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October 10, 2011 – For the month of October, Slamdance will dig through the archives and unbury some of the more macabre films from Festivals past. There is perhaps no better way to begin this morbid journey than by paying tribute to Dante’s Inferno directed by Sean Meredith. Performed in toy theatre style, Dante’s Inferno is a satirical update of Virgil’s classic tour of Hell, which features some pretty explicit paper puppetry along the way. Dante’s Inferno had its World Premiere at the 2007 Slamdance Film Festival and was immediately met by critical and scholarly acclaim.

Dante’s Inferno has been kicking around the cultural playground for over 700 years. But it has never before been interpreted with exquisitely hand-drawn paper puppets, brought to life using purely hand-made special effects. Dante’s Hell is brought to lurid 3-dimensional, high-definition life in a darkly comedic travelogue of the underworld — set against an all-too-familiar urban backdrop of used car lots, gated communities, strip malls, and the U.S. Capitol (www.dantefilm.com).

Slamdance first took notice of Meredith at the 2003 Festival with the premiere of In Smog and Thunder, a mockumentary about a California civil war set in a vaguely recent past. Once the Smog settled, Meredith’s collaboration with Sandow Birk and Paul Zaloom continued through Dante’s Inferno. “It was helpful for my vision to work with older more established artists to see how they work and how their world view informs their work,” explains Meredith. Smog was a narrative extension of Birk’s existing artwork, while Dante was a completely new re-imagining inspired by Birk’s style.

Dante's cast of characters includes politicians (Dick Cheney, JFK) and pop-culture icons (Dean Martin, Cleopatra) from the past and present. Each sinner is condemned to an eternal punishment of the most cruel and unusual kind: heads sewn on backwards, bodies wrenched in half, never-ending blowjobs and dancing to techno (to name only a few). “It’s just giggly paper, but people can get upset by who we included in Hell,” states Meredith. “It’s a testament to the film that people get engrossed enough to feel threatened.” In spite of, or perhaps because of the controversy surrounding Dante, the film has received festival nods worldwide and has even been utilized as an educational resource at universities.

Using almost 500 paper puppets and over 40 sets, Dante’s Inferno captures the spirit of Slamdance with focus on creative vision over production value. “To make ‘The Inferno’ with computer animation or live action with CGI would have cost over a hundred million dollars. Well, with a budget of less than one half of one percent of a Pixar or Dreamworks film, we play in our own little sandbox,” jokes the director. “If it couldn’t be done with tape, string, and glue, then it wasn’t to be in the film.”


And now for some useful advice ‘By Filmmakers, For Filmmakers’:

In Meredith’s opinion, “Smaller distribution companies sometimes have a lot of product and they do almost zero thoughtful PR. It's mostly, ‘Yeah, we sent a press release to 800 people.’ A filmmaker should consider getting a budget from the distributor and taking charge of their own PR for the roll out of releases.” Along similar lines, filmmakers should always factor marketing/publicity into their initial budgets, even before a distribution deal has been made. You wouldn’t want to show up to Park City without having at least a few flyers to post.

Check out the TRAILER for Dante's Inferno in the Slamdance SHOWCASE.

For more information about the film or to purchase a DVD, visit www.dantefilm.com.

By Ben Hethcoat
ben@slamdance.com