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Sundance Stories of Yore: "Slacker"

by Christopher Campbell
January 12, 2009 11:00 AM
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Slacker Still
Each day this week, Christopher Campbell will take a look back at a “classic” film that played the Sundance Film Festival. Today’s installment: Richard Linklater’s Slacker (1991).

Richard Linklater’s breakthrough film, Slacker, almost never played Sundance. According to John Pierson’s book Spike, Mike, Slackers & Dykes, Competition Director Alberto Garcia “did not particularly like the film.” In fact, Linklater was initially rejected when he submitted Slacker for the 1990 festival, at the time still called the US Film Festival. So, that summer, he self-released the film in his hometown of Austin, Texas, with much success. But the biggest success was yet to come.

That same year the film was selected for at least one other film fest, Seattle, and after being reviewed there by Film Comment’s Robert Horton, Slacker acquired the interests of both Orion Classics and Pierson, who had already earned his reputation for being an indie film guru. However, even with a distributor and a high profile rep behind the film, Garcia was still hesitant.

Something finally convinced him, and Slacker was reluctantly invited to the 1991 fest, now officially renamed Sundance, alongside such important films as Hal Hartley’s Trust, Barbara Kopple’s American Dream and Todd Haynes’ Poison. Yet even then it was slow in garnering fans. Pierson writes that the film’s 10PM Saturday night screening at the Egyptian consisted of the following reception: “one-third loved it, one-third walked out, and one-third fell asleep.”

By the end of the next week, Slacker had fared better in subsequent screenings, but it lost the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize to Poison. At least it showed at Sundance, though, and Linklater was able to become one of the festival’s most prestigious alumni (ten years later he would even premiere two new films, Waking Life and Tape, at the 2001 fest). Nowadays, Sundance might not accept a film it had already rejected, particularly if that film screened at other festivals before playing Park City, since the big fests now prefer to feature exclusive premieres.

Slacker is available for free in its entirety on Hulu and on YouTube. The former version is embedded below with commercial interruption:

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