Utah Arts Festival 2021: Fear No Film set for three days of screening at The Leonardo, featuring nine programs totaling 67 short films from 22 countries

EDITOR’S NOTE: To read more about this year’s Fear No Film slate, including the Utah Made Film program, see here.

With the pandemic, some might have wondered what the extent and scope of submissions for an international short film program might look like. This year’s Fear No Film program at the Utah Arts Festival, the 18th live presentation and the festival’s fourth largest venue offering, portends to be one of the strongest ever. There are 67 short films, culled from 275 submissions (a number that is smaller than what was seen in recent years), but they also represent the most extensive international representation in Fear No Film’s history: 22 countries outside of the U.S. including films, for the first time, coming from Croatia, India, Iraq, Qatar and Singapore. Once again, Iran is represented by several films with directors who submit through third-party channels to avoid the attention of Islamic Republic authorities. There also are films from Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Mexico, Republic of Georgia, Italy, Spain, South Africa, Taiwan and the U.K., among others. There are 11 films with direct Utah connections. Four of out every nine films in the slate are helmed by female directors and there are numerous LGBTQ+  filmmakers in the program as well.

Derek Mellus, production coordinator of the Utah Film Commission and Fear No Film coordinator, says that the slate features many recent releases, with about half being 2020 productions, a quarter that were completed this year and the remaining quarter from 2019. There are some films that are inspired by the isolation of pandemic lockdowns such as Happy Birthday, Returning Home and Inspiration while 8 ¾ touches elegantly on the topic of grief. 

Documentary submissions are impressive in topical treatments. There are several examples of artist profiles such as the Republic of Georgia’s Boslevi – Master of Roof Tiles and Rust featuring a sculptor in Poland who transforms rusted pieces of metal into pieces that do not hold back in conveying feelings of disappointment, anger and frustration with the contemporary problems of living in a society that once was a Soviet satellite. Set in Lesotho, From Trash to Treasure is an exemplar of the inventive resourcefulness of upcycling, a process that is seen in numerous instances in other festival venues. Nostalgia is a theme in several documentaries including Ah Edwin Christmas Special about an inmate who recalls the best holiday celebration of his memories. From Sweden, You Are Always 20, using homemade video from the early 2000s, shows how the GHB party drug damaged a close friendship. The history of the Manchester Pride Parade in the U.K. Is documented in an uplifting perspective, nicely covering 50 years of history in under 15 minutes. 

Unknown Hand.

The quality of narrative treatments is just as solid. Iran has notable representation with Head Count, which reverberates with the punitive realities of living with the repressive conditions of the Islamic Republic moral code. The shortest film ever screened at Fear No Film, Life, at four seconds, is a still frame that epitomizes the art of short filmmaking in its most compact punch. It is a statement by director Mohammad Mohammadian, who tries to make art in the most repressive conditions. From India, Rimi is a beautifully composed story of being liberated from patriarchy while Avery offers a unique perspective on the masculine gaze from a female viewpoint. 

Subtle humor deftly infuses Flip The Switch, with its main character a woman who tries to sell storm doors by going door-to-door, and It’s Alright, a wonderful entry from Lithuania about two middle-age people on an awkward picnic date. From Canada, It’s Desmond (Your Misguided Tour Guide) is charming in its innocence, as a project that started as an Instagram account with more than 65,000 followers. From Italy, Nisciuno (Nobody) masterfully tells an entire story in under seven minutes, about a failed actress who is seeking to recoup some satisfaction when she encounters a producer who barely remembers her from 30 years before.

The Saverini Widow.

Two programs of midnight short films, a component that Mellus introduced in 2019, return this year. They include Bag Your Face, uber-bizarre fare that is an amalgam of aesthetic influences from Adult Swim, Nickelodeon’s programs in the 1990s, older generation video games and unrestrained kid humor. Nuevo Rico is a trippy award-winning animated short about a Puerto Rican brother and sister who discover the price of fame is more costly than expected, when it comes to identity and family. From France, the horror-comedy satire The Killer in Cursed Water is what would happen if the Monty Python Show met Scream. The Midnight slate includes two outstanding period pieces with creepy horror as their narrative drivers: Echthaar from Austria, set in a 1950s hair salon, and The Saverini Widow, from France, set in Corsica during the 1880s. Digital effects are marvelously integrated into the elements of Sweet Nothings, signaling what dating apps might look like in the future.

Animation has a major presence in many films this year. There are 14 shorts in the exclusive animated program, including films about urban traffic congestion, the motivation to confront fear when it challenges one’s sense of identity, the Australian bush fires of 2019 and 2020 and the Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument in southern Utah, among other subjects. There are superb technical examples such as Psychophonic from Spain, Requiem for a Spoken Word from the U.S. and Shots of Light from German. The Kids program also includes animation but there is also an entry from Mexico, Ramón, about an eight-yer-old kickboxer preparing for his first championship bout. 

Head Count.

There are nine programs in the rotating schedule, all of which will be screened in the third floor auditorium at The Leonardo museum. They include: two programs of Documentary Shorts; a program of KIDS! Shorts; Animated Shorts, two programs of Narrative Shorts; two programs of Midnight Shorts and Utah Made Short Films. There will be jury and audience choice awards as in previous years, including the Fear No Filmmaker award.

Audiences are reminded that they will have to wear masks in The Leonardo. For the complete schedule, see the UAF Fear No Film page and follow the link at the top of the article for a complete rundown of all nine programs and 67 films. For more information about all events, see the Utah Arts Festival website. Ticket information can be found here.

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