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Creating 'community through film': Local film societies seek to give voice to independent film

For anyone wanting to see the latest box-office hit, it's likely that several local multiplexes are playing the show.

But for someone looking to see an independent or foreign film, finding a venue might be a bit more difficult.

Providing access to films and stories outside mainstream Hollywood is what several local film societies hope to do.

“My personal mission is to always try to find new filmmakers and stories and new ways of filmmaking,” said Levi Elder, director of programming for the Salt Lake Film Society.

The basics

Elder said a film society is “a group of people that enjoy watching and discussing film.”

The Salt Lake Film Society offers almost a dozen programs as part of its mission to facilitate discussion. According to the organization's website, among those programs are panels with visiting directors; the Ivory Tower series in collaboration with Westminster College, which "pairs a classic film with a lecture by a film student from the college"; and the Tower Archive Collection, which offers DVD rentals of independent and foreign films to the community.

The Park City Film Series seeks to provide similar opportunities to residents in the Park City area as organizers strive to fulfill their mission to "create community through film," according to its website. Katy Wang, executive director for the series, says it's the only organization of its kind in Summit County.

Among the series' offerings aimed at creating community is its Reel Community Series, which works with local nonprofit organizations and screens films "that reflect not only the mission of our partners but also the interests of our community — with a focus on creating a platform for community conversation," according to

Both the Salt Lake Film Society's theaters — Broadway Centre Cinemas and the Tower Theatre — and the Park City Film Series' Jim Santy Auditorium also serve as venues during the Sundance Film Festival each January.

According to Andrew Adair, a member of the board of directors for the Provo Film Society, another benefit of film societies beyond gathering cinephiles is that they provide a venue for films that wouldn’t have an outlet through which to be seen otherwise.

“There’s nowhere that you can go to see this type of film anywhere in (Utah County),” Adair said. “We just thought there’s a lot of opportunity here, there’s a big audience here of people who want to see (independent) film, but right now they have to go to Salt Lake if they want to catch these kinds of film. We want to do what (the Salt Lake Film Society) has done, and keep it here in the valley to give the people in the Provo area a place to see those films.”

Although the Provo Film Society doesn’t have dedicated venues to show films like the Salt Lake Film Society or Park City Film Series, its members are working to secure funding so they can open their own theater by late summer.


While the Provo Film Society, Salt Lake Film Society and Park City Film Series all fit under the general umbrella of film societies, each takes a unique approach to its offerings.

Adair said that although the Provo Film Society shows nationally released films, it tries to focus on showing independent films by local filmmakers.

Elder says that because the Salt Lake Film Society has venues to keep open, it tries to program films that a large audience may be interested in. It is those large, Oscar-contending films that allow the film society to bring smaller independent films to its venues, he said.

“There’s a bit of trying to understand the needs and wants of your audience and giving them films that they are going to be willing to pay for,” Elder said. “Once we get that period down and figure out how to do that, then we can start doing more smaller films and more artistically challenging films, or (films) that have a more challenging subject matter.”

While most of the films shown by the Provo Film Society are rated PG and PG-13 and have clean content, Adair said the subject matter and the storylines of the films are for “people who can appreciate a more complex, longer, perhaps more in-depth story.”

Elder says the demographic for audiences of the Salt Lake Film Society is fairly predictable and that the organization doesn’t cater specifically to family friendly audiences. Like Adair, he said the Salt Lake Film Festival tries to bring films that challenge the norms.

As for the Park City Film Series, Wang said its screenings include a variety of films, from fiction to documentaries.

A look at the organization’s calendar shows films ranging from PG-rated animated ones such as “Hoot,” to the PG-13 documentary “A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story,” to R-rated dramas.

The group also offers several outreach programs, including two free programs targeted toward young audiences. “Books 2 Movies” is a joint project with the Park City Library and Summit County Library that "engages young readers in literature through film, and introduces them to the art of cinematic storytelling," according to, and includes films that are based on children’s/young adult books “with the intent of getting kids hooked on books by introducing them to engaging characters and story lines.”

“Foreign Cinema … For Kids!” offers French- and Spanish-language films “shown on alternate months in the original language with English subtitles so that caregivers and siblings can also enjoy the films along with their (dual-language immersion) student.”

The impact

Although the film societies may not be as widespread as other movie theaters and art venues in Utah, film society organizers believe their offerings are an important part of the arts community and can be a powerful teaching tool.

“Film culture is important, ultimately because it has such a powerful way of changing people’s opinions,” Elder said. “Regardless whether it is fictional or not, (people) tend to assume that whatever they’ve seen is true. Films have a very specific and quick way of changing people’s minds about issues.”

According to Wang, film is an important medium because it “brings humanity to another part of the world.”

“(Film) provides a way to enter the rest of the world and helps us become more global in our thinking and more understanding of people from different cultures and different communities,” she said. “That impacts our lives in ways we sometimes don’t even appreciate.”