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PARK CITY, Utah (Reuters) - Born out of rejections from the Sundance Film Festival, one-time rival Slamdance marked 15 years of competition when it opened late on Thursday, having garnered respect by launching the careers of noted directors Christopher Nolan, Marc Forster and others.
For years Slamdance, which runs alongside Robert Redford's 25-year-old Sundance, fought for attention in the independent film world, but movies like "Mad Hot Ballroom" helped put it on Hollywood's map.
Now, audiences and studio executives on their yearly trek to Park City, Utah, also flock to its venues looking for fresh talent.
This year, it also has garnered celebrity power with films starring "Lord of the Rings'" Dominic Monaghan, TV stars Simon Baker and Mark Harmon and Matthew Lillard of "Scooby Doo."
Slamdance president Peter Baxter told Reuters that back in the 1990s, he and the festival's three other co-founders "were all rejected by Sundance."
"At the time Sundance was beginning to show films not only made with studio money, but by producers that had deals with studios," he said. "It had grown to the point where we felt it couldn't accommodate all of the talent coming through."
Forster, director of "Quantum of Solace" and "The Kite Runner," has credited Slamdance with boosting his career after his "Loungers" won its audience award in 1995. Nolan, whose "The Dark Knight" has grossed $1 billion worldwide, screened his first feature "Following" at Slamdance in 1998.
The 2009 Slamdance will screen about 100 films -- 20 of which will be in narrative and documentary feature competitions. These entries do not have U.S. distribution and are made by debut feature directors for under $1 million each.
"Our showcase is very much for the emerging filmmaking talent," Baxter said. "There's no two ways about it, it's absolutely 100 percent independent."
Baxter said it took time for Slamdance to become accepted by the sponsors of the well-established Sundance.
"It was very much 'there goes the neighborhood' that we had come into town, they weren't happy about it," Baxter said of the initial Sundance reaction to Slamdance, although he added that neither festival would be where they are without Redford.
"We complement one another," he said of the festivals.
Tom Quinn, senior vice president of Magnolia Pictures, said that for at least a decade he had been traveling to Park City not only for Sundance, but also for Slamdance, looking for films. In 2007, his company bought "Weirdsville" at Slamdance.
"It's kind of found its own foothold on the mountain," Quinn said. "What's great about Slamdance is you are sitting there in the most intimate theatrical setting, you can literally taste the energy in the room."
Baxter said last year five of the 23 feature films screened at Slamdance were picked up for distribution. Monaghan's film "I Sell The Dead" is opening the 2009 festival, and Lillard's "Spooner" also is generating buzz.
"For us it's the opportunity of a lifetime for a movie of our size (to be at Slamdance)," he said of his low-budget film "Spooner."
David Fenkel of Oscilloscope Laboratories, which last year bought the North American rights to documentary "Dear Zachary," said he pays a lot of attention to the Slamdance slate.
"Every year there are at least a handful of films that premiere at Slamdance which are as good as most films which premiere in higher-profile festivals," he said.
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Eric Walsh