The festival was founded in 1995 by Dan Mirvish, Jon Fitzgerald, Shane Kuhn, and Peter Baxter along with co-conspirator Paul Rachman and has since become a year-round organization championing emerging filmmaking talent and their new work. Peter Baxter has been in charge of Slamdance since 1997.
Festival discoveries have included directors Christopher Nolan ("The Dark Knight Trilogy"), Marc Forster ("Monster's Ball"), Jared Hess ("Napoleon Dynamite"), Oren Peli ("Paranormal Activity"), Benh Zeitlin ("Beasts of the Southern Wild"), Seth Gordon ("Horrible Bosses"), Lynn Shelton ("Humpday"), and Lena Dunham ("Girls"). Slamdance also attracts renowned alumni including Larry Clark, Steven Soderbergh and Johnathan Demme.
At the 2005 Festival, Slamdance screened the documentary Mad Hot Ballroom, which was immediately purchased by Paramount Pictures for the largest amount ever for a feature-length documentary. Also in 2005, actor Chip Godwin, won an unprecedented Honorable Mention Sparky award for his performance in John Erick Dowdle's comedy, The Dry Spell.
At the 2007 Festival Seth Gordon's premiere The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters became another sought after documentary and was acquired by New Line Cinema.
In 2008, Oren Peli's Paranormal Activity played its Festival premiere at Slamdance and was acquired by DreamWorks who then passed domestic control of the film onto Paramount. During the weekend of October 11–12, 2009 Paranormal Activity broke the box-office record for a film playing at fewer than 200 theaters by selling $7.1 million worth of tickets in the US and Canada. As of October 25, Paranormal Activity had earned $66 million and reached number 1 at the Box Office. By January 10, 2010, the $10,000 budgeted picture had amassed $107 million at the domestic Box Office and $193 million worldwide.
2009 festival highlights included premieres Mississippi Damned directed by Tina Mabry and I Sell the Dead produced by Larry Fessenden and directed by Glenn McQuaid, which was acquired by the Independent Film Channel and Anchor Bay Entertainment. A Quiet Little Marriage, directed by Mo Perkins, won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Dramatic Feature and shortly afterward was picked for distribution by the Independent Film Channel.
2010's festival event took place in Park City, Utah on January 21–28, 2010. It included the world premiere of Steven Soderbergh's And Everything Is Going Fine (a documentary about the late actor and monologuist Spalding Gray) and introduced the "Filmmaker Summit". This Summit invites the global filmmaking community to collectively craft a new charter for storytelling and content distribution that can succeed by using new technology. The Jury Prize for Best Narrative film was won by Snow and Ashes, directed by Charles-Olivier Michaud and the Jury Prize for Best Documentary was won by “American Jihadist”, directed by Mark Claywell. The Audience Award for Best Narrative was won by The Wild Hunt, directed by Alexandre Franchi and the Audience Award for Best Documentary was won by Mind of the Demon: The Larry Linkogle Story, directed by Adam Barker.
For the 2011 Festival, Slamdance received a record number of over 5,000 submissions. The Sparky for Best Narrative Film went to "Stranger Things” and Best Documentary went to “Bhopali,” which also won the Audience Award. The Audience Award for Best Narrative went to “Silver Tongues.” Following their premiers at Slamdance “Real Life Superheroes” sold to HBO and Atrocious was acquired by the same team at Paramount that developed the Paranormal Activity franchise.
At the 2012 Festival, Canadian distributor Phase 4 Films acquired the high school comedy Bindlestiffs. The Slamdance title directed by Andrew Edison will be the first movie to be released under Kevin Smith's "SModcast Pictures Presents".
