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Slamdance gets infusion of ‘Lord of Rings’ mania

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From left, Shawn Gordon of Ogden joins Shane and Julie Gordon of Preston, Idaho, at Slamdance's "Rings: Lord of the Fans" premiere in Park City.

From left, Shawn Gordon of Ogden joins Shane and Julie Gordon of Preston, Idaho, at Slamdance’s “Rings: Lord of the Fans” premiere in Park City.

August Miller, Deseret Morning News

PARK CITY — History was made at Sundance's kid-brother festival this past week. For the first time in Slamdance's 11-year existence, eager movie watchers actually camped out overnight to buy tickets for the off-spin film event.

And, yes, you guessed correctly: They were indeed "Lord of the Rings" fans.

While addressing the sold-out audience before her movie's world-premiere Friday at midnight, the director told the happy campers who braved the freezing Park City air, "I salute you."

Carlene Cordova's documentary "Ringers: Lord of the Fans" spent the next couple of hours saluting J.R.R. Tolkien and the celebrated work he created 50 years ago — a phenomenon that has inspired hippies and cyber geeks, influenced artists in literature, movie and music industries, and entertained and entranced millions in multiple generations.

Among them were three adults who huddled in a two-man tent all Thursday night so they could buy tickets to the latest "Lord of the Rings"-related production.

Dressed in a white dress with a cape, an intrinsic ring and holding an elf banner, Galadriel — otherwise known as Jami Granger of Salt Lake City — didn't think twice about risking hypothermia outside of Treasure Mountain Inn, Slamdance's headquarters atop Main Street.

Granger is, after all, "a Ringer," a label given to the most dedicated of "Lord of the Rings" fanatics akin to the "Trekkies" label for Star Trek diehards.

"It involves 'Lord of the Rings.' How can I not?" she said. "I'm a little sorta addicted."

Only if you consider "addicted" to be owning an Aragorn and Arwen Ken-and-Barbie doll set, an elf-princess sword letter-opener and professionally framed LOTR movie posters in a Tolkien collection worth more than $1,000.

Of course, as you learn from the feature-length documentary, Granger might be placed on the bottom rung of addicted Ringers. A young man who calls himself "Grimlock" spent five months hand-making his own metal "Mithril" — a dwarf-worthy chain-mail protection outfit like Frodo's — leading up to his five-night stay outside of a Los Angeles theater before one of the trilogy's releases. He laughed that he was having a "dry spell from women," so he needed something to do.

One Ringer travels all over and takes pictures of her "Lord of the Rings" figurines. She hopes to visit Oxford, England, to get a photo of them on Tolkien's grave. Other Ringers have re-created the movies on the Internet — one using characters made of little marshmallow treats called "Lord of the Peeps" and another using simple stick figures mimicking every move on Middle-Earth.

Movie narrator Dominic Monaghan, who plays beloved hobbit "Merry," describes the overwhelming devotion of "Ringers," saying 6.5 million Web sites pop up when doing an Internet Google search for "Lord of the Rings." He reiterates the enormous success director Peter Jackson's trilogy had at the box office (billions made and counting) and at the Oscars (a record 11 Academy Awards in 2004).

One can only wonder while watching the elaborately dressed-up "Ringers" in the movie — including dozens of Utahns who were filmed while attending popular Salt Lake line parties — what Tolkien thinks about the latest madness surrounding his masterpiece. He did, after all, once describe the crazed hippie fans who were stoked about his books as being "my deplorable cultists."

"Lord of the Fans" acts somewhat like a LOTR 101 course, both informing and entertaining this rowdy audience with a humorous script, fun graphics and footage to go with loads of historical facts and anecdotes.

Along with dozens of fan blurbs — some insightful, some funny, others in need of some editing — the filmmakers also interviewed author Clive Barker, director Cameron Crowe and "Lord of the Rings" stars. Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn), Elijah Wood (Frodo), Sean Astin (Sam) and Ian McKellen (Gandalf) are among those to give tributes to Tolkien.

The movie will be shown again at the Murray Theater today at 8:30 p.m., Monday at 5 p.m. and Thursday at 9 p.m. Go to slamdance.com for ticket information.

"We'd like to see it get out to the best possible audience," said writer/producer Cliff Broadway who spent 2 1/2 years in production. "It was a lot of fun to be so supported by a worldwide community that was galvanized by the Internet. . . . Tolkien has inspired generations. We wanted to put that into perspective. I love it. I'm very happy with it."

To borrow the words Monaghan used to describe an LOTR-themed park called Hobbiton, this movie will be "a little slice of heaven" for many fans. Then again, true Ringers might describe it as being a little slice of the Shire or Rivendell.

E-mail: jody@desnews.com