Matthew Wade got the call the Monday before Thanksgiving: The film he had been working on since 2016 had been accepted as a breakout premiere at Slamdance Film Festival, one of six movies to be so honored. It wasn’t his first screening at Slamdance—it has accepted three of his short projects before—but this will be his first full-length premiere at the festival, and it’s a big deal.
“We graduated to feature status now,” he said.
The film, A Black Rift Begins to Yawn, is a piece of Lovecraftian horror in which reality starts to dissolve as two scientists discover cassette tapes at the home of their recently deceased professor that appear to have recorded a signal from an alien satellite. The film stars Sara Lynch, Luke Massengill and Saratops McDonald. The title itself is an homage to that father of cosmic horror, having been pulled from his short story “The Shadow Out of Time.”
Wade began writing the script in 2016, and shot the film in Boise and Garden Valley over nine days in the summer and winter of 2017. He edited it through 2018 and 2019, and began submitting it to film festivals. Over the last year the festival circuit, however, has undergone major disruption, and Wade said he has sat on a finished movie for almost a year.
Film festivals scrambled to either cancel, postpone or switch to an online format, but amid this chaos, Wade, who wrote and produced A Black Rift Begins to Yawn, wanted to be selective about where he submitted, deciding on Slamdance as the perfect vehicle for getting the film in front of people. It has a history of accepting and showcasing more experimental work by artists with little previous recognition, and has previously shown films that belong in the same wheelhouse as Black Rift.
This will be year 27 of Slamdance, and it will take place Friday-Thursday, Feb. 12-25, in an all-virtual format that’s free to access. In all, it will screen 25 features (including Black Rift) and 107 short films and episodics. According to the festival, that’s on par with previous years.
According to Wade, Slamdance is an ideal launchpad for the film, and once it’s screened, he’ll get to work on distribution—he told Boise Weekly he is already in contact with sales agents and public relations professionals.
That road to distribution may be easier to travel than it has been in years past: With major studios churning out fewer films this year and streaming services eager to pick up new material, there is more opportunity in this market for smaller, independent films, Wade said.
“We’re in an interesting position. Even the programmers from Sundance, when they called us, we had a conversation about that specific thing. The position small films are in right now, because of all the big streaming providers, they’ve seen an increase in their viewership since the pandemic started, but that has also kind of put us, we’re hoping, in a good position. If they’re premiering at a market festival, if they’re a small film without a big name attached, streaming are still going to be interested in buying up content,” he said.
Nevertheless, it may be some time before Boiseans get a taste of Black Rift. If the film is picked up by a distributor, its release will be on the distributor’s timeline, and the earliest the hometown audience may get a chance to see the movie could be at Filmfort in September 2021.
The folks behind A Black Rift Begins to Yawn have set up a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to hire a publicist.