"Daniel Warth’s Dim the Fluorescents and Stefan Avalos’s documentary Strad Style have won the Sparky Awards for grand jury prizes at the 23rd Slamdance Film Festival," reports Variety's Dave McNary. Here's the complete list of winners, with links to reviews when available, plus, below, more reviews that have appeared during this year's edition.


Jury Awards: Narrative Features

Narrative Feature Grand Jury Prize. Dim the Fluorescents. World Premiere Director: Daniel Warth; Screenwriter(s): Miles Barstead and Daniel Warth. At ScreenAnarchy, Ernesto Zelaya Miñano notes that it "shows us the ins and outs of… corporate training seminars. It’s not the most exciting place to be, surely, but thankfully this movie has a bit more to say. Our two protagonists are a struggling actress named Audrey (Claire Armstrong), and her best friend and associate, aspiring playwright Lillian (Naomi Skwarna). Both are small fish in the big, big pond of the struggle that is show business, a place of constant auditions, rejections, and waiting around for that one phone call which can change your life. The pair have no choice but to devote themselves to the only paying work available: role playing for those aforementioned corporate seminars."

Narrative Features Honorable Mention. Kate Can’t Swim. World Premiere. Director: Josh Helman; Screenwriter(s): Jennifer Allcott and Josh Helman. From Vikram Murthi at IndieWire: "'This film came out of a simple idea: how do we process the death of a friendship?' explains Helman. 'And the heart of our film is the relationship between Kate and Em—two independent spirits so deeply entwined that they would burn it all down to the ground for each other. We’ve all had relationships like these; bonds that cut to the bone. But love takes many forms, and as people change, the bonds change with them. To hold on too tightly only frays the rope quicker. And at a time when life is changing for many of us—the end of our twenties—we struggle to let go of our adolescent selves and take the first steps into true adulthood—whether we want to or not.'"

Jury Awards: Documentary Features, Documentary Shorts

Documentary Feature Grand Jury Prize. Strad Style. World Premiere. Director: Stefan Avalos. "The main character is a societal outlier with a taste for Steven Van Zandt headscarves, who survives rural Ohio winters alone in a derelict farmhouse without heat, his bipolar disorder mostly under control," writes producer, cinematographer and programmer David Leitner for Filmmaker. "His waking hours are preoccupied with the 18th-century rivalry between the Guarneri and Stradivari violin makers of 18th century Cremona, Italy." This is "a beautifully shot shaggy-dog story with an overcoming-adversity theme and fairy-tale outcome Hollywood would kill for, which leaves audiences applauding through tears." At the Film Stage, C.J. Prince gives Strad Style a B-.

Documentary Feature Honorable Mention. The Modern Jungle. Director(s) and Screenwriter(s): Charles Fairbanks and Saul Kak.

Documentary Short Grand Jury Prize. Moriom. Director(s): Francesca Scalisi and Mark Olexa.

Documentary Short Honorable Mention. Irregulars. Director: Fabio Palmieri.

Jury Awards: Narrative Shorts, Animated Shorts

Narrative Shorts Grand Jury Prize. No Other Way to Say It. Director and Screenwriter: Tim Mason.

Narrative Shorts Honorable Mention. Oh What a Wonderful Feeling. Director and Screenwriter: François Jaros.

Animated Shorts Grand Jury Prize. Hold Me (Ca Caw Ca Caw). Renee Zhan.

Animated Shorts Honorable Mention. My Father’s Room. North American Premiere. Director and Screenwriter: Nari Jang.

Jury Awards: Experimental Shorts, Anarchy Shorts

Experimental Shorts Grand Jury Prize. UpCycles. Director: Ariana Gerstein.

Experimental Shorts Honorable Mention. Blua. Director and Screenwriter: Carolina Charry Quintero.

Anarchy Shorts Grand Jury Prize. Ape Sodom. Director and Screenwriter: Maxwell McCabe-Lokos.

Anarchy Shorts Honorable Mention. Horseshoe Theory. World Premiere. Director: Jonathan Daniel Brown.

Spirit of Slamdance Award. Neighborhood Food Drive. World Premiere. Director: Jerzy Rose; Screenwriter(s): Halle Butler, Mike Lopez and Jerzy Rose. At ScreenAnarchy, Ernesto Zelaya Miñano notes that the "synopsis should be a clue as to what kind of film it is: 'Awful idiots fail at throwing a party over and over.' Director Jerzy Rose definitely wasn’t out to make a feel-good comedy… and it works wonders."

Audience Awards

Audience Award for Narrative Feature. Dave Made a Maze. World Premiere. Director: Bill Watterson; Screenwriter(s): Steven Sears and Bill Watterson. "Wildly inventive on a micro-budget scale, actor Bill Watterson’s shift to directing is an impressively crafted feature that’s full of frequent surprises," writes Justin Lowe in the Hollywood Reporter. "Assembling 30,000 square feet of cardboard to build full-scale sets for a fantastical maze clearly requires substantial commitment and creative vision." At ScreenAnarchy, Loïc Valceschini calls it "a film that could very well be the result of Michel Gondry making Labyrinth as a slasher movie."

Audience Award for Documentary Feature. Strad Style. World Premiere. Director: Stefan Avalos.

