Backstage at the Utah Arts Festival 2023: Awards announced for Fear No Film, Artist Marketplace, Poetry Slam Competitions, Wasatch IronPen

Awards in visual arts, film and literary have been announced for the 47th Utah Arts Festival


Twelve awards were announced today in the 20th annual Fear No Film portion of the Utah Arts Festival, including a Grand Jury Prize, two Utah Short Film of The Year honors, Fearless Filmmaker Award, three honorable mentions and five audience awards.

This year’s Grand Jury Prize: Best of Show was given to Fishers of Men (U.S., Chris Capel), a narrative about the experiences of missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Although Capel indicates he has not practiced Mormonism for the last two decades, he still remembers vividly his experiences as a missionary in Toronto. He decided that this film should be as accurate as possible to document what missionaries experience. The film rings with authenticity, given its moments of earnest innocence, awkward interactions and brief moments of dark comedy. The prize for a successful missionary is to convert an individual and prepare them for their baptism into the faith. But, as many missionaries might attest to, the prize can be even more elusive than anticipated. 

Fishers of Men.

Fishers of Men is only the second U.S. film in the last ten years to win the Fear No Film’s Grand Jury Prize: Best of Show. The 59 films chosen came from 352 submissions, the highest number since 2019. Coming from outside of the U.S, 35 films, representing 21 countries, were part of the 2023 slate. That is, more than 59% of the slate confirms the true cosmopolitan nature of the program and is the highest such percentage in the program’s history. Leading the way were Spain (six films), Germany (four films, all by the same director) and Russia (three films). There also were 10 entries in two programs of Utah Made Films (Professional and Student) but Utah filmmakers also are found in several other programs.

Taking the Grand Jury Fearless Filmmaker Award is Sabbath (France, Alexandra Mignien), an exceptional short with equally mastered cinematic technique. The story is set in what is likely a medieval time as a priest and villagers gather along a cliff to witness six women accused of being witches sent to their deaths. The narrative takes a surprising turn, unlike other witch trials. Mignien does not pull punches in the graphic but proper tone of her story. Her portfolio of short films deal with the impacts and consequences of societal misogyny and her horror films in general do not shy from taboo subjects including pedophilia and incest.


The Utah Short Film of the Year honors went to I Have No Fears and I Must Cry (Luis Fernando Puente), which received its premiere at Sundance earlier this year and has had quite a run at major festivals since then. This award marks the fifth one the film has received, with most recent announcement that Puente’s short took best of fest and best narrative short at the Nevada City Film Festival.

For his Sundance debut, Puente made this 13-minute narrative short entirely focused on Maria Luisa and her husband Jorge, as they are being interviewed by a U.S. immigration officer for Maria Luisa’s green card. Puente excels in showing that what might seem like a routine bureaucratic procedural step to an outsider, for immigrants it can be yet another emotional, tense experience in a process defined by long periods of limbo and costs to ensure everything is in legal order.

I Have No Tears, and I Must Cry.

The dialogue is solidly credible but also compact and economical. With award-winning Oscar Ignacio Jiménez’s exceptional cinematography, the emotional tensions are fleshed out in shots of the expressions and nonverbal gestures of the couple (played by Alejandra Herrera and Enoc Oteo) and the immigration officer (Cherie Julander). Before entering the building for their interview, the couple are sitting in the car, hopeful that Maria Luisa will be approved on the spot. In fact, they plan to go shopping for a new couch. But, their optimism also is guarded, as their facial expressions show. In the interview, the officer is stoic, not giving any expression. She scrutinizes every document and response by Maria Luisa. Her seeming skepticism appears a bit unsettling.

Puente was one of two Fear No Film directors this year making his third straight appearance. In 2021, he won the Fear No Filmmaker Award for The Moon and the Hummingbird. That film is an outstanding allegorical narrative highlighting the tensions of immigration as seen from those who migrate. Puente now becomes the third Utah filmmaker to win more than one major Fear No Film prize, joining Torben Bernhard (who won Utah Short of the Year three times) and Carly and Jared Jakins (who won in 2019 both the Grand Jury Prize for Best of Show and the Utah Short Film of the Year).

