Slamdance Review: Future ’38

Don’t let the A-lister sightings and selfies in front of the Egyptain Theatre on Instagram trick you into thinking Sundance is the only film festival in Park City right now. Slamdance is here, too.

If you plan to hike one minute up Main Street from the Egyptian to Treasure Mountain Inn for the event, consider adding sci-fi screwball comedy Future ’38 to your watch list.

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson introduces “Future ’38,” which he claims was considered lost until its recent discovery in a Hollywood vault. Tyson tells us the 1938 film was shot in color one year before The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind came out, and that it’s “finally a movie that got time travel right.” Future ’38 goes on to tell the story of Essex (Nick Westrate), whom the government selects to travel from 1938 to 2018, via perhaps the lowest-budget time machine you’ve seen on film, to retrieve an isotope that can supposedly be used in a bomb that will stop World War II before it starts.

Once in the future, Essex forms a romance with Banky (Betty Gilpin), a big-city woman who introduces him to marvels of her age: the 24-hour news cycle (a guy on a unicycle shouting the news all day), the electromesh (all the world’s knowledge that you have to wait on line to access) and same-sex marriage (gasp!). Two Jewish gangsters, Matzoh and Bitter Herb get involved, and we learn that Essex and Banky have to get past a descendant of Hitler to retrieve to the isotope.


Actors speak and act as if they really were pulled out of a low-budget ‘30s sci-fi, with enunciations and body language more pronounced than we’re used to seeing in film today. The future jokes get a little repetitive, but we’re also treated to dialogue that matches the corny sci-fi narrative, like our hero deducing that 42 million minutes equals 80 years without taking a second to think over the math.

The film takes a unique approach, offers some good laughs and is one of the rare festival films you can bring the kids to see (if you don’t mind one fellatio joke that will likely go over their heads).

Future ’38 is written and directed by Jamie Greenberg, who is known for his Funny or Die web series Separate Checks.

Upcoming screening:

Thursday, Jan. 26, 4 p.m., Gallery, Treasure Mountain Inn, Park City

Check out the full Slamdance schedule.

—Jaime Winston

Salt Lake Magazine
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