Audience Award for Beyond Feature. Future '38. World Premiere. Director and Screenwriter: Jamie Greenberg. Stephen Saito: "Shortly before Greenberg headed to Slamdance, the writer/director who came up in the industry by crafting clues for the beloved Where in the World is Carmen Santiago? spoke about his latest adventure, the mischief involved in creating an alternate future and how the film achieved its distinctive visual look."


"As up-to-date as its display of a post-election tweet by Donald Trump—who looms conspicuously large during the film’s opening and closing minutes—What Lies Upstream is a quietly devastating documentary that’s all the more attention-grabbing for being such a scrupulously restrained and slickly polished piece of work," writes Joe Leydon for Variety. "Directed by Cullen Hoback, whose equally compelling Terms and Conditions May Apply (2013) cogently addressed privacy concerns in the digital age, the film percolates with a nonpartisan paranoia regarding state and federal regulatory agencies while linking the contamination of drinking water in West Virginia to what Hoback perceives as a perfect storm of industry maleficence, government negligence, and bureaucratic malpractice." And Stephen Saito talks with Hoback "about not drinking the Kool-Aid in West Virginia and how he gradually educated himself to become a water expert, as well as the importance of keeping the camera rolling on a documentary."

"A buddy-comedy wrapped in a British Columbia road trip, Suck It Up figures out how to find the humor in emotionally distressing situations that might elude any less determined characters than the film’s two protagonists," writes Justin Lowe in the Hollywood Reporter. Jordan Canning’s "deft feature" is "gently amusing while avoiding needless sentimentality."

Also: "In Jeopardy! format, the clue might go something like: 'This controversial contestant won 11 games and earned almost $300,000 on this show.' The response, of course, would be: 'Who is Arthur Chu?' … Yu Gu and Scott Drucker’s eponymous documentary relies primarily on Chu’s lower profile, post-Jeopardy! period for material, which comes off as rather uneventful."

Back to David Leitner in Filmmaker: "Clean Hands, a 10-minute documentary short screened before Strad Style, is a small masterpiece in tongue-in-cheek filmmaking. I’m originally from the buckle of the Bible Belt, but I’ve never seen anything like the Daytona Beach Drive-In Christian Church, a cross between a mega-church and drive-in movie…. Lauren DeFilippo’s direction, shooting, and editing evince a dry observational style reminiscent of Errol Morris in his early Vernon, Florida days. Brilliant stuff."

Also at Filmmaker, Matthew Lessner: "I made Automatic at Sea in an attempt to explore a number of questions about reality that I found particularly haunting." At ScreenAnarchy, Martin Kudlac calls the film "a psychedelic chamber piece with flair. A boy meets a girl. The boy invites the girl to his family's private island. He, Peter (David Henry Gerson), is a charismatic wealthy heir. She, Eve (Livia Hiselius), is a not so naive Swedish traveler. After witnessing these first couple of minutes, alarms may ring loudly in your mind to this scenario being a rom-com, or a coming-of-age story, or a mash-up of both. Lessner serves this as an hors d´oeuvre to a big fat red herring."

"Writer-director Kuba Czekaj follows up Baby Bump (2015) with a spellbinding second feature that captures the creativity and intensity of the teenage mind by manipulating both sound and image," writes Don Simpson , reviewing The Erlprince at Hammer to Nail. "To convey how the boy experiences the world, Czekaj utilizes a hyperreal atmosphere that teeters on the precipice of a fantastical, science fiction universe."

At ScreenAnarchy, Christopher Bourne reviews Kuro, "the exquisitely haunting and mysterious feature by Joji Koyama and Tujiko Noriko—both Japanese expats who are Europe-based multi-disciplinary artists… Rich with narrative and psychological ambiguity, vivid and intensely colorful, textured images, and a mesmerizing, hypnotic mood, Kuro is a true art film that honors both parts of that oft-overused term."

Also: "From the shards of a failed municipal project comes Aerotropolis, Li Jheng-neng’s remarkable debut feature, which has qualities that will be familiar to intrepid art filmgoers, especially those conversant with the films of Li’s fellow Taiwanese countryman Tsai Ming-liang…. He augments all this with a subtly absurd sense of deadpan comedy—a la Jarmusch or Kaurismäki—as well as some pointed political bite, making Aerotropolis feel bracingly fresh, absorbing, and surprising."

And also at ScreenAnarchy

Teresa Nieman on Cortez: "Director and star Cheryl Nichols and [lead actor] Arron Shiver are romantic partners in real life, which gives their performances an ease and natural chemistry that makes their fictional history not only believable, but touching."

Ernesto Zelaya Miñano: "Wexford Plaza plays out its story on a small and intimate scale, a picture of suburban life which probably repeats itself in many an abandoned strip mall. Joyce Wong didn’t feel the need to go big, and this affecting little slice of life is all the better for it."

And Martin Kudlac: "The initial setup of Weather House, the directorial feature debut by Frauke Havemann (co-directed by Eric Schefter) remains basic throughout the whole duration of the film. A group of people whose relations are not disclosed and who could easily be strangers reside in a derelict and abandoned house. And it does not look like a voluntary stay over."

Update: At the Film Stage, C.J. Prince reviews Shumin Liu’s The Family: "Several years in the making, Liu shot his debut feature on 35mm and handled cinematography and editing duties, on top of writing and directing. It’s the kind of unwieldy ambition one might expect from a first-time filmmaker, but Liu’s film is as audacious as it is frustrating, with an overindulgent runtime and off-putting choices."