Sundance and Slamdance: Heidi Does (+Doesn’t) Park City Image

Sundance and Slamdance: Heidi Does (+Doesn’t) Park City

By Heidi Van Lier | February 6, 2024

Covid Car Ride

So… I got Covid in Park City and had to hightail it the f**k out of there. But before that happened, several interesting conversations transpired in Park City about the state of indie film and what the future holds. These conversations have made me come away with a new sense of okay, fine, disdain…for my own indie film career, but also, fine, a new sense of purpose and inspiration.

The Slamdance Winners!

I did have a chance to deliberate on the Slamdance Jury for Narrative Features, Episodic, and Breakout Films (over Zoom) from an empty house in Park City. I did this just before I got in my car with COVID-19 and drove 10 hours home. It would’ve been shorter, but I started to fall asleep on the road suddenly out of nowhere and, closing my eyes for an instant, parked next to a Wendy’s in Cedar City and let 45 minutes slip by.

I loved so many of the films this year, and I want to point out why these films mean something to me from a filmmaker/filmmaking standpoint…

Firstly, f**k, I’ve been telling myself some lies, I realized in these filmic conversations.

I’ve told myself mostly that being a girl in this business when I first started in the 80s/90s was the main reason I never fully launched. I still haven’t fully launched as a writer or a filmmaker, let’s be honest. I’m 53.

Yes, I’ve made and sold movies that have won awards and critical acclaim. (Link to my silly Slamdance Gratitude video this year) Yes, I’ve been proud of that work. And yes, I have mostly been satisfied with my experience as a filmmaker and in the last 15 years as a TV producer…but money and the ability to make what I want for a reasonable budget has eluded me. Through repeated storytelling to fledgling filmmakers, I became aware that a large portion of this was my inability to successfully sell my soul. This sounds like I’m being an a*****e, but I assure you, I’m attempting to take some accountability here.

I’m saying this now because there is definitely a time to sell your soul, and as these filmmakers now begin to encounter the soul-selling market, I want them to understand that I mostly failed because no one whispered to me, “Sell out now.”

This doesn’t mean doing anything that will harm them in any way or harm others. It doesn’t mean to make schlock films or films in any half-assed way. It just means that your career choices will never be exactly perfect, especially in the beginning. It’s okay to “sell out” in the ways you can stomach NOW. Of course, there are lines not to be crossed, but I wouldn’t even entertain ideas that weren’t mine when I was in my 20s. I wouldn’t even listen to my agents when they brought me things. Scripts weren’t mine, ideas weren’t mine, so I was out. But I was dumb.

At one point, it sounded like I’d booked a writing gig on My So-Called Life, which I was thrilled about, and I didn’t feel an ounce of soul-selling in this. But then, running into Jordan Catalano (iykyk) at Sundance, he told me the show had just been canceled (I think even that morning, maybe), and that was the only thing I’d really said yes to. I was devastated.

I immediately went and made my own movie after this…and went on to get turned down by Sundance but win the Slamdance Film Festival and sell my film to IFC. This started my career all over again. But I’m starting my career all over again now, what? 4th time. Selling out the first time would’ve made my life very, very different. Sell out now, even if it’s just a little. Sell out big if you can stomach it. Sell out often if the opportunities arise. Make some money. Make some product. Then go make your own cool stuff.

I am a filmmaker, a storyteller, a person who really puts herself out there in ways I see other people are sometimes afraid to. I do this knowing there are haters, backlash, and criticisms, and sometimes, it even makes people dislike me that I do this. I’m sure these new Slamdance filmmakers know these reactions well. I have lost friends who don’t seem to enjoy my want to put my creativity out into the world. (One person actually told me my work is embarrassing and they are embarrassed for me, a studio exec told me my work was “a fluke” so they wouldn’t hire me, and countless other sorts of strange insults other than, “it’s just not my thing.”) “It’s just not my thing” is actually a reasonable response to almost any work someone dislikes, and it simply means that work is not for that particular person. The filmmakers at Slamdance this year, and every year, are these courageous few who put their work out there, taking risks, knowing their work is not for everyone, as NO work is for EVERYONE. It is admirable and inspirational, and for me, comforting.

Indie Producer Barbie created by Neil Jamieson @the_sporting_press
(This is a scary-close almost representation of me while in Park City.)

Through this eye, I’d like to discuss some of the Slamdance Films this year.

