Twenty years ago, the must-see film at Sundance’s opening night was a movie about punks in the Mormon-heavy city of Salt Lake City: SLC Punk! The cult classic made its U.S. debut on Jan. 22, 1999 to a sold-out auditorium, crowded with Utah’s own punks celebrating a rare representation of the state’s capital onscreen.

Not many films about punk get the ethos of the culture right, and SLC Punk!writer-director James Merendino knew this. When he wrote the film, he faced the tremendous challenge of creating one that would both appeal to punks and educate baby boomers on the subculture. That risk paid off. Not only was the film embraced by iconic punk bands like Minor Threat and T.S.O.L., but it became a gateway into the genre for future generations, with an eclectic soundtrack that serves as the ultimate ‘intro to punk’ mixtape.

SLC Punk! is set in 1985, based on Merendino’s own teenage experiences in SLC, but its story still resonates today for fans who know what it’s like to yearn for an underground art scene where no rules apply. Still, the film acknowledges this fantasy – the youthful, drug-fueled, never-ending party – can’t last forever.

Two decades after its premiere, Merendino, Michael Goorjian (Heroin Bob), Annabeth Gish (Trish), and music supervisor Melanie Miller look back at what made the film a cult classic.

“There were awful lots of other things going on in that town. There were punk rockers!”

Merendino’s process of making SLC Punk! was quick. The writer-director wrote the film in 1997, finishing the first draft within three days. At the time, Merendino didn’t even know if the film was going to be successful. His goal was to make a film that captured those fond memories from his adolescence in Salt Lake City.

James Merendino, writer and director: Everywhere I went after living in Utah, they were like, “It must have been so boring living in Salt Lake City,” being a Catholic and a Mormon city, and I said, “Well, there were awful lots of other things going on in that town. There were punk rockers!” And no one ever believed me, so I felt like a story about that would be interesting.

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