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(The 2012 Slamdance Film Festival runs from January 20th-26th. Visit the film’s official website for more information. FULL DISCLOSURE: Paul Sbrizzi is a features programmer for Slamdance, but he put on his film lover/reviewer hat to write this sampler platter of a post.)

Slamdance, now in its 18th year, is letting its guerilla roots grow out this year with a proud crop of boundary-pushing offerings that open up exciting new horizons for indie film. Here’s a Whitman Sampler of a few highlights.

Narrative Competition

In OK, Good, director/co-writer Daniel Martinico and co-writer/star Hugo Armstrong construct a pitch-black narrative by simply and rigorously intercutting raw, doc-style scenes from the life of a Los Angeles actor—audition footage, acting-class exercises, driving and listening to motivational tapes. They dip film school concepts of story structure in a vat of acid, leaving nothing but bleached bones. Armstrong plays a driven, talented guy putting every molecule of his existence into expressing something nobody wants to hear. It’s a modern Greek Tragedy with subtle notes of comedy if you’re brave enough not to look away.

Diametrically opposed in tone is the German film Heavy Girls (Dicke Mädchen), directed by Axel Ranisch—a seemingly gentle, old-world tale of a playful, unassuming middle-aged man, Sven, moving gracefully through a modest existence with his dementia-stricken mother. The film gradually waltzes right off the dance floor, as Sven strikes up an oddly romantic friendship with his mother’s married caretaker, Daniel. Big bellies bouncing through the woods and a surprising use of a pair of headphones are among the film’s many delights.

BINDLESTIFFS by Andrew Edison is exactly the kind of movie that all the Hollywood note-givers, lawyers, and MPAA Kommandants spend their waking hours making sure you will never see: a genuine, uncensored, bitingly funny satire of high school today. It starts with a Catcher in the Rye book burning, and goes everywhere it shouldn’t with its three young innocents on their filthy path to losing various aspects of their virginity. This is John Waters-caliber, smart, dirty humor applied to the absurdities of the lives of teens in the twenty-teens.

Two young auteurs making powerful debuts are Peter McLarnan with The Sound of Small Things, and Frank Rinaldi with Sundowning. McLarnan puts a woman with a hearing disability at the center of his young-adult relationship story, playing on our natural inclination to empathize with her even as it becomes increasingly clear that something besides her hearing is off. He builds an atmosphere of paranoia that’s at odds with the groovy youthful milieu of his characters through his austere camera placement and (not) editing. Rinaldi is also rigorous, methodically building a slow-core rhythm to his coolly art-directed story of a woman who’s lost her memory—holding back a pretty special trick of the tail for his final reel. It’s a highly polarizing film that’s already sparking a lot of debate and controversy.


In the docs competition, a must-see is Danland’s rich and detailed character study of Porno Dan, a straight porn actor. Directed by Alexandra Berger, and shot over the course of years, and through the arcs of two different romantic relationships, it has the scope of a novel, following the story of a man-child who’s chronically starved for love, but also compelled to have sex on camera. Equally impressive is James Stenson’s Kelly, a walk on the wild side with a trannie from North Carolina turned Hollywood working girl. Kelly as a character is documentary gold, willing to expose everything about herself and her lifestyle, but most importantly the way her mind works—her goals and dreams, her many rationalizations, her (very L.A.) efforts to construct an identity, which we see happening in real time.


Quite a few glittering jewels here. Soil by Meejin Hong (largely abstract and coolly sensual) and The Observer by Abbey Luck (a hypnotic vision of human heads floating through underwater dreamscapes) are dazzling and evocative kinetic fine-art pieces; Hietsuki Bushi by Ryo Hirano is typically Japanese cool-weirdness—a middle-school doodling-in-my-notebook drawing style and a story that involves barf and alien spacecraft. Bradley Schaffer’s Thumb Snatchers from the Moon Cocoon brings on more aliens, in an endlessly inventive stop-motion piece that’s also a very funny satire of Texas law-and-order gun culture.

Narrative Shorts

Among the live action shorts, a real stunner is Landon Zackheim’s Another Bullet Dodged, a messy and raw story of a young woman looking for some emotional support from the baby daddy of her unborn/not-likely-to-be-born baby. Inspired dialogue, crackling performances, and not a trace of sentimentality—feature please! Crown by AJ Rojas is a murky, bongwatery story, like a secret knowledge coming straight from the id: addicts converge on a drug den, tracing colored chalk trails on the ground, as pushers harvest… uh, something you just gotta see. There’s another flavor of dream logic in John M. Wilson’s People Parade, a surreal comedy overflowing with ripening and rotting characters and free-form ideas, corralled (barely) by the theme of a low-budget, family-run variety show constantly on the verge of falling apart.

