In marking the completion of its first full year (2019) as a base for independent filmmakers in Utah, the Utah Film Center Artist Foundry in downtown Salt Lake City recently presented a showcase of projects that were completed during the year.
Among the significant takeaways from the five shorts and three trailers for upcoming feature-length films presented were excellent examples of how local independent filmmakers are finding narrative voices for fiction, especially in the short film form. Utah’s independent filmmakers are well known for documentaries that have traveled the film festival circuit, garnering awards and extensive visibility. However, it is refreshing to see examples of cinematic fiction that should portend well for securing an official premiere at festivals.
One certainly will be the exceptional The Angler, directed by Lucy and Max Nebeker and produced by Connor Rickman. This is the second short film in a trilogy best described as an anthology of mythological or allegorical stories set in the Intermountain West region. Impressive in theme, aesthetics and technical execution, the film is about a wholly obsessed fisherman, which conveys a distinctive macabre sense associated with myth and the moral epiphany integral to a tale being told and handed down over generations. There is no spoken text but the interspersed title cards are a brilliant element suited perfectly for the story in the film. Of note is the cinematography by Oscar Jimenez, who also shot Robert Machoian’s The Killing of Two Lovers, which premiered recently at Sundance.
The Nebeker twins pick up on the right cues of a broader creative trend in various forms of artistic expression, which seek to reposition the lens on how we imagine, interpret and contextualize the storytelling roots of a region in the American West that are more authentic and pertinent than popularized tropes that have cemented specific stereotypes. The Nebekers’ inspiration comes from a mix of sources and muses, including Mormon pioneer records, hymns, the Big Rock Candy Mountain and Bear Lake lore. For example, their first short in the series was The Pallbearer, a thrilling rendition of magical realism on the theme of retributive justice, told with the literary heft of a Chaucer tale. They also have a feature-length film in the works.
One short that already had its premiere and won an audience award in the Utah Shorts Section of the 2019 Davey Fest, sponsored by The David Ross Fetzer Foundation for Emerging Artists, was Deep Blue City, directed by Shawn Francis Saunders and Alexander Woods. This is a polished stylistic piece about a relationship that has lost the lustrous kinetics that are ignited when two people fall in love. One person struggles with intimacy by escaping into the depressing realities being reported in the news heard in the background. Meanwhile, the woman does not believe the relationship should wither and believes the magic is recoverable. The contrast to the benign boredom pops in the film’s opening sequence, featuring shots of Salt Lake City accompanied by the song first featured in My Fair Lady – On the Street Where You Live. The images shot downtown give SLC an appealing big-city atmosphere. This team already has put out excellent projects, including The Wreath, a short film from 2018.
Saunders also appeared as an actor in Gruff, directed by Kohl Glass and produced by Dallin Cerva, the co-founder of Avrec Art House, which was incorporated into the Artist Foundry where he is its current manager. It is a funny adept fusion of the Three Billy Goats Gruff fairy tale from Norway and Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. In the film, there are two billy goats who fear that in trying to cross the bridge, the troll will seize and devour them. It is a smart parody with this witty rendition featuring two brother goats (one carrying a briefcase and both in office attire) in an ideally desolate Utah setting.
Cerva also worked on The Dead Body, directed by Jacob Hart. This film works well in its metaphorical representation of a dying farm that is about to be picked up and transformed by a commercial developer who has no interest in preserving a site. The symbolism is persuasive. When the downturns overtake the upturns for an independent farmer, the individual is pushed to the brink and is reluctant to let go but also knows he has to make the heartbreaking decision. When a farm embodies so much of a family’s life, especially when each member contributes to operating it every day, the final downward spiral is like a vital, significant piece of the family that is dying. And, it is difficult to accept that little, if nothing, will be left of the dead body to memorialize in the family’s legacy.
Celeste Chaney’s Cradle Song also offered up thrilling moments as a mother struggles to cope with the stress of caring for her newborn child and experiences port-partum depression. Chaney, like her colleagues, develops extensively the emotional elements in concise storytelling and the actors carry those through well on the screen. Chaney effectively handles moments of dark tension in this film.
The screening included short trailers for three projects that have received Artist Foundry support and/or feature individuals who have led various workshops for members. Tyler Measom’s I Want My MTV, in which he served as co-director, producer and cinematographer, is a project in collaboration with A&E Networks. The film received its world premiere at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival. Measom, an accomplished filmmaker with several major honors, leads several workshops as well as at the Foundry. Other trailers included The Thief by Jacob Lees Johnson and McKenzie Steele Foster and Sao Tome by Kati Hetrick
The Artist Foundry provides production and collaborative work space for independent filmmakers as well as workshops in directing, screenwriting, acting, funding and project pitching. The center also offers the production assistant certification in collaboration with the Utah Film Commission.
The Artist Foundry has many full-time resident members who can access resources that sustain the momentum of the filmmaking process so that directors and producers can finish their work in time for submission to film festivals and consideration for acquisition and distribution. There are workshops in directing, screenwriting, acting, funding and project pitching. The center also offers the production assistant certification in collaboration with the Utah Film Commission. It offers public and private editing bays, a screening room, rehearsal space and a flexible multi-purpose conference room. Supporting paid membership levels also are available to members interested in backing the local film industry.
For more information, see the Artist Foundry website.