PARK CITY, Utah — You would think one film festival would be enough during a week that draws 50,000 movie lovers to a town of 7,500 people.
You would be mistaken.
Since its founding in 1995, Slamdance has made sure that Sundance doesn’t get all of the January headlines. Just most of them.
Over the years, Slamdance, which was founded out of frustration by several filmmakers who weren’t accepted into Sundance, has presented everything from “Mad Hot Ballroom” to “Paranormal Activity.” Christopher Nolan debuted his first film, “Following,” there in 1999, a year before his “Memento” screened at Sundance. Penn Jillette’s “Director’s Cut” played the fest last year.
With its home base at the Treasure Mountain Inn on Main Street, Slamdance has a certain DIY aesthetic, caters to newbie filmmakers and plays to crowds that have been far more enthusiastic than pretty much any I’ve seen at Sundance.
Writer-director Jamie Greenberg’s “Future ’38” is presented as “a film that everyone thought was lost forever until a print was discovered in a Hollywood vault,” during an introduction by Neil DeGrasse Tyson. “Finally,” he says, “a movie that gets time travel right.”
In 1938, scientists have discovered Formica, which they can turn into a bomb that will be powerful enough when they detonate it in the desert, it will stop Hitler in his tracks. The only problem is the isotope’s half-life means it won’t be able to achieve that kind of power for 80 years. So Jack Essex (Nick Westrate) is sent to 2018 and given just 12 hours to retrieve it and get back home in order to save the world.
The screwball comedy features characters who still talk in 1930s slang as well as creative near-miss visions of the future. Cellphones still require an onscreen operator (Sean Young) to connect your calls, and “computer parlors” house the “electromesh,” a machine that can answer any question you have by spitting out a response on ticker tape.
It’s through a combination of the electromesh and Essex’s guide, a real dame of a flophouse manager named Banky (Betty Gilpin), that Essex learns his plan ultimately succeeds. Eighty years of world peace began, Banky says, when “they kiboshed some ghost town in the desert: Las Veegas or something.”
Wait, what now?
Even more creative is “Dave Made a Maze,” directed by first-timer Bill Watterson, who co-wrote the script with Steven Sears.
Annie (Meera Rohit Kumbhani) returns from a trip to find her boyfriend, Dave (Nick Thune), inside a medium-sized cardboard maze he built in their living room. When she asks him to come out, he tells her he can’t because he’s lost. “It’s much bigger on the inside,” Dave insists. And he doesn’t want anyone to come in to rescue him. “You wouldn’t last a second with all the obstacles and booby traps I’ve built.”
Annie calls their friend Gordon (Adam Busch), then others begin showing up, including a documentary crew, all of whom can’t wait to see the inside of the maze.
Epic and fantastic, the maze has taken on a life of its own, complete with origami animals and a very real minotaur. It’s absurd, hilarious and filled with a sense of wonder. Then people start dying, and it somehow grows even funnier.
With a mix of live action, puppetry and animation, there’s nearly as much imagination on display in “Dave Made a Maze” as there is cardboard, and there’s more than 30,000 square feet of that.
The result is a bit like “The Goonies” meets “Raiders of the Lost Ark” meets an enormous amount of weed.
If there’s more filmmaking talent like that out there, there’s certainly room for two festivals here.
Possibly even a third.