Finding Joy Together: Utah Film Center’s 13th Tumbleweeds Film Festival for Kids set for April 19-20 at Viridian Event Center

With an excellent slate of family feature- and short-length films from around the world with hearty, intelligent and imaginative stories, the Utah Film Center is geared up for the 13th Annual Tumbleweeds Film Festival for Kids on April 19 and 20 at West Jordan’s Viridian Event Center. 

With the Salt Lake County Library as partners, the festival (with a theme of Finding Joy Together) includes four feature-length films and two short film collections, including a family-focused offering of shorts, which have been curated by Utah Film Center’s Black, Bold & Brilliant team. All of the festival films will be free to the public. While there is no cost to watch movies, reservations for films are highly encouraged as space is limited. This year’s slate represents filmmakers on six continents, with six films directed by a person of color and eight by women.

The festival will open April 19 at 7:30 p.m. with the Awards Ceremony screening of the second annual Tumbleweeds Kids Film Competition, which was coordinated by the UFC and the Utah Education Network. It was open to Utah students, K-8th grade, and submissions could either be fiction or nonfiction. This year’s finalists comprise 13 short films in total for three categories. Original cast members of BYUTV’s Studio C will be the keynote presenters. On April 20, the three winners from the inaugural competition in 2023 will have their short films screened in the Tumbleweeds Shorts Celebration Collection. 

From 2023: Tumbleweeds Film Festival for Kids, Utah Film Center.

Film screenings for the general public begin Saturday at 9 a.m. and will continue throughout the day. Free admission is available for special guest presentations featuring JK! Studios, formerly Studio C cast and Mark Hofeling, production designer of well-known films such as High School Musical, Descendants, and more. The festival’s immersive filmmaking workshops offer twelve classes taught by industry professionals, which require early signup and a $25 fee. The Tumbleweeds Festival family clubhouse will open its doors on Saturday at 10 a.m., with activities for all ages. 

In an interview with The Utah Review, Julie Gale, director of education and family programs at the Utah Film Center, said that the selection of films is never intentionally set to frame a theme but to explore what distributors of films for younger and family audiences have available in stories that will resonate at a particular time. If there is one overarching aspect to the slate for Tumbleweeds this year, Gale said, “it is about finding joy together as family and friends, and how these stories can help guide us to make a better world.”

Gale added that the films signal the types of activities that will make their stories resonate and endure that much longer once a screening has ended. This year”s slate, in feature and short films, emphasizes stories that will not just keep the attention of young filmgoers but also older family generations because many of the narratives reflect familiar realities and situations that virtually everyone encounters either as children, teachers, friends or as parents. 

From 2023: Tumbleweeds Film Festival for Kids, Utah Film Center.

This year’s workshop offerings expand opportunities for young audience members to not only explore their interests as literate film viewers but also to inspire their own capacities for telling stories and how they might be represented in films. In addition to film screenings, on April 20, between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m., workshops, club activities and panel discussions will be available. They include a free workshop about storytelling and production design, with Hofeling. 

Other hands-on workshops, with a registration fee of $25, will be led by film industry experts, including acting on camera, designing light for a movie or social media scene, designing characters for animation, writing a screenplay, making a one-minute short, learning the basics of stop-motion animation, special effects makeup, cinematography and the art of audio illusion. There also are workshop options available in Spanish.

Feature Films

Giants of La Mancha (Argentina, Germany, 2024, 85 minutes, all ages) is a CGI comedy action-adventure feature about a boy who is the heir to Don Quixote, who embarks with three imagjnary rabbits in an adventure to save his town from being destroyed by a storm. In an interviewed published elsewhere, Gonzalo Gutierrez, director, said, “This movie has been a true adventure, given that this is not a remake of the world-renowned Don Quixote saga, but rather a spin-off with a new character.” He added, “We wanted to tell stories to children that contain a message beyond humor or attractive images. I believe there’s something in the classic stories we read as children, where they taught us about values while we enjoyed the story. Here we have characters with as much sense of justice, honesty and ideals as Don Quixote. Those who dare to look at reality in a different way are the ones who ultimately have the ability to modify it.” The film is currently in the midst of release and distribution across Europe and will be available as well later this year in South America.  

Giants of La Mancha, directed by Gonzalo Gutiérrez.

Rosa and the Stone Troll (Denmark, 2023, 75 minutes, all ages) is about a timid flower fairy who rescues her butterfly friend, who ends up being kidnapped by the evil Stone Troll. Karla Nor Holmbäck, director, is well known for Holly on the Summer Isle: The Exploration and her 2020 illustrated book, Vores fantastisk forskellige familier (Our wonderfully diverse families), which is inspired by her childhood family experiences and members whose portraits are shown on the front and back covers of the book. 

Dancing Queen (Norway, 2023, 90 minutes, ages 10 and up) is a coming-of-age and first-love story about a 12-year-old girl, who falls in love with a famous dancer who moves to her town. She decides to audition for his crew, even though she cannot dance. Directed by Aurora Gossé, the film was an instant hit. It premiered in Berlinale Generation and has played at more than 50 festivals and won more than a dozen awards, including at Cinekid, Zurich, Lubeck, Seattle and one of Norway’s Amanda prizes. A box-office success in Norway, the film has been greenlit for a sequel, Dancing Queen in Hollywood, which will pick up from where the first film’s story ended.

Coco Farm (Canada, 2023, 89 minutes, ages 10 and up) is about a 12-year old entrepreneur whose business is disrupted when his father decides to relocate to a rural town. But, Max, the young entrepreneur, is inspired when he discovers 500 free-range chickens in an abandoned barn. A feature debut for director Sébastien Gagné, the film has enjoyed numerous festival screenings. 

