Some Powerful Film Finds at Slamdance 2023

By Mike Szymanski

Don’t think of Slam Dance as an also-ran to Sundance!

It is established by a wild bunch of filmmakers who wanted to showcase the unfiltered voice of independent artists, Slamdance is an ongoing experiment that has proven, year after year, when it comes to recognizing talent and launching careers, the independent and grassroots film communities can do it themselves.

This year, Slamdance happened from January 20–26 in Park City and Salt Lake City, Utah. Of course SlamDance offers its own unique and fascinating quarry of indie films that don’t make it into Sundance but are just-as or even-more intriguing.

We got to watch a few of them and here are our reviews:

The Underbug

Rating: 8/10

Director: Shujaat Saudagar

Writers: Abbas Dalal, Hussain Dalal, Shujaat Saudagar

Style: Horror

Time: 68 minutes

Trailer: vimeo.com/780051109

The first few minutes of this film are languid and luscious. A snail skulks across a log, and it’s all scenes of a secret world in nature: a fuzzy caterpillar, a grasshopper, lush rain, distant thunder. The world is secret, slow, dark and dangerous. They seem otherworldly, until a man is walking through.

No words are spoken for a very long time, and when they are, two men confront each other. Are you Hindu or Muslim? Where are you from? Are you fucking with me?

Actors Ali Fazal and Hussain Dalai meet in a large abandoned house. It is dark, a family lived there, it seems abandoned. The men talk about the rampages going on outside, the death and destruction and sectarian violence going on in India. It is the even of their Independence Day.

Hindu or Muslim?

One of them concludes: “As long as we don’t know who we are we are safe.”

Maybe not, there’s a presence in the house. A ghost, a spirit? They don’t know. Good or evil?

The film is very dark, very tight, very claustrophobic. The men are like the creatures pictured at the beginning, slow-moving, under but deliberate, and ready to going into combat at a moment’s notice.

The men talk about food, about pickles, about jerking off. They are convinced there is a witch in the house, one of them pees in his pants he’s so scared. The trouble is, it’s difficult to figure out what is going on, and there’s no satisfying conclusion.

What is the specter that the men are afraid of in the house? The two rioters who take refuge in the abandoned house become more and more aware of the eerie presence and they are haunted to the edge of their sanity.

Hindu or Muslim? At some point it doesn’t matter.

With Peter Bradley

With Peter Bradley

Rating: 6/10

Director: Alex Rappoport

Style: Documentary

Time: 85 minutes

Trailer: https://www.withpeterbradley.com/trailer

Official Site https://www.withpeterbradley.com/

Peter Bradley is a 79 years old artist and curmudgeon you will immediately fall in love with. His artwork is unique and the kind of painting that some people might consider spilled paint on canvas, but we get to watch to see how well-planned it goes down and how careful.

Since the 1970s, the abstract artist was overlooked and forgotten after he experienced a moment of fame. Peter Bradley spends his time reflecting on his artistic process and how he is slowly being rediscovered later in his life.

Some of his work is in black and white, but most of it is in color. He is the first black artist who made it into a gallery on Madison Avenue and after a spate of great critiques, he never got into a gallery again.

In hia life he tells stories about hob-nobbing with Miles Davis, and the importance of music and sound in his work. As he has music playing, you watch him spill his paint and watch it curdle. He explains how every sound has a color, and how you have to work with it.

Then, there are the preposterous stories, like the rumor that Miles Davis may be his father, even though he was only 14 years oldie than him.

Despite his wife having two jobs, and he only sold one painting in two years, he still plugs away at stardom and fame for his art.

“I always have paint, that’s what I do, and sometimes I have to sell it,” he says.

Starring Jerry as Himself

Rating: 6/10

Director: Law Chen

Writers: Law Chen and Jerry C. Hsu

Style: Documentary

Time: 78 minutes

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi3727869209/?ref_=tt_vi_t_1

This may seem like a farce, but it’s a true story of “Starring Jerry as Himself.” It is adapted from the first hand account of Jerry in this Law Chen documentary of a group of fascinating characters.

Jerry Hsu is an elderly Taiwanese immigrant who gets a call from the Chinese police that someone using his name is laundering money. They say that Jerry has to go undercover at his bank in order to prove that he is innocent of the money laundering.

It may stretch the credibility of what is true and what isn’t but it’s just as dramatic and rather unique.

There’s no doubt that Jerry’s ex-wife Kathy (with the “pumpkin face”) steals the movie as a prima donna who is beyond belief. She is rather evil. And, his doctor has to explain that he is no actor.

The police take about transferring money, and they whole thing keeps you guessing about what is up. Some of the reenactment is absurd and not very interesting at all.

Jerry’s sons are Jon, Joshua and Jesse who are involved in the film both in front and behind the camera. They know their father and even the documentary has flaws. They understand that their father lives in a tiny empty apartment while Kathy lives in a lavish house, and something’s definitely wrong.

It does get depressing as Jerry seems boxed in by his own dilemmas.

Silent Love

Silent Love

Rating: 8/10

Director and writer: Marek Kozakiewicz

Style: Documentary

Time: 126 minutes

Trailer: https://www.im youtube.com/watch?v=sv2Mcz5Qa0U

A 35-year-old very sexy woman Aga finds herself taking care of her teen brother named Molosz after their mother’s death. But, one thing that Aga has kept a secret for a long time is her ongoing relationship with a woman named Maja.

This is an unconventional and somewhat problematic relationship for a tiny conservative village in rural Poland, but this delightful film shows how it can work out.

Maja becomes like a father to the boy, and they determine that “weird love is better than no love at all.”

It’s a documentary that really is a romantic drama narrative because it all takes place in front of you. Marek Kozakiewicz serves as the director, writer, and cinematographer and he has a window into this world that few ever get to see.

The lively music by Bartosz Bludau makes it a fun film that carries the storyline well with emotion and sentiment. If you get a chance to seek it out, it’s well worth finding.

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