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4 films shot in Utah to premiere at 2017 Sundance Film Festival

During the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, four films will be featured that were shot in Utah — the most there have ever been, according to Virginia Pearce, director of the Utah Film Commission.

"We've averaged between zero and two," she said, referencing how many Sundance films shot in Utah there have been in past years. "So this year, we're thrilled."

None of those involved with creating the four films had ever done a production in Utah before and, Pearce said, they all left feeling they would love to come back.

"That's where our forte is," Pearce said in an interview with the Deseret News. "Similar to people moving into Utah — they're not sure what to expect and, once they get here, they realize how great it is. I'm excited for (these films) to premiere at Sundance and for the industry to be able to hear that story from (the people who worked on) them."

Pearce said the Utah Film Commission exists to market the state of Utah to filmmakers for productions that utilize local resources, including locations, cast and crew. Last year, 27 feature films and television projects were shot in Utah, which created 1,900 jobs and an estimated $58 million in production, according to Pearce.

The four Sundance films that were shot in Utah this year are "Brigsby Bear," "Wind River," "Snatchers" and "Deidra & Laney Rob a Train."

'Wind River'

"Wind River" tells the story of an FBI agent who teams up with the town's veteran game tracker to investigate a murder that occurred on a Native American reservation, and it stars Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen, both of "Avengers" fame.

During filming, director and screenwriter Taylor Sheridan was very impressed with the can-do attitude of the local crew.

"The local crew worked as though they had written the script," Sheridan said in information provided by the Utah Film Commission. "They believed in the project and believed in me."

He said they carried their equipment around on snowmobiles and snowcats, all the way up to the top of snowy mountains.

"They never complained and never failed to achieve the near-impossible things I asked of them," he said.

Sheridan fell so much in love with Utah during the shooting of his film that he has since bought a house in Park City and moved in.

"I became so enthralled with Utah's beauty and sense of community that I now call Park City home," he said. "To have my directorial debut premiere at Sundance is an honor and a privilege. I hope the Utah cast and crew are as proud of this achievement as I am."

'Brigsby Bear'

The film "Brigsby Bear" is about a children's TV show titled "Brisgby Bear Adventures," which is produced only for one person — James. When the show ends out of nowhere, James decides to try to finish the story himself.

The actors in this film include Claire Danes ("Stardust") and Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker from the Star Wars films). The co-writer and one of the actors, Kyle Mooney, said in information provided by the Utah Film Commission they chose to film in Utah because they needed suburbs and desert for the settings of their movie and "Utah had all of those things."

He also mentioned that the state's tax incentive for movie productions helped them make the decision to come to Utah. Pearce said 37 states have tax credits offered as an incentive for films to shoot within their borders. In Utah, productions can qualify for up to 25 percent back in tax credits on what they spend while in the state.

While Utah's program is smaller than what exists in New York and California, Pearce said it's a consistent incentive program that's been around since 2011, and it also helps that Utah has been involved in the film industry since the 1930s.

"All that time before incentives, we still built up a reputation and an infrastructure in the film industry," she said.


As part of Sundance's Midnight Episodic Showcase, "Snatchers" will be shown in eight short-form episodes. This horror-comedy series features Sara, a teenager who wakes up one day nine months pregnant with an alien. Sara and her ex-best friend, Hayley, work to solve this ever-growing problem.

Screenwriter and director Benji Kleiman said some colleagues recommended that he film his project in Utah, guaranteeing he would have an amazing experience.

"We were looking for a way to shoot this story that took place in Arizona with these red rock vistas and also, to be honest, a place where we thought we could stretch our dollar a little bit," Kleiman said in an interview with the Deseret News. "Utah became the obvious choice."

Coming from Los Angeles, Kleiman said he was skeptical of what it would be like but was impressed with the "quality and dedication" of the local crew. The local community was also very hospitable to his team using locations for filming, and the local actors left a good impression.

"One of the main reasons we wanted to shoot in Utah, also, was just because you can really feel that sort of Atlanta/Los Angeles aesthetic pervade over every single thing you watch on television and movies," he said. "The backgrounds look the same, the actors are the same, etc. So, on top of the physical background feeling so different and refreshing in Utah, also having character actors in these small parts filled by people that really made the world feel real was so valuable to us."

Kleiman said his team is thrilled to come full circle by also premiering the film in Utah.

"Honestly, it's the best finale we could have asked for," he said.

'Deidra & Laney Rob a Train'

After their single mother has an emotional breakdown at her job and ends up in jail, teenage sisters Deidra and Laney Tanner turn to robbing trains to make it on their own in "Deidra & Laney Rob a Train," which is also a part of the family friendly Utah Student Screening Series.

Director Sydney Freeland said in information provided by the Utah Film Commission that her team came to Utah to shoot this film because they were looking for an "all-American town."

"We looked all over the country and even in Canada, but ultimately Utah was the one place that had all the elements we were looking for," Freeland said, adding that she hopes to return to the state soon.

Producer Nick Moceri said they fell in love with Salt Lake City and the surrounding cities right away.

