Dreamed up four years ago by Sundance rejects, the Slamdance Film Festival wrapped up its fourth year last night with the presentation of the first Sparky awards and a reputation that this little rebel is no longer on the outer fringes of filmmaking. The little-festival-that-could secured its new rep as two of its films inked distribution deals.

"We're about finding new talent," festival founder Peter Baxter says in the festival's Maryland room, named for the Maryland Film Commission, one of many sponsors that contributed to a $500,000 budget this year. (Sundance's budget, by comparison, is $3 million.) "A lot of films at Sundance have distribution in place and have stars. We're grass roots, lower down on the scale. We're in a different market."

Indeed, Slamdance was primarily newsworthy for two big films it didn't screen--Kurt and Courtney and An Alan Smithee Film.

After the Kurt Cobain documentary was yanked from Sundance for legal reasons, filmmaker Nick Broomfield offered it to Slamdance. While the fest considered giving it a special screening, "the filmmakers weren't able to show certain [legal] paperwork," Baxter says of indemnity from threatened lawsuits by Cobain's widow, Courtney Love. (The film eventually played at the new alternative fest Slamdunk.)

As for Alan Smithee, the controversial, anti-Hollywood rant from Joe Eszterhas and Disney, which Baxter says the studio lobbied heavily to be accepted into the festival, it was simply too big and too studio. "We're not anti-Establishment; we're independent," he says of the decision to keep their focus on small-budget films. "When you come to Slamdance, you know what you're going to get."

But the festival is clearly growing in stature, with a record 1,300 entries this year. Last year's award winner, The Bible and Gun Club, nailed three Independent Spirit Award nominations recently and a six-figure distribution deal yesterday. (Also announced was a deal for Yellow, an Asian American all-night adventure with a cast of unknowns.)

Despite this growth, Slamdance has maintained its alternative roots. Take Sparky, for instance. These trophies are placed in a box of dirt and sawdust and festivalgoers urinate on them during the week, resulting in a green-blue tarnish. "It's an ancient Roman process," Baxter says with a laugh. "It's very natural. And we clean them up before we hand them out."

They may be alternative, but they're no longer peons. The winners of these natural trophies follow:

Grand Jury Prize: Surrender Dorothy, directed by Kevin De Novis.
Special Jury Award: Burn, directed by Scott Storm.
Audience Award, Feature: 20 Dates, directed by Myles Berkowitz.
Best Documentary: Goreville, directed by Seth Henrikson and David Sarno.
Best Dramatic Short: Little Man, directed by Amyn Kaderali.
Audience Award, Short: Truly Committed, directed by Eric Kripke.
Roy Dean/Ilford Black&White Award: Loverboy, directed by Matthew Reichman.
Kodak Vision Award: Six String Samurai, cinematography by Kristian Bernier.
In:Sync Speed Razor Award for Editing: Six String Samurai, James Frisa and Lance Mungia.
Screenplay Competition: Fragile, written by Christine DeSmet, Peggy Williams and Robert Shill.

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