In 2013, Slamdance screened the horror film Jug Face, which was acquired by Gravitas Ventures for a VOD release. Also acquired by Gravitas were MIchael Urie's He's Way More Famous Than You, Stephen Feinartz's The Bitter Buddha starring Eddie Peppitone, and Peter Baxter's Wild In The Streets. The Sparky Award for Narrative Feature Film went to Matt Johnson's The Dirties and the Jury Prize from Documentary went to Nicole Teeny's Bible Quiz. Audience Awards went to the feature Hank & Asha, directed by James E. Duff and the documentary My Name Is Faith directed by Jason Banker, Jorge Torres-Torres and Tiffany Sudela-Junker.
In 2014, Slamdance celebrated its 20th festival anniversary. Notable alumni like Christopher Nolan and the Russo brothers made special appearances. The Jury Award for Narrative Feature went to Rezeta by Fernando Frias De La Parra and for Documentary Feature to Elliot (now Kung Fu Elliot) by Matthew Bauckman and Jaret Belliveau. The Audience Awards went to Copenhagen by Mark Raso (Narrative) and Kidnapped For Christ by Kate S. Logan (Documentary).
The 2015 Slamdance Film Festival included the premiere of Dana Nachman's Batkid Begins: The Wish Heard Around The World, which was acquired by New Line Cinema for distribution with Julia Roberts attached to star in and produce the feature adaptation of the film; also in the program were Gabrielle Demeestere's Yosemite starring James Franco, and Dr. God's Bloodsucking Bastards which was acquired by Shout! Factory for distribution.
A special Coffee With... event was held with James Franco and Variety's Scott Foundas, discussing the world of DIY filmmaking according to Franco. The Jury Award for Narrative Feature went to Tired Moonlight directed by Britni West. Special Mentions for Narrative Feature were made by the Jury for Across the Sea and They Look Like People. The Jury Award for Documentary Feature went to Ben Patterson's Sweet Micky For President. A Special Mention for Documentary Feature from the Jury was given to 20 Years of Madness. The Audience Award for Narrative Feature was given to Nisan Dag and Esra Saydam's Across the Sea. The Audience Award for Documentary Feature was given to Sweet Micky For President.
The 2016 Slamdance Film Festival featured the world premiere of the crowdfunded comedy Director's Cut (film), directed by Adam Rifkin and written by Penn Jillette. Additionally, Slamdance hosted a Coffee With…event featuring Adam Rifkin and renowned duo Penn & Teller. The program also featured Million Dollar Duck directed by Brian Golden Davis, which took home the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award for Documentary Feature, and was acquired by Lionsgate and Animal Planet. Highlights also include documentary feature Fursonas by Dominic Rodriguez, which took home the Spirit of Slamdance award and was acquired by Gravitas Ventures. Narrative Feature Buddymoon by Alex Simmons, Flula Borg, and David Giuntoli (formally titled Honey Buddies) took home the Audience Award and was acquired by Orion Pictures for Theatrical Distribution. Featured in the Beyond Program, How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town directed by Jeremy LaLonde was acquired by Gravitas Ventures. A part of the Special Screening program, Let's Be Evil by Martin Owen was acquired by IFC (U.S. TV network) Midnight.
The Jury Award for Narrative Feature was awarded Driftwood, written and directed by Paul Taylor. A Special Mention for Narrative Feature was given to Hunky Dory, directed by Michael Curtis Johnson. A Special Mention for Documentary Feature went to Art of the Prank directed by Andrea Marini, while a Jury Honorable Mention for Experimental Short went to Cup of Stars by CalArts alumni, brothers Tyler and Ryan Betschart
The 2017 Slamdance Film Festival featured the world premiere of the environmental water crisis Documentary What Lies Upstream directed by Cullen Hoback. The program also featured Strad Style directed by Stefan Avalos, which took home the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award for Documentary Feature. Highlights also include Beyond Feature Neighborhood Food Drive by Jerzy Rose, which took home the Spirit of Slamdance award. Narrative Feature Dave Made a Maze by Bill Watterson, which took home the Audience Award for best Narrative Feature. Future '38 by Jamie Greenberg took home the Audience Award for Beyond Feature, the first to be awarded at the Slamdance Film Festival.
