Slamdance Unveils Film In Narrative And Documentary Competition, Sets Return of Russo Fellowship

By Dino-Ray Ramos

The 26th edition of the Slamdance Film Festival has set its slate for the films in the Narrative and Documentary Feature Film Competition programs as well as the lineup for their Breakouts section. The fest will take place in Park City, Utah January 24-30, 2020.

As the fest “by filmmakers, for filmmakers,” this year’s Slamdance will feature 16 premieres, including 10 world premieres with films from United States, Belarus, Canada Germany, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Poland, Russia, and South Africa. The films in competition are feature-length directorial debuts with budgets of less than $1 million and without US distribution. Films in both categories are also eligible for the Audience Award and Spirit of Slamdance Award.

“Slamdance is above all a place of discovery,” said Slamdance Co-founder and President Peter Baxter. “Every year filmmakers break out of the festival because the industry at large recognizes the need for new voices. With a record breaking 8,231 submissions this year, our artist-led organization brings a lineup full of wonderful risk taking and unique storytelling. That’s the spirit of Slamdance 2020.”

The 2020 festival will also welcome back the Russo Fellowship from fest alumni Anthony and Joe Russo of Marvel movie fame. The $25,000 prize was first awarded in 2018. The honor goes to a deserving filmmaker and gives them the opportunity to have a mentorship with the filmmaking duo. The 2019 fellowship was awarded to Hannah Peterson who screened her short East of the River at the Tribeca Film Festival. She has since signed with Paradigm and been hired by the Duplass Brothers to direct the Disney Channel web series, Shook.

Now in its second year, the fest’s Breakouts section features films by non-first-time-feature directors who demonstrate a determined vision of filmmaking that is instinctively becoming their own. These artists continue to push boundaries in genre and form, and are beacons of light that predict the future of film.

Read the competition and Breakouts lineup below.


1986 – (Germany, Belarus) North American Premiere
Director/ Screenwriter: Lothar Herzog
While Elena repeatedly has to drive into the ‘forbidden zone’ of Chernobyl in order to make deals for her father, her life seems more and more contaminated by a destructive force…
Cast: Daria Mureeva, Evgeni Sangadzhiev, Vitali Kotovitski, Alexei Filimonov, Helga Filippova, Alexei Kravchenko

A Dog’s Death  – (Uruguay, France, Argentina) North American Premiere
Director: Matías Ganz
Veterinarian Mario and his wife Silvia enjoy a bourgeois life in Montevideo but two events will disturb their tranquility. A dog surgery goes wrong for Mario and Silvia discovers retirement. They will be dragged from paranoia to violence and from violence to nonsense.
Cast: Guillermo Arengo, Pelusa Vidal, Soledad Gilmet, Lalo Rotaveria, Ruth Sandoval, Ana Katz

Beware of Dog – (USA, Russia, Germany) World Premiere
Director/ Screenwriter: Nadia Bedzhanova
Three young adults experience parallel struggles with mental health and identity. In Moscow a woman struggles with severe OCD, while her cousin in Berlin tries to build a romantic relationship ignoring her own mental condition. Meanwhile in New York City, a heartbroken boxer faces addiction and lack of self worth in the aftermath of a break-up.
Cast: Marina Vasileva, Buddy Duress, Paula Knüpling, Marina Prados, Kevin Iso, Pavel Tabakov

Murmur – (Canada)
Director/ Screenwriter: Heather Young
While performing community service at an animal shelter, an older woman begins compulsively adopting pets to ease her loneliness.
Cast: Shan MacDonald

Majnuni – (Bosnia i Herzegovina, USA) North American Premiere
Directors: Kouros Alaghband, Drew Hoffman Screenwriters: Kouros Alaghband, Drew Hoffman, Adnan Omerović
After stalking a broken family through the night in the war-torn city of Sarajevo, Adnan snaps into an altered state of consciousness where his identity becomes entangled in the lives he is following.
Cast: Adnan Omerović, Dina Hebib, Barry Del Sherman, Nela Baždar, Emil Ivancic, Mel Flanagan

Residue  – (USA) World Premiere
Director/ Screenwriter: Merawi Gerima
A young filmmaker returns home after many years away to write a script about his childhood, only to find his neighborhood unrecognizable and his childhood friends scattered to the wind.
Cast: Obinna Nwachukwu, Dennis Lindsey, Taline Stewart

