Monday, January 29, 2007

The Best Of Slamdance 2007

So most of you are probably saying, what the heck is Slamdance? Well...think of it as Sundance's little brother. Movies are limited to less than a $1 million budget, so that $37 art house movie you made in college could be a contender. There's more to Slamdance than just movies, but let's start with some top film picks:

American Zombie. As I mentioned in the Sundance picks, zombies were big at both festivals. What's interesting about this flick is that it takes the stance of a documentary (or mockumentary), looking at zombie life in modern L.A. as they struggle to have their lifestyle accepted by the masses. They lead normal, almost boring lives, occupying normal jobs, and they have real dreams to reach something more. The movie ends with the zombie clan attending a "political rally" known as Live Dead, which forces the audience and filmmakers to come to a harsh realization about the zombie lifestyle. The overall plot metaphors make this movie deeper than one would imagine from the title, and it's definitely worth some attention.

Over The GW. This film, which is based on a true story, follows the saga of two siblings attending a rehab clinic in New Jersey. What was supposed to be a 30 day stay turns into a 2.5 year nightmare for the two, where they are subjected to torture and brainwashing - they actually come to believe that they will die should they leave the clinic. The film, which is meant to open the publics eyes to the real corruption that occurs in these environments, has a powerful message.

American Fork. This lighter tale (figuratively speaking) follows a grocery store clerk named Tracy as he tries to open the eyes of those around him to the wonders life has to offer. And he does this while still dealing with his own issues (not the least of which is his enormous weight problem). The movie follows along through his adventures with dance class, mentoring problem teens, and passing his driving test. This is definitely a strange one.

The Death Of Michael Smith. This movie, which was shot in Detroit, had a budget of only $541, which is remarkable in itself. Even more remarkable is the fact that the movie is actually good. The film follows three men, all with the same name, that are linked to the murder of an inner city kid. The story is told in multiple non-linear parts, giving it a unique feel (it's not Go by any means), yet it's still easy to follow. Check this one out, if for nothing else, than to see that good movies can really be made on a real budget.

As I said, Slamdance isn't just about movies - they also judge video games. In fact, the controversy of this first game really made a name for this year's festival:

Super Columbine Massacre RPG! Yes, you read that one right - this is a video game about the Columbine school shooting. Now, I know what you're thinking - someones just trying to cash in on a tragedy. However, that's not the case, as the game is actually distributed freely. According to the game's creator, the RPG was made to raise awareness about the incident, to try and prevent future school violence. Despite that, the game was pulled by the conference organizers for fear of lawsuits. Unfortunately, it was only pulled after the game made it to the finals. Yes, this is actually a good game that some people enjoyed. Removing the game from the competition caused quite a backlash from other participants at the festival. Some even pulled their own games in protest, saying that the festival was violating the publisher's first amendment rights. It's easy to understand both sides of the argument, but personally, I think the game should have remained. Censorship is wrong - only the public has a right to decide.

Plasma Pong. There were other games at the festival, and one of which was actually a Pong update. This fast paced version takes the game for a "physics spin", using kinetic models to affect the ball in different ways. Luckily, you don't need a Ph.D. to play the game, since it is fun - although not particularly deep.

The Blob. This is not an adaptation of the cult-classic horror film, but instead seems to draw its inspiration from another game: Katamari Damacy. In this game, you maneuver a large blob that absorbs color in order to paint a city. There's not much of a plot, and this was certainly not the most entertaining game at the festival, but I thought it was worth a mention considering the popularity of Katamari.

So that's it for now from the festival you've probably never heard of. To learn more, check out the website here.

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