The Jury Award for Narrative Feature was awarded Dim the Fluorescents directed by Daniel Warth. A Special Mention for Narrative Feature was given to Kate Can’t Swim directed by Josh Helman. A Special Mention for Documentary Feature went to The Modern Jungle directed by Charles Fairbanks.
In addition to the festival, Slamdance's Screenplay Competition have discovered a number of talented screenwriters, including Joshua Marston (Maria Full of Grace) and Steven Fechter and Nicole Kassell, co-writers of (The Woodsman). In 2008, Slamdance entered into an agreement with Upload Films to develop and produce Drool, the winner of Slamdance's Screenplay Competition. Written and directed by Nancy Kissam, Drool premiered at the 2009 Festival and thereafter was acquired by Strand Releasing. Chad Kinkle's southern horror screenplay Jug Face won the 2011 Grand Prize. During the 2012 Slamdance Festival Modernciné producers Andrew van den Houten and Robert Tonino announced their production of Jug Face in Nashville, Tennessee.
Each year the winning Short screenplay is produced by Slamdance and premieres at the film festival as part of the $99 specials which are paired with a non-competition Special Screening. In 2011, Dead in the Room, written by Marjory Kaptanoglu (winner of Slamdance's 2010 Short Screenplay Competition) was directed by Academy nominated filmmaker Adam Pertofsky. In 2012, Harold's Bad Day, written by RJ Buckley was directed by Slamdance alum Jordan Brady. The 2011 Grand Prize winner Jug Face, written by Chad Crawford Kinkle, premiered at the 2013 festival, where it was picked up for distribution by Gravitas Ventures.
The Slamdance 2013 Screenwriting Competition was presented by JuntoBox Films. Awards were given to the top three scripts in each category, with a Grand Prize of $10,000 cash that went to Butterfly Children by Melanie Schiele. The short screenplay winner Think Ink by Emily Hu is currently in production and will premiere at the 2015 Slamdance Film Festival, as part of the Special Screenings section.
The 2014 Screenplay Competition saw an original teleplay (Search for Life by Andrea Janakas) take home the Grand Prize. Search For Life was also given the award for Best Original Teleplay. The Best Narrative Feature was given to HF Crum's The 3 Faces of Hunger & Thirst. The Best Horror Screenplay was given to Sean Patrick Geraghty's The Hounds of House Rearden. The Best Short Screenplay was given to David Shushan's Over the Line (And Far Away). The awards were given at the Writers Guild of America, West in Los Angeles.
The 2015 Screenplay Competition received a record breaking 50% increase in submissions, with nearly 3,500 total submissions. Narrative Feature script The Delegation by Shane Andries was awarded the Best Narrative Feature and Grand Prize Award. Best Horror Screenplay was awarded to Speak of the Devil by Jesse J. Cook. Best Short Screenplay was awarded to Deep Storage by Susan Earl, and the Best Teleplay was awarded to Castle Rock by Jamie King. The awards were given at the Writers Guild of America, West in Los Angeles.
The 2016 Screenplay Competition received a record breaking number of submissions, with 3,600 total scripts submitted. Narrative Feature script Great White Shark by Andrew Kightlinger was awarded the Best Narrative Feature and Grand Prize Award. Best Horror Screenplay was awarded to The Housesitter by Suju Vijayan. Best Short Screenplay was awarded to Conviction by Anju Andre-Bergmann, and the Best Teleplay was awarded to Lone Wolf by Bryan Kett. The awards were given at the Writers Guild of America, West in Los Angeles.
In January 2010, Slamdance and Microsoft announced its partnership of year-round Slamdance Film programming on Xbox and Zune.
Slamdance President and Co-Founder Peter Baxter said, “Slamdance has a true independent identity and proven track record of unearthing great films. It’s time now to be progressive and unleash our film programs outside of the festival and directly help filmmakers find popular, worldwide audiences. The standard of Slamdance films deserve this much and we believe the audience will respond.”
