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(The 2024 Slamdance Film Festival runs January 19-25 and virtually on the Slamdance Channel from January 22-28 with over 125 film programs and live events. Check out Melanie Addington’s movie review of Nina is an Athlete. Seen it? Join the conversation with HtN on our Letterboxd Page.)

Slamdance opened today in Park City celebrating its 30th anniversary while its larger cousin Sundance celebrates 40 years. Moving into the sweet spot of what is affectionately called “The Yarrow” – renamed the DoubleTree by Hilton, Slamdance recently came down from their home at the top of Main Street to the hub of industry networking spots. Sundance has its Press & Industry screenings next door at the Holiday Village 4 Cinemas and had in the past also used the Yarrow space. 

Out of the gate, Nina is an Athlete, kicked the “Unstoppable” category, the program by and for filmmakers with visible and invisible disabilities, into high gear. Ravit Markus and Livi Kessel co-direct this 72-minute documentary as Nina Gorodetsky, nearing 40, faces her only chance to make it to the Paralympics in Tokyo in 2020 as a wheelchair badminton champion. As a wife and mother, she also looks at her biological clock and what it will mean if she decides for a second child. Meanwhile, as a disabled woman living in Israel, she also struggles with identity and lack of understanding about her strengths as the men around her seek to better understand. 

We follow the athlete for three years as she turns a COVID loss of the postponed games to her advantage when she learns she is pregnant. Balancing both her training and the birth of her second child while burdened with a well-meaning but not always the most chore-helpful husband, a disabled father, and an older mother who also needs care, Nina carries the weight of a lot of people while managing to hold on to her dream. Her perseverance becomes apparent as we meet her family and her coach and support system who all try to connect even if not always understanding exactly what she needs or who she is. 

Gelling with the unstoppable spirit of Nina as a mother and disabled person, Baby, opened the block, and world premiered in the  Unstoppable shorts category. Director/producer James Di Martino and writer/producer Llewellyn Michael Bates bring an atmospheric romantic dramedy about a woman with Down syndrome with a dream to have a baby. With an overall happy ending, despite apprehensions of the caretakers of the two parents, the spirit of the short reminds us that disability does not have to limit your identity as a potential parent or lover. Luckily, the film has a soft touch and doesn’t hit us over the head with the message as much as it just genuinely reminds us of the power of love. From Australia, young actor Erin Kearns as Mikaela shows us what a force she is to be reckoned with and I can not wait to see more from her.  

In both of these films, the common thread is not just being a strong female, not just being disabled, not just rising above expectations of you, but this additional layer of burden that women are expected to shoulder to take care of loved ones which is a universal connector. While the fathers in their lives can play and have fun and not carry equal weight with family needs, both women rise to the occasion. While the two films are set in Israel and Australia, their universality of womanhood shines through. 

The films play again at the Student Union Theater at the University of Utah on Monday, January 22 at 3 pm as part of Slamdance. 

– Melanie Addington (@MelAddington)

2024 Slamdance Film Festival; Ravit Markus, Livi Kessel; Nina is an Athlete

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Melanie Addington is the Executive Director of Tallgrass Film Association as of 2021. She has worked in the film festival world since 2006, first as a volunteer, and then eventually becoming the Oxford Film Festival Executive Director in August 2015. She used to be a reporter for the Oxford Eagle (a community newspaper) and then Pizza Magazine Quarterly (a global trade magazine). She still loves pizza. And she still writes for Hammer to Nail and Film Festival Today about her other great love: movies. She is from Southern California originally but lived in the South for 20 years. She now resides in Wichita, KS, and has one son.

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