbara, Calif., with its endless shopping and first-rate restaurants. So he took a chance and moved it to late January. Not only would that attract East Coasters looking for a dose of sunshine, he figured, but the Santa Barbara festival could carve out its own niche: booking celebrities whom its organizers predicted might win Academy Awards in the spring, and offering guests an opportunity to mingle with them.

Last year, the festival showed foresight by honoring George Clooney and Philip Seymour Hoffman. This year, Mr. Durling and his team sent out feelers to honor Will Smith as early as last March, and next month Mr. Smith will join Helen Mirren, Forest Whitaker and Al Gore at the festival.

There probably won’t be a rash of A-listers in nearby Pomona, Calif., next month for the ninth annual Smogdance, a tongue-in-cheek title poking fun at the city’s permanent haze (Pomona is 35 miles east of Los Angeles). But guests will find a thriving local arts scene. “We position ourselves against Sundance for fun,” said Charlotte Cousins, the festival director. “We are getting bigger and more sophisticated, but we aren’t really trying to compete with Sundance.”

In addition to Slamdance, Smogdance, Santa Barbara, and Beloit, don't forget about the Damah Film Festival in Culver City, CA, in May. Sorry, Redford, it's not all about you, but thanks for the motivation. Now, as to the swag at those other festivals . . .

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