As of opening day at the 2011 festival, select Competition Feature Films were made available via Zune video Marketplace as part of this year’s Festival and VOD Showcase for the duration of the festival, January 20–27. Select films included narrative features Modern Imbecile’s Planet World, Snow on tha Bluff by Damon Russell and The Beast Pageant by Albert Birney & Jon Moses; documentary features “Road Dogs” and “Scrapper”, as well as films from previous years’ festivals.
In 2013, Slamdance expanded its VOD business onto iTunes, Amazon, Google, Vudu and PlayStation. Slamdance Studios acquired and released four Slamdance favorites and award winners through Cinedigm/New Video, including Monteith McCollum's Hybrid, Ron Eyal & Elanor Burke's Stranger Things (film), Rudd Simmons' The First Season, and Daniel Martinico's OK, Good.
Also in 2013 "The Slam Collective" made Slamdance's first collaborative feature film called I Want To Be an American. In the spirit of the Surrealist parlor game of chance Exquisite Corpse, 7 Slamdance filmmakers each made a documentary short film based on imagery forwarded on by the previous filmmaker in the chain.
In 2014, Slamdance Studios acquired Nicole Teeny's 2013 Sparky Award winning feature documentary Bible Quiz for a limited theatrical release in major markets such as New York City, Los Angeles, and Austin, with a wide video release on Netflix, iTunes, and all major video on demand platforms with new partner Virgil Films.
In January 2015, Slamdance Studios launched a streaming program on Hulu that includes Slamdance favorites and independent classics including Mark Levin's Slam, Cullen Hoback's Terms And Conditions May Apply, and Gerard Johnson's Tony. The Slamdance-produced short film "D.I.Y.", featuring conversations with prominent Slamdance alumni Christopher Nolan, Penelope Spheeris, The Russo brothers also premiered on the platform.
The Slamdance organization has established "Slamdance On The Road", a traveling theatrical showcase supported by the film festival organization and its filmmakers. "On the Road" brings popular Slamdance films to audiences that otherwise would not have the chance to see them and provide theatrical venues with an alternative film program experience. "On The Road" events usually take place in US cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Austin, and Detroit but have also traveled to countries like Canada, China, Poland, France and Chile.
In 2015, as a further development of its theatrical distribution efforts, Slamdance announced a partnership with ArcLight Hollywood to produce and promote the Slamdance Cinema Club, which features two Slamdance films a month for the first three quarters of 2015.
In 2016, the Slamdance Cinema Club expanded to include programs at ArcLight Chicago while continuing its program in Hollywood.
In 2015, Slamdance partnered with filmmakers Steve Yu and Diamond Dallas Page for a theatrical release of The Resurrection Of Jake The Snake as the first title for Slamdance Presents, a distribution enterprise dedicated to creating theatrical and other commercial opportunities for independent filmmakers. The Resurrection Of Jake The Snake documents the rehabilitation of Jake Roberts and Scott Hall. The film played in markets in the United States and Canada, including Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. Upon its subsequent VOD release The Resurrection Of Jake The Snake became the number one documentary on iTunes
In 2015, Slamdance integrated digital, interactive, and immersive art into its program with the launch of DIG. DIG opened at Big Pictures Los Angeles on December 4, 2015, and showcased cutting edge works in the field of digital storytelling.
Featured projects included Pry by Tender Claws; The Visitor by James Kaelan, Eve Cohen, and Blessing Yen; SLEIGHTING by Rachel Ho; Woman Without Mandolin by Fabiano Mixo; Simulacra by Theo Tagholm; Thumper (video game) by Drool; Memory of a Broken Dimension by XRA; Apoptosis by Kytten Janae; Line Wobbler by Robin Baumgarten; and TL;DR [the shape of the internet (Orgy)] by Theo Triantafyllidis.
