Crime Fiction, a feature film made by current and former U of C students, premiered at the Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah last week, where it received mixed critical reviews despite playing to sell-out audiences.
Associate producer and ’06 graduate Ben Kolak said Crime Fiction is about “a writer who kills his girlfriend and then writes a book about it,” becoming a celebrity in the process. Kolak called the project a dark comedy as well as a meditation on celebrity and fame.
The film, which stars The Daily Show’s Dan Bakkedahl and The Aviator’s Amy Sloan, received $15,000 worth of financial support from student group Fire Escape Films, the College, and the Arts Planning Council.
A showcase for first-time filmmakers with budgets under $1 million, the Slamdance Film Festival has served as the launching pad for directors such as Christopher Nolan (Memento). Additionally, with film-industry representatives scouting the festival in search of new talent, filmmakers attempt to draw attention away from their competitors.
Associate producer and ’03 graduate Marc DeMoss said he and other crew members used guerrilla marketing tactics to promote the film at Slamdance. To get around Park City’s ordinance against film publicity posters being displayed on public property, they created a “missing person” flyer of one of the characters in Crime Fiction. The flyer directed people to www.findhilary.com, which listed the movie’s show times as “support groups and informational sessions” about the “missing person,” DeMoss said.
Although the filmmakers were able to pack the theaters in Park City, they were less successful at garnering positive reviews from the press.
“Crime Fiction plays like a slapdash rough draft for a potentially more satisfying final product,” wrote reviewer Joe Leydon of the entertainment industry journal Variety. Despite crediting the film with an “intriguing premise,” Leydon ripped into the movie’s “tonal inconsistencies, uneven performances, unsympathetic characters, and an overall air of cartoonish overstatement. Critical and commercial response to this misfire should be every bit as frosty as that received by its lead character’s first literary effort.”
“Basically, Variety creamed the film,” DeMoss said. He added that most of the filmmakers were happy just to have been mentioned in the industry journal.
Jonathan Eliot, the screenwriter and a University Ph.D. student in Comparative Literature, said that “the Variety review is kind of like a red badge of courage.
“Actually, I kind of agreed with some of [the negative reviews],” he said. “It’s not a perfect film.”
While acknowledging their shortcomings, Eliot, DeMoss, and Kolak all agreed that making Crime Fiction and premiering it at Slamdance was a positive and educational experience for the first-time filmmakers.
Kolak said part of the goal at Slamdance was to showcase the film to potential distributors. “We kind of had our fingers crossed that there would be a bidding war,” he said.
On the other hand, DeMoss said the filmmakers were cautious in their optimism, viewing Slamdance as the first in many steps that would hopefully culminate in a theatrical or DVD release. More festival showings are planned, he said, and the producers are still in talks with potential distributors.
A special screening of Crime Fiction at Doc Films is scheduled for this Tuesday, February 6, at 9:30 p.m.