—Paul Sbrizzi

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  • Freddy Johnson

    People Parade is hilarious…

    January 21, 2012

    There aren’t a lot of words, but there’s a great monologue written by Oliver Stone at the end of the film.
    That is to say they stole an entire monologue from “Conan the barbarian” and used it without Oliver Stone’s permission in the guise of being pop-culturally ironic.
    The problem with that is that its 2012 and pulp fiction was a hell of a long time ago.
    They’re still getting away with the use of a great monologue they can’t really take any credit for.
    These people threatened to have my neck broken and everyone in my family killed.
    I live in a country where I have no rights and major news networks run ads for the well known cults.
    I’m defending my life by making it public that Hugo Armstrong threatened to have my neck broken and everyone in my family killed.
    (It’s not easy getting through to the mainstream media,let me tell you.)
    I challenge any, cult-member, Hugo Armstrong, Dan Martinico, or anyone involved to come and make their case against me in the court of public opinion.
    I don’t need the mainstream media.
    These people made a film.
    I’ve known Hugo Armstrong since 1995.
    I’m an actor myself.
    I did a great job even though I was being put through a (well known cult) drill disguised as a film shoot.
    Martinico and Armstrong construct one mostly wordless chunk of waste after another because neither of them can write their way out of a wet paper bag.
    The concept for this film was stolen from me in 2 ways.
    Before inviting me to work on a short film called “bike thief”, Armstrong and Martinco told me that they were interested in making a film that I was currently writing called “entrance to Elsinore.” about a Tom Cruise inspired character named Paul Roam.
    The story revolved around his public meltdown, the spectacular revelation of what his cult really is, and just how powerful and insane they are.
    It was a far more ambitious and beautiful film than this very small wordless bike thief re-make we have here.
    Zek Lightning was Hugo Armstrong’s roommate at the California institute of the arts and the two had been close friends ever since.
    The truly diabolical irony of okay.good, Is that Armstrong and Martinico are both involved with cult activity themselves.
    -and bike thief wasn’t actually a film.
    It was a drill,exactly like the “cultish movement workshop” this character also named “Paul” experiences.
    On the set of bike thief, Armstrong threatened to have my neck broken and everyone in my family killed because I’d been trying to blow the whistle on at least one of the mafia like cults that both Armstrong and Martinico are members of.
    Okay good is part rip off of:
    “entrance to Elsinore”
    -in which a mega-star is turned into an unknown actor who’s cult induced freak-out is far less grand and spectacular than the vision Zek Lightning (Me.) had to tell a real story.
    The rest of Okay.Good. is their attempt to explain away what they did to me on the set of bike thief and to imply that I went crazy during their “cultish movement workshop”,which was actually the filming of “bike thief.”
    Cults operate covertly.
    They can’t ask a non-member to participate in a drill, so they invite him to work on a film shoot that actually is a drill.
    Hugo Armstrong attempted to cover his tracks by sending a thank you gift for participating in a “survival camp” set to film.
    The point of the film was to subject me to a (well known cult) drill, and threaten my life in an environment where any attempt to contact the authorities would’ve led to me being arrested or diagnosed with a non-existent mental illness.
    There was a police officer named Luke who came to see what was going on during the bike thief filming.
    We were in mount Washington park near the home of then Mmyor, Antonio Villaragosa.
    There are times when all you have is a right to free speech and all 26 letters of the alphabet.
    Dan Martinico and Hugo Armstrong threatened to have my neck broken and everyone in my family killed on the set of a short film called bike thief.
    They just released a feature half based on this (well known cult) drill disguised as a film shoot,and a concept entirely stolen from me about a character based on Tom Cruise.
    They began to harass me not too long after I wrote the first scene.
    Hugo Armstrong and Dan Martinico invited me to begin bike thief shortly before my first trip to the emergency room in 2005.
    I once witnessed a man in a night robe trying to escape from the (well known cult) celebrity center on tamarind and franklin in Hollywood.
    I Am Zek Lightning

    January 31, 2012
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