In 2016, Slamdance DIG continued into its second iteration, expanding its program with the creative input of Dekker Dreyer and virtual reality network Littlstar. Featured projects included (THREE² x 3P2:VR) by Float (Kate Parsons & Ben Vance); Bad News by Expressive Intelligence Studio (James Ryan, Ben Samuel, Adam Summerville); Infinit-o by Corazon Del Sol; Manifold Garden by William Chyr; Natural History by Lillian Mehrel; Soundstage by Logan Olson; The Magic Dance Mirror by Kyle Ruddick; You Must Be 18 or Older to Enter by Seemingly Pointless. DIG opened at Big Pictures Los Angeles on December 2, 2016, and then again at the Slamdance Film Festival in January 2017.
The festival used to host a computer and video game competition called "Slamdance Guerrilla Games Competition."
In January 2007 the festival for the first time dropped a finalist. The game Super Columbine Massacre RPG! was announced as a finalist in late November 2006, but the controversial game was dropped by Slamdance founder Peter Baxter with no outside pressure as initially reported. In response to this 6 other finalists withdrew from the competition in protest, Jonathan Blow withdrew Braid, thatgamecompany withdrew flOw, Waking Games withdrew Once Upon a Time, the developers for Toblo withdrew their game (however, on January 16 the college which they attend, the DigiPen Institute of Technology against their wishes "overwrote our decision and readmitted Toblo to the Slamdance Festival", because the developers did not consult the college prior to their withdrawal decision), Queasy Games withdrew Everyday Shooter, Nick Montfort withdrew Book and Volume, and The Behemoth withdrew Castle Crashers. The University of Southern California has also withdrawn its sponsorship of Slamdance over this controversy.
On 26 January 2007, the date the game awards were to be presented, a panel discussion with the remaining finalists resulted in the withdrawal of the "Official Jury Selection" for all finalists, and no awards were handed out. The competition has not been held since.
Slamdance continued to create new avenues for its filmmakers expanding beyond Park City during the festival by creating the annual Filmmaker Summit in 2010.
In 2011, Slamdance presented the second annual Filmmaker Summit, along with the Ford Foundation, IndieFlix and Banyan Branch, bringing together some of the most innovative thinkers in the industry. Speakers included Scilla Andreen (IndieFlix), Tiffany Shlain (Director of "Connected", "Yelp"), Brian Newman (subgenre media), Jenny Samppala (Banyan Branch), Amy Powell ("Paranormal Activity"), Lance Weiler ("Pandemic"), John Anderson (Variety), Orlando Bagwell (Ford Foundation), and Greg Pak (Robot Stories and Hulk comic book scribe).
At the 2011 Festival, Slamdance launched a Student Initiative program involving both students and their faculty to help them gain a greater understanding of the current realities and opportunities in independent film.
In 2014, Slamdance celebrated its 20th anniversary and welcomed back alumnus Christopher Nolan where he was presented with the Founders Award.
In 2015, Slamdance partnered with emerging digital cinema camera company Digital Bolex to produce and promote a short film competition utilizing Digital Bolex's D16 Digital Cinema Camera. Films in the competition included work from Slamdance alumni including Paul Rachman, Ntare Mwine, Marie Jamora, Nedra McClyde, along with films by Elle Schneider, Lindsey Haun, and Seed&Spark & Bright Ideas Magazine's tribute to Jean-Luc Godard's Alphaville (film), starring Caitlin Fitzgerald.
Slamdance also partnered with Zealot Networks in 2015, bringing an in-depth "Coffee With..." chat with former Maker Studios CEO Danny Zappin. Zappin explored his beginnings as an early-adopter of D.I.Y. digital distribution through YouTube, further talking with filmmakers about developing a platform for success through social media.
When the Festival began it received 48 submissions. As of 2015, Slamdance receives over 7,500 submissions per annum and is now known as a significant festival of discovery. Filmmakers who showcased their first feature films at Slamdance have gone on to have a collective worldwide box office gross of more than $10.618 Billion.
The 24th Slamdance Film Festival will take place from January 18–25, 2018 in Park City, Utah.
Slamdance was referenced in the season 19 episode of The Simpsons entitled Any Given Sundance. Slamdance was also referenced in the series finale of Glee on March 20, 2015.