"Beyond great locations, which were seemingly endless, the people we worked with and met along the way could not have been friendlier, more supportive or more helpful," Moceri said. "In fact, there are a few members of the cast and crew that we're trying to convince to move to Los Angeles so we can work with them more often. Hopefully we'll be back with another project soon."

"The backdrop of the mountains, the train and the charm of Salt Lake were great, but it was the people who made this location one of the best I've ever worked and lived in," said producer Susan Cartsonis. "Our local crew and cast and their talent, loyalty and dedication made our filming experience truly special."

Family friendly films

For those looking for a family friendly experience at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, following is a list of the Sundance Kids and Utah Student Screening Series films that are available. Sundance Kids films come with age recommendations that are provided by Also visit for a list of screening locations and times.

"Deidra & Laney Rob a Train": Deidra Tanner is a high school senior who makes money selling answers to chemistry tests while helping her single mother raise her little sister, Laney, and her brother, Jet. Then her mom has a mental breakdown at her job in an electronics store, throwing an expensive TV on the pavement, and ends up in jail. So Deidra and Laney turn to robbing trains that come through the railroad tracks in their backyard in an effort to make it on their own.

This comedy, directed by Freeland, was filmed in Utah.

Series: Utah Student Screening Series

"The Mars Generation": Director Michael Barnett looks at the history of space exploration and to the future of how NASA will be able to bring human life to Mars. He also features NASA's space camp for youths who are working to become the scientists, engineers and technicians who accomplish this dream.

Series: Sundance Kids

Age recommendation: 10 and older

• "My Life as a Zucchini": A 9-year-old named Icare lives with his alcoholic mother, who calls him Zucchini. After his mother's death, he is sent to a group foster home, where he slowly grows more comfortable as he develops friendships that help him overcome his life's challenges.

Based on the book "Autobiographie d'une Courgette" by Gilles Paris, this film is directed by Claude Barras, his first feature-length stop-motion animation project. According to, it "deals with dark themes with sensitivity and humor in a way that is accessible to young audiences."

This film includes discussions about sex, accidental death, abuse, suicide, alcoholism and drugs, according to

Series: Sundance Kids

Age recommendation: 12 and older

"Red Dog: True Blue": After the death of his father and the mental breakdown of his mother, 11-year-old Mick is sent to live with his grandfather on a cattle station in Pilbara in the remote Outback of Australia, where Mick discovers a very different kind of lifestyle. He finds a puppy stained with blue paint in a tree after a storm, names him Blue and eventually convinces his grandfather to let him keep him. Their bond is ultimately life-changing.

This film is the origin story for the Australian legend of Red Dog, who was said to wander western Australia during the 1970s.

Series: Sundance Kids

Age recommendation: 8 and older

"Chasing Coral": Jeff Orlowski, director of "Chasing Ice," the Academy and Emmy Award-winning documentary on the melting ice caps, now returns to demonstrate how the warming seas are killing the coral reefs.

Series: Utah Student Screening Series

"Joshua: Teenage vs. Superpower": Joshua Wong is a Hong Kong college student who rises to become the face of a movement against the Chinese regime. He rallies tens of thousands to be a part of a 79-day campaign to shut down Hong Kong's financial district in an effort to improve his world for the next generation.

This film is shown in English and Cantonese with subtitles in English.

Series: Utah Student Screening Series

"Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman": The film follows three men: a rancher in Montana working to preserve the wilderness and prevent commercial development; a farmer in Kansas using practices that fight soil degradation and erosion, and a fisherman in Louisiana helping to save the red snapper.

Based on the book of the same name by Miriam Horn, the film emphasizes that environmentalists don't always fit the stereotypical mold in an effort to show that preserving the nation's land can actually be the most patriotic act of all.

Series: Utah Student Screening Series

"STEP": In 2009, the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women opened with the intent of sending every student to college. The first class is now entering its senior year, and the documentary follows three of these students through their college application process and their efforts to thrive through their step dance team.

Series: Utah Student Screening Series

"Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities": This film follows the 150-year history of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and their role in American history, culture and dismantling segregation.

Stanley Nelson shows through photos, letters, diaries, home movies and testimonials the unsung influence HBCUs have made on the African-American community.

Series: Utah Student Screening Series

"Walking Out": Matt Bomer plays an absentee father, Cal, who takes his son, David, on a hunting trip in an effort to bond with him. Cal is injured after an encounter with a grizzly bear, and the father and son have to learn how to rely on David to survive.

Series: Utah Student Screening Series

"The Workers Cup": Qatar is fast at work building the best stadiums and facilities possible for when it hosts the 2022 World Cup, but its workmen are migrant workers from India, Kenya, Nepal and Ghana who live in isolated camps and work long hours for minimal pay. In an attempt to distract the men from this situation, businesses sponsor a soccer tournament among the workers.

This documentary by Adam Sobel shows the workers' competitiveness and enthusiasm for the tournament, alongside their struggles against the violations of their human rights.

This film is shown in multiple languages, including English, Nepali and Arabic, with English subtitles.

Series: Utah Student Screening Series