Queen Bees. Spy Hop, PitchNic 2022.

Winning the student film honors for Utah Short Film of the Year was Queen Bees (Riley Nickel, Eleanor Condie), which was one of the 2022 class of PitchNic films from Spy Hop Productions, the youth media center based in Salt Lake City. A “passion project” for a high school filmmaker who is fascinated by the art of the drag performer, the film was the brainchild of Nickel. She became a fan six years ago, thanks to watching Ru Paul’s Drag Race reality television competition, and then was hooked when she saw drag performers at Utah Pride festivals.

The biggest logistical hurdle for Nickel and Condie was to shoot a documentary with performers whose shows typically are in clubs, which only allow patrons 21 and older. Condie says that she knew very little about the local drag scene but Nickel gave her a quick education. They went to Instagram and found a pool of 12 possible subjects. After a screening process with interviews, the student filmmakers settled on three established drag performers in the community along with a 15-year-old student who is just entering the drag scene and hopes to become a performer.

La Calle Es Nuestra (The Power of Art)

Three short films also earned Grand Jury Honorable Mentions. Honorable Mention for Best Cinematography went to Oscar Ignacio Jiménez for I Have No Fears and I Must Cry. Honorable Mention for Most Inspiring Storytelling went to La Calle Es Nuestra (The Power of Art) (Austria/Chile, Marco Meirone), a richly packed source of how protests in Chile were fortified and expanded through the use of public art, performances and creative measures. They brought attention to Chile from cities around the world, where others engaged in sympathetic protests. Honorable Mention for Most Visually Impressive went to The Sprayer (Iran, Farnoosh Abedi), which was nominated for best animated short last fall at the Austin Film Festival in Texas. It has a strong pop culture vibe in its 3-D rendering of a scene that seems apocalyptic, especially in reminding viewers of the Disney film WALL-E (2008). The story is about an army of soldier sprayers ensure no one can grow any plants, regardless of private or public spaces. By now, no one can even identify a plant and then a seed that is found in the dust piques the interest of a sprayer and may help to germinate a rebirth.

Fear No Film, held in the City Library auditorium, is the festival’s fourth largest program. A festival jury of filmmaking and media industry peers along with audience members selected the festival winners.

The Sprayer.

“I’d like to thank the staff of the Utah Arts Festival and the Salt Lake City Library for staying true to the phrase, “‘the show must go on.’ Despite what could only be called a ‘force majeure’ that impacted Saturday’s programming, this year’s festival was a huge success,” says Derek Mellus, Fear No Film artistic coordinator. “The work of this year’s filmmakers was some of the most impactful and varied in the festival’s 20 years and I look forward to being as inspired at next year’s festival.”

Audience awards were made in the following categories:

Narrative: Fishers of Men, (U.S., Chris Capel)

Documentary: Wildblumen, (Argentina, Migue Roth)

AnimatedPig (Netherlands, Jorn Leeuwerink)

KIDS!Cat (Germany, Julia Ocker)

Midnight: There Are No Ghosts (Spain, Nacho Solana)


The 47th Utah Arts Festival has announced nine awards for the Artist Marketplace. All of the visual artist award winners are eligible for invitation to the Utah Arts Festival in 2024. Best of Show and People’s Choice Award winners also will have their booth fees waived.


