Backstage at Utah Arts Festival 2014: Strongest slate ever for Utah Short Film of The Year competition

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If last year’s Utah Short Film of the Year competition was of titanic proportions then this year’s slate should leave no doubt how Utah’s independent filmmaking community is flexing its artistic muscle with transformative impact.

Eri Hayward, today
Eri Hayward, today, from Transmormon by Torben Bernhard, Marissa Lila, and Travis Low

Last year’s winners from OHO Media, who won with ‘Boomtown’ from the Lost and Found Series are back. Also, Brigham Young University’s Center for Animation, which has won previously, is back with one of its strongest contenders ever. Horman says this year’s slate is the most advanced set in quality ever chosen.

The seven films already have left large footprints in many venues. Three films are products of major collaborations. ‘Transmormon,’ by the OHO Media group of Torben Bernhard, Marissa Lila, and Travis Low, arose through the VideoWest initiative of KUER. ‘Realm of Possibility,’ directed by Adriana Martinez and Laela Omar, came through Spy Hop Productions and the Utah Women and Girls Lead Initiative.

With others entries representing Brigham Young University’s monumentally successful Center for Animation, SLC 48-Hour Film Project, University of Utah’s Film Studies Production program, Utah Arts Alliance and Salt Lake Film Society’s Open Screen Night, there is no doubt about the no-holds-barred approach in Utah’s creative cinematic industry.

Competition screenings will take place in the City Library auditorium Thursday, June 26; Friday, June 27 and Saturday, June 28 at 8 p.m.

This year’s entries:

‘Owned,’ Dan Clark and Wesley Tippetts, BYU’s Center for Animation

Owned by Dan Clark and Wesley Tippets
Owned by Dan Clark and Wesley Tippets

The title seems appropriate for the latest animation short coming from BYU. Earlier this month,’Owned,’ received the Gold Medal for animation at the Student Academy Awards, which are sponsored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The story is about an undefeated video game player who finally finds a worthy opponent but then wonders if it was worth wishing for such a challenge. The opponent, incidentally, happens to be a baby. The BYU program owns many award categories including the College Television Awards — more familiarly known as the Student Emmys. The school has won 16 Student Emmys in 11 years.

‘Outlaws,’ Collin McDermott and Connor Rickman,Winner, 2013 SLC 48 Hour Film Project.

The team, which won the same competition in 2012, used Salt Lake City and Torrey, Utah locations simultaneously to make the 48-hour deadline. The crew finished the film with just four minutes to spare. The technical skills are solid for such a quick turnaround.

‘Transmormon,’ Torben Bernhard, Marissa Lila and Travis Low, VideoWest/KUER

The Family Bible by Connie Wilkerson
The Family Bible by Connie Wilkerson

Last year’s winners return with the story of Eri Hayward, a Utah woman in her twenties, just days before she traveled to Thailand for her sexual reassignment surgery. However, as central as Eri’s journey from male to female matters in the 15-minute film, the pure demonstration of unconditional, affirmative love and the aspiration for spiritual acceptance within the Mormon faith from Eri’s parents and loved ones envelops and deepens the takeaway themes from ‘Transmormon.’ The film earned an Artistic Vision Award at this year’s Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in Missoula, Montana.

‘Absolution Is Now Public,’ Utah Arts Alliance, Michael Christensen

An engrossing cinematic commentary on where we are today in our social interactions, this film centers on a man, unable to process his obsession over a woman he barely knows, who decides that he must exact revenge upon a man he has never met. The film has been gaining solid traction on the festival circuit.

‘The Family Bible,’ Connie Wilkerson, University of Utah Department of Film Studies

Absolution is Now Public by Michael Christensen
Absolution is Now Public by Michael Christensen

Wilkerson, like her colleagues in this category, embodies the role of independent filmmaking in every task. Touching on many extremely sensitive emotional strands, she adapted a short story for the film in which a young man, overwhelmed by grief at his mother’s funeral, is confronted by an aunt. She has been estranged from the family for many years, and now wants to claim possession of a valuable edition of The Bible which has been a family heirloom.

The Black Balloon,’ Stephen Simmons, 2013 Salt Lake Film Society Open Screen Night

Realm of Possibility by Adriana Martinez and Laela Omar
Realm of Possibility by Adriana Martinez and Laela Omar

The film is rich in detail, right down to costumes, emphasizing a thoroughly entertaining feel of a most macabre circus.

‘Realm of Possibility,’ Adriana Martinez and Laela Omar, Spy Hop Productions

The youth media center has been involved in numerous collaborations, and a series of short documentaries were created for the Utah Women and Girls Lead Initiative. The film touches on a subject that has received little public attention: why young college women are questioning seriously the value of a college education and why many women are deciding not to complete their degree programs. Last year, the film won third prize at the Bay Area Youth Media Network Festival in San Francisco.

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Les Roka
I am a native of Toledo, Ohio, having received my Ph.D. in journalism and mass communication from Ohio University's Scripps School of Journalism in 2002. In addition to teaching at Utah State University and the University of Utah, I have worked extensively in public relations for a variety of organizations including a major metropolitan university, college of osteopathic medicine, and community college. When it comes to intellectual curiosity, I venture into as many areas as possible, whether it’s about music criticism, the history of journalism, the practice of public relations in a Web 2.0 world and the soon-to-arrive Web 3.0 landscape, or how public debates are formed about many issues especially in the political arena. As a Salt Lake City resident, I currently write and edit a blog called The Selective Echo that provides an entertaining, informative, and provocative look at Salt Lake City and its cosmopolitan best. I also have been the U.S. editorial advisor for an online publication Art Design Publicity based in The Netherlands. And, I use social media tools such as Twitter for blogging, networking with journalists and experts, and staying current on the latest trends in culture and news. I also have been a regular monthly contributor to a Utah business magazine, and I have recently conducted a variety of editing projects involving authors and researchers throughout the country and the world, including Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Lebanon, Cyprus, the United Kingdom, France, and Japan. I’m also a classically trained musician who spent more than 15 years in a string quartet, being involved in more than 400 performances.

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