Dancing Queen, directed by Aurora Gossé.

Tumbleweeds 2024 Shorts Celebration Collection

Blueberry (U.S., 2023, 5 minutes), directed by Stephanie Glover, is about a boy who typically is pragmatically grounded but his imaginative personality is sparked when his favorite food comes to life. Glover also produced Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Making of “Blueberry” (U.S., 2023, 5 minutes) which goes into the creative process, including the inspiration, planning, collaboration and production of her film.

Kintsugi (U.S., 2022, 8 minutes), directed by Cleto Acosta-McKillop, is based on a Japanese legend, as a lucky cat must confront his insecurities when he meets the new modern lucky cat in the shop next door. All of the animation for the film was achieved in Photoshop. A review from The Film Magazine noted, “It is a world in which finding oneself, and being comfortable with that, is as much a key to happiness and self-worth as tangible assets. The score from Sergio de la Puente, which switches between traditional instrumentation and orchestral work on one side and a calm synth on the other side, is perfectly keyed and mixed.”

An Ostrich Told Me the World Is Fake and I Think I Believe It, directed by Lachlan Pendragon.

Nominated for an Academy Award last year, An Ostrich Told Me the World is Fake and I Think I Believe It (Australia 2022, 11 minutes), focuses on a young call center employee, who uncovers the flaws in his stop-motion universe with the help of a mysterious talking ostrich. Directed by Lachlan Pendragon, the animated short was made for a budget of $6,000 and was part of his advanced degree requirements. In a Directors Notes interview, he said, “The short film is my research output and is accompanied by a written thesis to explain its significance. … I had two university supervisors who worked on the project giving regular feedback and suggestions that helped elevate the ideas into interesting places. For example, the long title came from a suggestion from a supervisor.” All Is Not Lost (U.K., 2023. 11 minutes), is an animated short set in an underground cave. Directed by Daniel Mark Greaves and Ruth Beni, the cave contains all sorts of remnants and debris after a volcanic eruption and the parts are reassembled into new creatures. 

Sister Sister Jinx (U.S., 2023, 3 minutes, directed by Sophia McDonald, is a live action short with a fresh take on the classic sibling rivalry. It is one of three 2023 Tumbleweeds Kids Film Competition winners being presented this year. The second is  Late (U.S., 2023, 2 minutes), directed by James Calderwood, which is about a  fifth-grade student who hopes to get to school on time despite waking up late. The third is Dinohorse (U.S., 2023, 2 minutes), directed by Sloan Henderson, is about a half-dinosaur-half-horse critter, and their positive outlook on making friends and having fun.

Kintsugi, directed by Cleto Acosta-McKillop.

Tumbleweeds 2024 Black, Bold & Brilliant Short Collection

Bertie the Brilliant (U.S., 2022, 25 minutes) directed by Gabriela Garcia Medina, focuses on a young boy who takes on chores and small jobs around his neighborhood to raise money for a ticket to a magic show. But, he faces a difficult decision when his grandmother loses her job. The film is based on a story Medina recalled, from living in Cuba and involving a cousin who was then eight years old and wanted to buy a hot dog but didn’t have enough money. In an interview with Awards Radar, Medina said, “So my little cousin who was like eight years old, would do her chores and do her homework, and my aunt would give her a dime or a quarter. And when she finally raised some money for this hot dog, she overheard my great-grandparents – because we all lived in the same house – talking about milk, and how because it’s the Special Period in Cuba, they hadn’t tasted milk. In years, they didn’t even remember what milk tasted like. So my aunt took my cousin out to buy the hotdog and instead, she came back with some milk from the black market for my grandparents.”

Lil’ Ruby (U.S., 2023, 8 minutes), directed by Bartek Kik, is an animated story in which Ruby saves her grandmother from the big bad financial advisor in this classic tale with a modern twist. 

Bertie the Brilliant, directed by Gabriela Garcia Medina.

A Boy’s Ballet Story (U,S, and Nigeria, 2023, 5 minutes), directed by Elizabeth Flores and Daniel Owoseni Ajala, is based on a true story of a boy who loved to dance, but was tormented by bullies at school. His school teacher asked him to make a dance show, as a lesson about perseverance to pursue what truly loves to do. Born and raised in Lagos, Ajala is the founder and creative director of the Leap of Dance Academy, which provides ballet classes for young dancers. In a 2020 interview with Pointe magazine, Ajala said, “I always tell my kids that I want them to have the opportunities that their parents never had. It’s so much more than just dance. Being Black can come with being sidelined and not being included. So many people have led them to believe that because they’re Black, Nigerian and come from poverty, that they can’t be successful or have opportunities. I want them to know that they can overcome adversity and make their dreams a reality. I do my best to be an example and show that if I can push through without resources, you can. If you don’t have the resources, create something out of nothing.

A Boy’s Ballet Story, directed by Elizabeth Flores
and Daniel Owoseni Ajala.

Gaps (U.S., 2023, 11 minutes), directed by Jenn Shaw, is about an A imaginative preteen from a close-knit family,,who is at a crossroads while deciding to keep her gapped teeth or risk it all for the “perfect” smile. Cupids (U.S., 2021, 10 minutes), directed by Zoey Martinson, focuses on three kids who worry that their beloved school bus driver will be lonely this summer without them. They set out to find her an ideal match for a partner.

For more information, see the Utah Film Center Tumbleweeds webpage.. 

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