Ute Monjau-Porath, Best of Show, Artist Marketplace Jury (Wearable Art, Edgewood, Washington)

Yves Goyatton, Best of Show, Board of Directors Jury (Sculpture, Monterey, California)

Bala Thiagarajan, Best of Show, Community and Inclusion Jury (Painting, Arvada, Colorado)

Robert Fehlau, Best of Show, Friends of the Festival Jury (Wood, Star, Idaho)


Vennette Farr, Award of Merit, Artist Marketplace Jury (#-D Mixed Media, Salt Lake City)

Suzy Williamson, Award of Merit, Board of Directors Jury (Jewelry, Bend Oregon)

Tanya Doskova, Award of Merit, Community and Inclusion Jury (Digital Art, Phoenix, Arizona)

Adam Egenolf, Award of Merit, Friends of the Festival Jury (Ceramics, Nineveh, Indiana)

PEOPLE’S CHOICE: Becky Ruley and Erin Richards (Wearable Art, Salt Lake City)

Wasatch IronPen/UltraPen Contest, The Salt Lake Community College Writing Center

NOTE: Summaries by judges are included.



WINNER: KH (kellen hunnicutt), The Titan Dance

This poem takes the physical reality of the hoodoos and their environment and flips it into fantasy in an intriguing way.  The poem is right up there with the adult winner, in my humble opinion.


WINNER: Pete Gomben, A Dendrological Argument

I really liked the unique spin on the theme, which focused not on the hoodoos but the trees that live with them.  How the poem deals with the expanse of time yet connecting back to the personal—the human—was provocative.

HONORABLE MENTION: Rebecca Bateman, Contrapposto

The poem took the idea of structure, form, shape and sculpting in a clever, engaging direction.  The poem explored connection to nature, Art, and our connection to the natural world brilliantly.



WINNER: Fable Bytheway, Trees of Stone

The scope of the world created in these pages is incredibly impressive, and I appreciated the writer’s use of the prompt in a way that felt natural to the story and worldbuilding. Overall, the setting, characters, dialogue, and action blended into a fantastical tale of adventure that effectively mirrored some very real-world themes. 

HONORABLE MENTION: Katie Hurley, Following the Stars 

I absolutely loved the use of language and imagery in this piece. I was enchanted by the fairy-tale quality of the narrative, and I felt the prose did justice to creating a breathtaking setting inspired by the prompt. 


WINNER: Pete Gomben, Capsule

I was immediately drawn to this story’s evocative imagery which the writer expressed in a stark, seemingly effortless, style. I was struck by the writer’s ability to illustrate emotions of grief, melancholy, and nostalgia through the movement of the characters and the effect of the setting. 

HONORABLE MENTION: Logan Campbell, Troop Leader’s Principles For Instruction

The structure and form of this piece contributed to the acerbic wit of the voice in a compelling manner. I very much appreciated the writer’s creative and meaningful interpretation of the prompt.



WINNER: Becky Hess, In A Strange Land

This piece was the most tightly organized and thematically developed of the entrants. The use of the prompt was both satisfying and surprising without being overbearing.  The story was deeply empathetic while avoiding sentimentality and cliché. The central narrative anchored the piece in a way that allowed for imaginative leaps that thematic land upon something worth sharing. 

HONORABLE MENTION: Addison Rose, To Feel Grief in Geologic Time 

Some stirring prose and mediations on grief and our relatively finite lives in this piece.  The brevity of our own existence in a larger time scale is juxtaposed nicely with the vastness of our experience of time while suffering loss.   


WINNER: RJ Walker, Surviving in a Ravine

All the pieces play with form, memory, time, loss, and examine themes of possession, hauntings, being dispossessed and story truth vs happening truth, and teaching poetry in Moab. 

HONORABLE MENTION: Brynn Battie, The Legend People 

Weaves together legend, mythology, reality to connect the vastness and timelessness of Bryce Canyon, and the ways legend and story can scare us away from a place.


Youth Individual Poetry Slam

1st: Evan Van Leuven

2nd: Liberdee Ostler

3rd: Natalie (no surname listed)

Adult Individual Poetry Slam

1st: Zachary Kluckman (Albuquerque, New Mexico)

Tie for 2nd & 3rd:

Monica Lisette (Salt Lake City)

Chelsea Guevara (Salt Lake City)

Team Invitational Poetry Slam

1st: Ghost Poetry Show (Phoenix)

2nd: Butterfly Effect (Salt Lake City)

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