Directed By Lily Lady

Let’s start with Sam’s World. I mentioned Lily Lady in the first entry, but I think her art background has made the idea of putting work out that might ruffle feathers a way to get people to see her work. It’s its own PR, in a way. I’ve been around the art world enough to know that I still barely know anything about the art world, but I do know what I like. Irreverence is always part of it. Lily gets this already.

Directed By Rasheed Stephens

Rasheed Stephens’ film, All I’ve Got and Then Some, tells the story of many of us in Los Angeles. The desperation for any acknowledgment, the pain and struggle while doing that. The constant conflict of what you must do to stay vigilant. It’s heartbreaking and triumphant at the same time. Rasheed is so talented as a comedian that it’s clear he’s going to succeed, but it’s also clear that there will be more struggle ahead. There is no actual “making it” like there was when there was a studio system, but there is the Tonight Show, the Comedy Store Main Room, and the HBO/Netflix special. This film is my story, too, to some degree and in multiple ways. (Yes, all roads lead back to me….I am writing this damn piece.)

I walked by the comedy panel at Slamdance, and Rasheed made eye contact with me in the hallway. This was my only interaction with him unless he used to open the mic at the Comedy Store when I ran the cover booth and light in the Original Room. I don’t totally agree with paying comics less than $100 to perform. I think it was $15 when I was there. But I do agree that the set in his film was a major achievement, and so was actually making this film. To put yourself out there for as long as humanly possible and then be recognized for it in even the smallest ways is success.

Directed By Fabio D’Orta

The Complex Form blew my mind cinematically. I’d heard that there were only three crew members, and this was impressive and notable – especially for such a professionally accomplished film. Later, I remembered that my Slamdance-winning film was made with two crew members, and I was one of them (yep, back to me again). I did all my own sound while also being on camera the entire film. Yet, their film is gorgeous and careful and so compelling in a way I didn’t even attempt to pull off with only two crew members and couldn’t have managed with a crew of 30. I made my Domestic Partner for Insurance Purposes, Dave. Watch it as soon as I get home—just a very well-made film on every level. Every filmmaker should seek out this film. Making a film is a daunting ordeal, but it is doable…and with almost next to nothing.

Directed By Giuseppe Garau

The Accident (L’Incidente) is ballsy AF, and I’m so happy for Giuseppe Garau’s Grand Jury Prize win! First of all, he nailed the thing I’m talking about. He made a super watchable movie with a risky as-all-get-out device…, and it paid off big. WOW, and wow to his lead actress as well. Just so good! I’m not even going to mention what the device is because it’s so fun to slowly realize this as you watch his film.

Directed By Tim Almeida

Dog Spelled Backwards made me sob my eyes out in a Slamdance theater, to an embarrassing degree, while sitting next to Jeff, the Austin Film Office Guy, and Chad, the Florida Keys Film Office Guy. Like I thought I wasn’t going to recover. Someone needs to pick this show up ASAP and give them some cash to keep saving dogs through training and just gutting. The love of the dog is a special love that takes so much work, but I’m so glad I get to do it every single day. And I’m just doing it so Rescue Husky Rory will let me hug her a second longer. Tim Almeida is doing it to help these dogs find homes and actually stay alive.

Festival Dating Tips

All of these films made me think about my own risk-taking—the risks I still take. I didn’t try to get my little show in any episodic festival section. I’m not sure she’s festival material. But I did shoot some of Phoebe Kind Of while I was up there. Because that’s what we do. We keep making stuff and putting it out there. And making stuff and putting it out there. And making stuff and putting it out there. And making stuff, and yeah.

When I was in high school, I had a group of friends who called me the “Guidance Counselor. “I have some weird need to be a cheerleader and support others to do the cool thing they want to do. People do this for me, too, and I so badly need it. I think we all do. So let’s all make cool stuff and take it to film festivals next year. So corny, I know, but someone needs to hear me say it…even if that person is me.

I think I’ve just needed my own guidance counselor, really.

I befriended animated short programmer Andi Benge while I was in Park City. I have zero clue how I didn’t give her COVID-19 as I slept just a few feet from her while coughing one night, but she’s still COVID-free a week later. Andi, a filmmaker and professor, focuses on super fun and cool animated projects…and they are completely compelling, boundary-pushing of current cultural and often sexual belief systems, and just plain fun to watch and look at…I love her work. This was also the best reminder to just f**king get s**t done.

Can’t wait to see what all these Slamdance filmmakers make next, and I do hope they sell out…if only just a little.

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