Festival Beat: Freezing Weather Belied Warm Welcome at Slamdance 2017

My Park City initiation was like getting hugged and slapped at the same time.

I produced Dave Made a Maze, a practical effects-driven adventure/comedy about a frustrated artist who gets lost inside the cardboard fort he builds in his living room. Slamdance embraced it as warmly and wholeheartedly as any moviemaker could hope. With pre-festival publicity workshops, personal tours for each arriving team of filmmakers, truly engaged Q&A sessions, and daily happy hours attended by sponsors and programmers from around the world, the Slamdance staff and volunteers provided exactly the sense of family promised in the brochure. I’ve been to a lot of film festivals over the years, and I made more friends in seven days at Slamdance than I did at the rest of them combined. Beyond that, I saw a slew of great films, and I saw the people who made them at my own screenings. The sense of community at Slamdance is hard to overstate.

Meanwhile, the January weather was brutal, transportation was an expensive grind, lines were ubiquitous, and everyone but you seemed to have a reason why the bouncer should let him cut in front. The end of January brings a lot of inflated egos to north-central Utah, and it is easy to feel small. Fortunately, if you engage with people you quickly learn that it is also easy to feel welcomed and appreciated, even beyond the walls of the Treasure Mountain Inn that hosts Slamdance.

Team Dave Made a Maze, including director Bill Watterson (back, third from right) and producer John Charles Meyer (front, center), at Slamdance 2017. Photograph by Ian Stroud

We met countless filmmakers, of course, but my team and I also started conversations with art gallery owners, Lyft drivers, ski bums and people who just love watching movies. Those conversations led to everything from screenings to party invites to restaurant suggestions. One afternoon, a friendly couple seated next to my wife and me at a restaurant picked up our check simply because they “like to support filmmakers.”

If you’re ever lucky enough to take a film to Slamdance, I can promise that you will return home with a battered liver, a hot tub rash, an appreciation of the (inevitably better) weather where you live, a pocketful of business cards, and some amazing memories. Chances are, you’ll also have a burning desire to return next year, and a plan brewing for how to do it more comfortably. MM

John Charles Meyer is a producer on feature film Dave Made a Maze, which took home the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature at Slamdance.

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