An interview with Slamdance founder, Omaha native Dan Mirvish

Julia Stiles, Melissa George, David Harbour and Taye Diggs in “Between Us,” a film directed by Omaha native Dan Mirvish

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Bill Blizek is a professor of philosophy and religion at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and the founding editor of the “Journal of Religion & Film.” He can be reached at

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In the early days of the Sundance Film Festival, there were many film festivals in Park City with "Dance" in the title.

Some of these were nothing more than showing a couple of movies in a hotel conference room and most no longer exist.

But one of these alternative festivals, Slamdance, is almost twenty years old and still going strong.

Slamdance was co-founded by Omaha's own Dan Mirvish. When Dan's movie, "Omaha (The Movie)," was not selected for the 1995 Sundance Festival, Mirvish and others started their own film festival. This year Slamdance screened Dan's most recent film, "Between Us," based on the off-Broadway play of the same name. "Between Us" was screened out-of-competition, because Slamdance competition films must be by first time directors.

"Between Us" is a dark and disturbing story about friendship and marriage. It stars Julia Stiles, Taye Diggs, Melissa George, and David Harbour. It is a spectacular cast. When the New York couple visits the other couple in Nebraska, something happens "between us" that causes a rift in the long standing friendship between the couples. But something also happens "between us," between the partners in each couple. And, then, there are secrets shared "just between us."

At every moment when the hostility between the couples or between the partners has an opportunity to end, someone has to say something that inflames the situation again. None of the characters can let it go. The acting is terrific, especially given the nature of the story. The story reminded me of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf."

"Between Us" is a festival film--too dark for the local cineplex--and it has already shown in film festivals in Spain, Greece, Australia, Germany, and Canada. it was awarded the Grand Jury Prize at the Bahamas International Film Festival in 2012.

In our interview, Mirvish told me that had the opportunity to evaluate a variety of dramatic scripts for the theater. He found a couple that looked as though they might be adapted to the silver screen. "Between Us" was one of those.

You might be interested to know that Dan's father is the well known cancer researcher at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Dr. Sidney Mirvish. In the spirit of full disclosure, I should note that I once lived next door to the Mirvish family.

"Salma" is a documentary about a young Muslim girl in a south Indian village who was locked up by her parents at the age of 13. She was locked up for 25 years and finally forced into marriage. During this time she began to write poetry and through an elaborate scheme smuggle the poems out of the house. Eventually the poems were published. This is the story of a woman who turned suffering into an opportunity to be the voice of women in similar situations. It is a story of salvation and the triumph of the human spirit.

"Il Futuro" is a tough, erotic, and unsettling portrait of an Italian teenager who was left adrift upon the death of her parents. She becomes part of a scam, but falls in love with the man she is supposed to scam. The movie includes a surprisingly warm role for Rutger Hauer. Since the movie is more about the present than the future, it seems to be a filmic expression of Buddhism.

"Interior. Leather Bar." This James Franco production explores the limits of sexual taboo. It also explores the idea of artistic freedom in the form of re-imagining the 40 minutes cut from the 1980's movie, "Cruising," starring Al Pacino as a police officer who has to go undercover as a gay man. We saw the movie because it deals directly with issues of tolerance and diversity, issues that are important to the acceptance of the variety of different religions in our culture.

Michele from Omaha asked: In addition to "Fall to Grace," are there other movies creating a lot of buzz at the Sundance Film Festival.

Michele: There was a lot of buzz about "Fall to Grace." Robert Redford actually attended the premiere--a rather rare event. The other two movies about which there is a lot of buzz are "Leather Bar," reviewed above, and "Kink." Both of these movies are produced by James Franco and both include a great deal of sexuality. "Kink" is a movie about the website, is a website that produces videos of sadistic, masochistic sexual experiences, as well as bondage and domination. Some of the movie is an explanation of how the website produces the videos it makes available to its subscribers. The movie also explores the lives of people who are sexually aroused by masochism, domination and so on. With that much unusual sex, and with James Franco as producer, these were bound to be films that created a lot of buzz.

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