Sanzaru – (USA) World Premiere
Director/ Screenwriter: Xia Magnus
When a mild Filipina nurse is hired by an elderly woman declining into dementia, the walls between this world and the next crumble as she uncovers her employer’s shocking family secret.
Cast: Aina Dumlao, Justin Arnold, Jayne Taini, Jon Viktor Corpuz

Shell and Joint – (Japan) North American Premiere
Director/ Screenwriter: Isamu Hirabayashi
A wild ride into a world of ideas, alternately profound, shallow, funny and horrific, conveyed by outspoken characters in powerful static compositions, in and around a capsule hotel.
Cast: Mariko Tsutsui, Keisuke Horibe, Kanako Higashi, Aiko Sato, Hiromi Kitagawa, Atsuko Sudo, Ayano Kudo, Naoto Nojima

Tahara – (USA) World Premiere
Director: Olivia Peace
At the funeral for a Hebrew school classmate who took her own life, two best friends find themselves distracted by the teenage complications of lust, social status, and wavering faith.
Cast: Rachel Sennott, Madeline Grey DeFreece, Shlomit Azoulay, Daniel Taveras, Bernadette Quigley

Tapeworm – (Canada) US Premiere
Directors/ Screenwriters: Milos Mitrovic, Fabian Velasco
A hypochondriac, a failed comedian, a loner and two naive stoners seek an escape from their pitiful and mundane existence.
Cast: Adam Brooks, Alex Ateah, Milos Mitrovic, Sam Singer, Stephanie Berrington, Jennifer Mauws, Julie Simpson, Sandro Dibari

Thunderbolt in Mine Eye – (USA) World Premiere
Director: Sarah Sherman, Zachary Ray Sherman Screenwriters: Jason Loftus, Caylan Ford
A brainy fourteen-year-old embarks on an awkward but heartfelt first love relationship with her brother’s best friend while exploring her budding feminism and a gender double standard at their high school.
Cast: Anjini Taneja Azhar, Quinn Liebling


An Ordinary People – (South Africa, Eswatini, Namibia ) World Premiere
Director: Ernest Nkosi
Born out of crime and largely marginalized by mainstream society emerges the story of Car Spinning in South Africa.

Ask No Questions – (Canada) World Premiere
Directors: Jason Loftus, Eric Pedicelli
A former Chinese state TV insider is held in a brainwashing camp and compelled to accept the official narrative on a fiery public suicide, which he believes was a government plot.

Bastards’ Road – (USA)
Director: Brian Morrison
Coming home from war is just the beginning.

Big Fur – (USA)
Director: Dan Wayne
If World Champion taxidermist Ken Walker can’t find Bigfoot, he’ll make one.

Higher Love – (USA) World Premiere
Director: Hasan Oswald
A blue collar father tries to rescue his pregnant, heroin-addicted girlfriend from the dangerous streets of Camden, NJ. Once their son is born, a new journey begins for the fate of the baby and the family’s sobriety that may split them apart forever.

Jasper Mall – (USA) World Premiere
Directors: Bradford Thomason, Brett Whitcomb
A year in the life of a dying shopping mall.

Lovemobil – (Germany)
Director: Elke Margarete Lehrenkrauss
Along the country roads of rural Germany, prostitutes from foreign countries work in old caravans when mysteriously one woman is murdered and fear begins to spread into an already dark and surreal world.

Maxima – (USA, Peru)
Director: Claudia Sparrow
A multi-billion-dollar corporation meets their match in a fearless Indigenous woman who remains uncowed after years of violent intimidation.

Queen of the Capital – (USA)
Director: Joshua Davidsburg
DC Bureaucrat by day, drag queen by night, Muffy Blake Stephyns follows her dream of leading a group of vibrant drag performers on a crusade for the community.


Close Quarters – (Mexico) North American Premiere
Director/Screenwriter: Andres Clariond
In a time in which it is essential to question gender roles, this film explores, confronts and breaks apart man’s darkest insecurities and vices.
Cast: Paulina Gaitan, Jose Pescina, Jorge Jimenez

The Penny Black – (USA) World Premiere
Director: Joe Saunders
The estranged son of a con man fights temptation, paranoia, and his own nefarious legacy as he searches for the rightful owner of a mysterious, million-dollar stamp collection.

The Wind. A Documentary Thriller – (Poland, Slovakia)
Director/ Screenwriter: Michal Bielawski
“The Wind” is a multi-thread story on a clash between people and the forces of nature, woven into a documentary thriller.